I am just going to come right out it and say it because I am big believer that ripping off the metaphorical bandaid is always the best way to go:
Going to a church is not going to guarantee you instant friendship.
It is very possible that you can attend a church for years and not feel like you have a single, true friendship. Many pastors will tell you that one of the biggest complaints they receive is that their church has to many "cliques" or is lacking a sense of "community". Bigger churches invest tons of money, time, and pastoral resources into developing a strong "small group ministry"... and still people will say, "I have no one to talk to after church on Sunday."
A pastor friend once said to me, "We have to realize that the loneliest place to be sometimes is standing in the corner during coffee hour after a church service...hoping to find not just a friendly face....but a real friendship."
Why do we still feel lonely even though we belong to a church community?
1. We have handed over the responsibility of "making friends" to our church leaders.
The only person that is responsible for making and maintaining friendship in our lives... is us. Church leaders are there to be helpful but they cannot be the "Match.com" of friendship in our lives... no matter how hard they try. And believe me, most pastors want the people they have the honor to serve to feel connected and cared for. This is why they work hard to try to meet everyone for coffee once in awhile.... or organize an effective small group ministry. Good pastors want people to feel like they belong. The problem is that belonging is more than giving people something to attend. Belonging is a belief that people have accepted to be true in their lives.
2. We think that "Small Groups" will be where we find our people.
I think small groups can be where we find our people but it doesn't always work out that way. There are two things that are fundamentals in friendship: Connection and Consistency. When you attend a small group, you need to have an organic connection with at least one member. It can be a small connection... but there has to be some kind of sense that "THIS PERSON GETS ME." The second thing is that you need to have consistent interaction with the people you feel there is a connection with. Sometimes this happens in a "small group" and sometimes it doesn't.
A woman once told me a story about a time that she went to her pastor and said, "I am feeling lonely." The pastor replied, "Join a small group." She told him, "I did. I still feel lonely." The pastor shrugged his shoulders and walked away as if to say, "There is nothing else I can do for you then."
Small groups are an opportunity for friendship but they aren't the only option for friendship...
3. We believe our closest friends have to be apart of the church we personally attend.
There are many of us who believe that our closest friendships must only be found in the church we attend. Not only is this belief untrue, it's unhealthy. The Kingdom of God is bigger than the local church we attend and we when we forget this, we can find ourselves in dangerous "isolating" waters. Deep, meaningful friendship can be cultivated outside the walls of our church... aaaaaaand dare I suggest... deep, meaningful friendships can even be cultivated with others who attend a different church.
Our local church is a community we belong to BUT ultimately, we belong to the Kingdom of God... which offers an ample supply of wonderful souls we can build a connection with. This should encourage us!
4. We have friendship issues that we need to work through before we feel connected.
As a person who has struggled with "friendship hurt" from my past, I can attest that until I dealt with my friendship issues...it was very difficult to have healthy friendships with others in my church. My perception of "community" was colored by my past experiences and I interpreted every encounter through the lens of rejection, betrayal, and spiritual abuse. I was not a fun person to try to be friends with.
I remember being on staff at a church where the pastor called me into the office and said, "What happened at your last church? You seem so fearful to let people in." I immediately began to weep and share some of the hurt I had experienced. It was in that moment I realized the pain I was holding onto was shaping my perspective of the present. When I began to forgive... I began to find friendship in my new church community.
5. We have decided there is a "cool group" in church and those are the people we want to be friends with.
Ugh. Even at church we can be tempted to see certain people as the "cool people". I once was at a women's retreat where a woman shared with me that she felt the church she was attending had a "hierarchy" of people who were considered the important folk you wanted to be friends with. When I asked her who were the "important people", she named all the members of the worship team and church staff.
It is easy to deem those who take "the stage" on Sunday morning as the "important people" or the "THE COOL TABLE OF CHURCH". There can be a temptation to revert to our 7th grade ways and want to be those "important people" to be our friends because some how it validates our own desire to be considered cool.
Yet, we get hurt when these "important people" are too busy to hang out or seem distant when they do. There are LOTS of reasons for that (which is an entirely another article I will write someday) but please...PLEASE listen to me:
THERE OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR CHURCH YOU CAN BE FRIENDS WITH BESIDES THE CHURCH STAFF AND WORSHIP TEAM.
It's SOOOOO true! Every single person who walks through your church doors is important and has something amazing that God has put inside of them that will impact the world in an IMPORTANT way. So, don't pass up amazing friendship with people just because you don't call them "pastor" or because they are not launching a worship album. There is no cool table at church. We are ALL invited to sit at Jesus' table and I don't care if that sounds cheesy. I believe it with all my heart.
Going to church is not going to guarantee instant friendship but it's not a bad place to start looking for friendship.
- It's our responsibility to make and maintain friends... not our church leaders.
- Small group is not the only option for friendships...
- Our closest friends do not have to attend the same church as we do.
- We have to work through our friendship issues before we can feel truly connected.
- There is no "cool table" at church.
The bottom line is that God wants us have to have friends.
It's never His plan that we are chronically lonely.
Always your friend,