Moving. Whether you’re a pro at it and can’t wait for the next adventure or you’re dragging your feet at leaving behind memories, there are some adjustments everyone has to make when moving to a new place and a new ward. One of those adjustments is making new friends. And even if you’re not new to your ward, sometimes it can still feel like you’ve not quite found your place.
After I got married, my husband and I moved into our first ward as newlyweds. I remember feeling nervous going to a family ward in a new place after so many years in a young single adult ward. I wasn’t sure how well we would fit in and what we would really be able to contribute in a ward largely made up of long-established homeowners or younger people moving into and out of apartment complexes. We were quickly called to work in the (rather small) nursery, which at the time I thought would be somewhat of a death sentence to our ability to make friends in the ward.
However, when we met with the second counselor in the bishopric, who was a young father, he said something that has stuck with me ever since and comes back to my mind often. He said, “This ward has a lot of turnover. If you’re looking for a group to make friends with, you will not find it because there isn’t one. You will have to create a group to be friends with.” While it sounded intimidating at the time, it was the best advice my husband and I have been given for starting friendships with others.
Making friends in a new ward and neighborhood can be challenging, but also rewarding. Taking the advice of that wise first counselor has been a great blessing in my life and has inspired me with a few additional ideas on the topic. So here are five simple ways to make meaningful connections in your ward to help you get started on your own friend-making journey.
1. Reverse the Welcome
I love to watch old television shows. There is one story from an old My Three Sons episode where the main characters move to a new state. They spend several weeks in their new home thinking that their new neighbors are rude for not trying to welcome them to the neighborhood. After some time, they hilariously discover that their neighbors have also just moved in, meaning that both new families were waiting to be welcomed by the “old” neighbors!
Similar circumstances sometimes exist in a new ward or neighborhood, leading to unnecessary feelings of exclusion or being overlooked when really nobody knows anybody yet. One way my husband and I have sometimes tried to combat this is to “reverse the welcome” by taking treats to our neighbors to introduce ourselves instead of waiting for others to come to us. Other simple ways to reverse the welcome is to choose to sit in a new place or by a new person during classes or at ward activities.
2. Get Involved
One of the best ways to meet potential friends with similar interests is to volunteer. Cleaning the Church, cooking or setting up for ward and stake events, or volunteering to substitute Sunday classes is a great way to meet potential friends with similar interests. Plus, people tend to want to get to know you more if you’re helping them!
Callings are another great way to get to know ward members. If you’re in a ward like the ones my husband and I have moved into, there can be a lot of people moving in and out, and it can be hard for the ward leadership to keep up with who has a calling, who needs one, or who is able to fulfill one. To help in situations like these, introduce yourself to the bishopric (you can make an appointment or just catch them after church) and let them know who you are and that you are willing to serve.
If you already have a calling, or your calling doesn’t have you work very much with others, you can get involved in other ways. After a few months of serving in the nursery and getting to know parents through nursery pick-ups after I was first married, I started offering to babysit for them. It was a great opportunity to get to know people in the ward who were at a different stage of life than me and make some friends along the way.
In another ward, I had been serving in the Primary since we moved in and didn’t know many people outside of the Primary presidency and the teachers. However, I volunteered to help interview new Relief Society sisters and do a short write-up of them for our emailed newsletters. It was the perfect way for me to get to know many of the new sisters and families moving into the ward.
3. Show Up
This one is similar to the previous idea, but it has less to do with our own work and more to do with supporting others. Whether there’s a ward activity, a community cleanup, or someone trying to start a ward choir, supporting others is a great way to make friends and encourage other people to support your activities!
We are all busy and often don’t want to make an effort to go to an activity that doesn’t sound particularly fun to us, but we also all hope that people will support the activities we are in charge of. I’ve met some of my dearest ward friends by going to activities that I didn’t especially want to attend but that I wanted to support. I even met my future husband at a YSA activity I was not excited to be at. After we were married, we made some best “couple friends” by deciding to participate in ward choir, and I made some wonderful friends in a new ward simply by sending an occasional check-in text to my ministering sisters during COVID.
My husband and I do not make it to every activity, even more so now that we have children, but we have usually found friends in the wards we have lived in by consistently trying to show up for other people, even if we don’t know them yet.
4. Learn the Names of Ward Members
Names are such a special and unique part of every person. Though I never hold it against someone if they can’t remember my name (I forget things too!), I always feel extra happy when someone calls me by my name. If you want to make connections with other people, learning names and facts about ward members is a good place to start.
Did someone who spoke during sacrament meeting share a story that stuck with you? Try to find them and let them know or send them a text.
Did someone in Sunday School talk about a book or quote you love? The next time you see them at a ward activity or in the neighborhood, ask them about it.
If you struggle to remember things, you could consider keeping a “ward journal” to help you remember people you’d like to talk to or thank. You could also take time to look at the people who share comments in class or even browse through the ward directory to familiarize yourself with names and make it easier to match them to the faces of the people you meet.
Another idea is to join the ward’s social media pages. Reading comments or reminders on my ward pages helps me start to recognize the people who respond or post and sometimes lets me know about opportunities to volunteer or show up.
5. Just Talk
Whether you share a comment in class, thank someone for speaking, or say hello to a ward member outside of Church, practice opening your mouth! If you aren’t a natural conversationalist, it can feel uncomfortable and be easy to feel self-conscious, but the more practice, the better it will be.
Additional Ideas for Making Ward Friends
If you’re married, invite other couples on double dates. When my husband and I were first married, we loved doing game nights. We hosted at least five or six different couples and went to several other barbecues and game nights over a year and a half. They were usually fun even if they were sometimes a bit awkward, and because of that we found some couples that we had a lot more in common with—and one couple in particular that we are still friends with six years later! While this one might be a little easier to coordinate if you do not have children, my husband and I really appreciated when an older couple in our new ward invited us to dinner with them shortly after having our first baby. We enjoyed learning from and getting to know them, and I hope they enjoyed getting to know us, too!
If you have children in Primary, their teachers are great potential friends. Take it from a former Primary teacher—we love your children, but we also love getting to know you. Say hello to your children’s teachers around the neighborhood, consider adding them on social media, or take a couple of minutes to talk to them after church. The best part is, you always have a great topic to discuss if you’re not sure what to say: the kids!
Even outside of Primary, kids are a great way to make friends in the ward through play dates and outings. As someone who is more introverted and who got perhaps a little too comfortable staying home and doing my own thing with my kids during COVID, I’ve found this one is usually the most challenging—but also the most rewarding—as a stay-at-home-mom. It takes some time in a new ward to figure out which kids in my children’s classes belong to which parents in the ward, but once I do, I try to find an opportunity to ask them if they would be interested in a play date. I personally prefer to try to have an idea of an activity and schedule the date and time right there before I lose my nerve or get embarrassed and don’t follow through, but these small meetings have produced some of the best connections, conversations, and ward friendships for me. As a bonus, it can also open the door for you to get to know the friends of the people you reach out to.
Making friends starts with giving yourself opportunities to meet and get to know new people. It also means being OK with the fact that you may not connect with every person you meet, and that’s all right. Start small, but don’t give up—it takes time to meet people and find your groove. And whether you are outgoing or shy, love going to parties or are more comfortable with a blanket and a movie at home, want to have lots of friends or just need one person to connect with, the best way to make friends at any stage of life is to be Christlike as you be yourself. As you serve, love, get involved, and treat everyone you meet with kindness, you’re sure to find a friend or two wherever you go!