Friends are hard to find and friendships are hard to maintain. Friendships can even be hard to find in the local church.
In some cases, people may feel alone even in the healthiest of churches and it’s due to a variety of reasons. Some blame their church and some blame themselves. Some believe that their church does not have a welcoming environment. Some claim people are not reaching out to them. Some blame themselves and think their personality just isn’t “friendly.” And some claim to have already tried everything to make friends at church and give up because it’s just not working.
This post is meant to help you. Maybe you feel so different that you are tempted to leave your church. Maybe you question if God has you in the right place because you feel estranged or alienated.
As God’s sovereign plan has you here at this specific local church, I want to encourage you to make the best out of your current situation. While you cannot control what others do, you are responsible for what you do. Here are a mix of attitudes and practical considerations for making friends at your local church.
Cast the Net Wide
There are many ways to broaden the scope of your outreach. Alexander Strauch recommends that people have dinner with every church member in the church if they have any trouble making friends at church. If that’s not possible, have at least one phone conversation with every member in the church. (But as a disclaimer: As a way of guarding purity, men should reach out to men and women to women). Try to Facetime daily, or send out emails to members. Get creative, but go broad. Start with going wide and then narrowing down to focus on one or two people. God does not require you to be best friends forever (BFF) with every church member, but you’ll never know who might respond when you cast the net wide. Someone may surprise you. You may not find a best friend, but you may find a brother or sister who will love you and hold you accountable.
Embrace the Differences
People think differently than you do and they look differently than you. They emphasize different subject matters and they have different hobbies. They may be different in age or ethnicity. Differences should not be a turn off they should appeal to you. 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 shows that the local church body composes of a harmony of different members, each having their own function. This means that you embrace their strengths and their different spiritual gifts. You accept their weaknesses and shortcomings, and you are understanding of their sin struggles. God has placed you there to correct sin that others may have overlooked. The harmonious differences glorify God and they sharpen and complement each Christian. Yes, that includes that stubborn person you’ve tried to be friends with, or that person with different political views, or that person with weird hobbies, or the person with strange social quirks. God has placed this person in your life to be your friend, so instead of running from them, embrace them.
If you’re going to compare the quality of your friendships with other friendships, then you will find yourself disappointed. Unhealthy comparisons bring great discouragement. Keep in mind that the quality of a friendship is a result of a number of factors. Strong friendships come about through providence, invested time, commonality, and complementary personality. And contrary to that, some are just close friends because of the supernatural work of God when they have nothing in common except the Gospel. So don’t compare your the quality of your friendships with other people. An envious heart will impede the development of relationships. Focus on you and how you are loving others. Focus on your service to that person in front of you, instead of their relationship with others.
Be In Pursuit
Make it a habit to pursue people regularly. The point is to maintain an attitude of intentionality. Remember, there is liberty in choosing frequency (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly). Some think that entering a new church or being an introvert necessitates that the church members should pursue them, so they wait until someone approaches them. But waiting to be pursued is the wrong approach toward making friends and never really develops good relationships. Be in a healthy pursuit of people. Pursuit can take place with natural interactions and not compelling people by force to be friends. This helps us put off the selfish heart and cultivates selflessness in our life.
The point is to make time for people. If developing church relationships is a priority to you, it will show in your calendar. Schedule the time to be with people, schedule time to talk with them, schedule a time to serve them. It may take years to tear down a wall, but you may win a friend that lasts a lifetime.
Invest in the Long Haul
Investments pay off after years of putting pennies away. Don’t give up after a year, 2 years, or even five years. Don’t give up after the first sign of resistance. Commit yourself for the long haul until the Lord says otherwise. Building relationships takes time, but those small conversations over years will turn into a strong friendship. Those regular lunches over decades will produce a friend that will love a lifetime.
Depend on friends, but not to the point of overly dependent. Make sure that your posture in pursuit understands the ebb and flow of life. Church members can’t always take your call at moment’s notice or answer when you bombard them endlessly every 5 minutes with a text. This may show an idolatry of friendships that disregards God as being the main solution to our loneliness. Be sensitive other’s schedules, their time, and their commitments. Don’t take it personally if they cannot assist you due to other legitimate priorities. They still love you and will help you in the long run.
Remember, people are different. Their idea of phone call frequency may not match your daily approach (they may think weekly is sufficient). We must allow for these differences and not be offended by it. Friends may providentially go a month without speaking while still being on good terms and then pick up where they left off after a natural hiatus. This is because friends understand that life happens, and that an investment in friendships considers friendship in the context of years and not merely days.
Pray through the Discouragement
Discouragement and disappointments will happen. We don’t just “power through,” the discouragement, we go to Christ in the midst of it. The solution is to pray through trouble not to power through.
It’s easy to throw in the towel after their first text response does not meet your text etiquette standards. Or maybe you want to give up because you baked someone a cake and they failed to give you a standing ovation on Instagram. Whatever the situation, discouragements happen, and if they do, then pray through them.
Pray for a godly heart and attitude towards church friendships. Pray for God to give you a healthy friendship in church. Pray that He grants a brother or sister in Christ and not merely a “best friend.” Pray that He gives you more than a “movie buddy,” but someone who will correct you when you’re wrong (Prov 27:6). Pray that He gives you realistic expectations for friendships and removes unbiblical standards. Pray for that person to open their heart to you. Pray for God to open your heart to be sensitive to them. Pray for endurance and perseverance to continue serving in discouragement.
Don’t give up! Pray through the problem.
Celebrate the Small Victories
It’s easy to focus on what is lacking in your relationship with others. If this is the case, why not focus on the good elements of your relationship with someone. It may be small and infrequent, but the good things are present and should be celebrated.
If the person responds to your grand gesture with a small gesture, then celebrate the small gesture in a grand way. Take what you can get. It’s wise to praise God for any type of positive response people give you, because in a sinful world we are not promised anything.
Evaluate your unrealistic or unbiblical expectations on the friendship in question, and put on a heart of gratitude to the Lord for the person in front of you. Thank the Lord for who He created that person to be instead of complaining about what you think they lack. Celebrate them, and make known your encouragement to them, and thank them for the ways they have expressed their friendship to you. Abounding in thanksgiving and praise towards our friends will set ablaze the fire of friendship for us and will help us to have thankful hearts for the people in our life.
What are other ways Christians can make friends in the local church?