I have a lot of church acquaintances.
They know who I am and how I’m doing, for the most part. They keep up to date on big events in my life. We know the names of each other’s spouses and children. And I keep them on the Christmas card list, naturally. But they’re acquaintances: largely casual relationships that require little engagement.
That’s not unusual for me, but I feel sometimes like it ought to be. I’ve attended four churches over the course of my life and been an involved and longtime member of three (the fourth we only started attending about a year or so ago). In spite of that, I can count the number of deep and meaningful church friendships I’ve had on one hand.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m a big believer that real, enduring friendship is rare and to be treasured, and my inner introvert doesn’t really desire the maintenance and emotional energy that an enormous cloud of soul-deep friends might require.
Still, I’ve noticed that an awful lot of people have trouble making friends in church. New members of a congregation can gather acquaintances by the dozens, but even after years I’ve witnessed some believers struggle to find enduring, authentic friendships in God’s house. Over time, I’ve learned that there are five factors that determine the structure of godly friendships. Where one or more of these is absent, acquaintance-ships tend to reign over anything much deeper. Here they are:
1. Openness. In many churches I’ve attended, I walked in with the sense that all the vital friendships had already been formed. Around me existed networks of people and cliques that had deep roots and a long history. Whether you’re a new member or you’ve attended a church for a long time, you might have the same sense that entrenched history means people aren’t really interested in finding new friends. For new friendships to form in a church, both longtime members with friend groups and new members without must be open to the idea of making new connections and inviting others in.
2. Common ground. Yes, we all share a Savior. But the best Christian friends I’ve ever had were the ones with whom I also shared other things: an educational background, interests, a hobby or an activity, shared philosophies, a sense of humor, values and approaches to life. You don’t have to – or want to – find your perfect twin, but sometimes the easiest path to an enduring friendship is to find someone with whom you share something in common beyond an affection for Jesus.
3. Willingness to go deep. Conversations. Talk. Questions. Struggles. Friendships are defined by depth: by the sharing of things both large and small. It’s no surprise that my two closest Christian friends are also the two people I’m closest to in life: my mother and my husband. I have a history with them; they’ve shared in my struggles, I’ve asked them hard questions, we’ve gnawed on Scripture and spiritual questions together. If acquaintances are puddles, real friendships are oceans. And any enduring friendship requires a willingness from both partners at times to go beneath the surface, to have real conversations, to share struggles, questions, and dreams.
4. Trust. It’s an old joke that your true friends know where the bodies are buried. Hopefully, as Christians, we don’t have this issue – nevertheless, trust is important. Knowing that your thoughts and feelings are held in confidence matters. Nothing kills a friendship faster than malice, gossip, or backbiting. Having a friend means knowing that you have a vault: someone you can trust implicitly.
5. Flexibility. I once had to let a friendship go because my friend didn’t feel connected to me unless we talked on the phone two hours a day, every day. I couldn’t manage it, and found myself wishing that she’d be a little more flexible for poor lil’ introvert me. By the same token, I regret that I was less flexible with some friendships that I had in the past: despite being an introvert, I could have made the effort to call more, or to go out every now and again. Friendships is all about flexibility and giving a little to get a little. No, you don’t have to change who you are, but being able to bend every now and again to accommodate someone else is worth a lot.
When these five fundamentals are present, godly and meaningful friendships can grow. When they’re absent, believers tend to fall into acquaintance-ville. Neither is inherently bad. My Christian acquaintances are lovely people all. They pray for me, and I for them; we keep up with each other; we care about each other. But one of God’s gifts is the sort of enduring friendship that can exist between believers, and it serves to complement the presence of acquaintances in life – we would all do well to keep an eye out for it and be open to it when the time comes.
5 thoughts on “Five Fundamentals For Deep Church Friendships”
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
I’m so glad!
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Through the years I have had rather involved relationships with 3 churches, one I was a licenced mission worker, yet I was never able to make more than acquaintances.
I have one person I might call a good friend but circumstances keep us from seeing one another very often.
As I got older I found I couldn’t handle the gossip, back stabling and just out right jealousy and God released me from the last church I was part of.
It seems the church in the city (the last two) don’t function like the country church i grew up in where it was a community where people missed each other when they weren’t there.
I am now part of an online church we fellowship live on line every Tuesday night, it amazes me that every time the leaders who live and minister from Texas ( the wife is originally from my home province in Canada) come to her home city which is at least five hours from where I live make a point to drive down to spend a couple of hours with me, whereas people who call themselves my friend an’t dive 30 min. to visit or even call and we are all members of the body of Christ.
I’m a senior with no means of transportation, for some years while working night shifts, I use to send cards and call periodically but since I got no response I stopped.
I have more fellowship with my online friends.
It is probably a blessing that I am also more of an introvert and bookish, but I usually score and equally extroverted and do enjoy a good get together with people and debate ideas and things I’ve learned.
It seems that after fervor of the Charismatic Revival of the 70’s and 80’s, when we were much more actively involved with each other, died down and people moved away the church became cold and distant. Sadly I think it has weakened our effectiveness as a witnesses for Jesus and religion has gotten in the way of our relationship with Jesus and His Gospel. It became more import that we all agreed on everything than that we loved each other.
I too come from a country church where people missed those who were absent. 🙂 It’s quite different from the churches I attend now and have attended since going there, and I’m often wistful for it.
It’s fascinating that you can pinpoint a time when you think this sort of thing started happening, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s so. On this blog commenters frequently express their frustration with “shallow” church fellowship, lack of meaningful friendships and interpersonal engagement, and it makes me think that somehow, someway, we’ve gone wrong. It’s a shame that this has become such a struggle!
Like you, I do love the internet in that regard. It’s a great way for like-minded souls to find each other and praise and worship together, even from a distance, and that’s pretty uplifting.
Thanks so much for your thoughts!