“People are looking for friends, not friendliness.” – Ben Mandrell
Ben wrote the sentence above in the most recent edition of Facts and Trends. I recommend that you read his article, the link is directly below:
To make, mature, and multiply disciples, a church has to be more than friendly; it has to build friendships. Friendliness will not always result in friendships, but the church that focuses on building friendships will always be friendly.
In my experience, churches that struggle to grow through evangelism and disciple-making also struggle to build new friendships (or community). Declining churches typically celebrate the new people who come, but they don’t make space for them in their friendship circles outside of the programs and services each week. Over time the church becomes focused on keeping up with the highlights of the past rather than celebrating the wins of the present.
When people come to the church, they need more than the programs. They need friendships built on the shared faith we have in Christ. Gospel-centered friendships are one of the most significant ways that God helps us mature in our faith. Why? Because through encouragement, comfort, and even rebuke the gospel is affirmed and applied to our personal lives. Gospel-centered friendships are necessary for the new believer, needed for the new person in your community, and essential for the church’s spiritual growth.
Moving from friendliness to friendships requires intentionality on the part of long-term church members. It is easy to fall into the pattern of not knowing any new people in your church. When this happens, a church can become filled with Sunday school classes, or small groups, that haven’t added new members in years. Instead of assimilating new people into the church, the cycle continues by starting new classes with new people over and over again.
Making space for new friendships requires a church to shift from adding new groups, to multiplying existing groups. Healthy multiplication happens when the groups in a church are made of long-term members and new members. Focusing on building new friendships in the groups creates an atmosphere where new believers, and even those interested in the gospel, are welcome to ask questions and grow with everyone else.
On a personal and pratical level, church members should make it a practice to invite new people into their friendship circles. The weekly programmed moments of church life will never be enough to establish deep relationships and friendships. If you have a regular group that gets together to eat, go to the movies, or let the kids play, add someone to the group. When your group does something, invite them and let them in on the joy of friendship that you have! If you don’t have a group from your church already getting together, then write down a few names and begin the process of building friendships with those with whom you worship.
If you make this a practice in your local church, it won’t take long for you to see the fruit of being a friend to others.