Going from friendliness to friendship.

As I’ve led churches and talked to others about their church, we often get into discussions about how and why churches grow.  One phrase is repeated more often than not, “We’re a friendly church.”  The fact is most people who go to church believe their church is friendly.  I think that’s a reasonable thought.  Most of us think our families are friendly too.  This is because we’ve made our friends there.

Friendliness, no matter how well intentioned, is not a good gauge of a church’s readiness or ability to grow.  In fact, friendliness, if it is our goal, can be a distraction.  It’s good to give warm greeting when someone visits.  It’s nice to offer chit-chatty conversation.  But it’s not enough.  We have friendly waitresses at our favorite restaurant.  We’ve experienced friendly flight attendants.  Friendly bank tellers can really lift the spirit.  But that doesn’t mean any of these people want me to be part of their lives.

Many years ago, I read it takes at least 7 friendships to make someone commit to stay in a church.  Friendship, not friendliness is a more vital goal.  When you consider whether or not your church is ready for new friends, ask these questions.

1.  Will the “regulars” make room in their lives for new friends?  People will need to know we have relational room for them.

2.  Are there new groups where new people can get in on the ground floor?  These aren’t just groups of new people.  But new groups where newcomers and long-timers can connect and care with one another.

3.  Are there new ministry opportunities where new people can become stakeholders and invested leaders?  Few of us want to feel like we’re part of someone else’s project.  New ministries should be started, rather just using new people to keep old things going.

4.  Are new people encouraged to bring their ideas to make ministry happen?  Do we listen to the ideas, passions and commitments of new people?  God is bringing them, with their experiences, to us for a reason.

When we completely include people as friends, they tend to stay and get involved.  Friends are people we make room for.  Friends are people we give things up for.  Friends are people who have a say in what happens.

Jesus told his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).”  Jesus’ goal in making disciples was making friends.  That same desire should be reflected in the way we do ministry.

Being friendly is a great first step.  But it’s incomplete.  A church will only grow it is good at making friends.  Who are you making friends with at church?  What new avenue could you help create to give new people a place and a purpose?

Have you been to a friendly church where you couldn’t make friends?  What is your church doing right to help people make genuine friends?  How are you part of the process?