Dionne Warwick sang, “That’s What Friends Are For.” Stevie Wonder sang, “I just called to say I love you.” Many of the popular shows on television are based on close friendships.
Some experts are saying that friendship was the “sociological signature” of the 80’s, but I would argue this has always been the sociological signature of humankind. In recent years, as the American family has become more mobile there has been a blurring of lines between family and friends. Traditionally, the family has been our primary support group. Unfortunately, the traditional family is almost the exception. Dr. Froma Walsh, at the University of Chicago, has said, “The increasing need for friendship is closely associated with the increasing divorce rate.”
What does all of this say to the church? It means people are looking for a place to belong–for friends–for a support group. So, we need to be a friend; to connect with our neighbors. We need to be intentional about developing friendships and encouraging our friends to join our church family. Simply put, we need to develop a high-touch ministry in a high-tech society. (For a specific plan regarding how to do this, check out my post Eight Steps to Christian Disciple Making.)
Of course, those who are hurting the most are often the most receptive to our offer of friendship. Several years ago Dan Betzer told about a pastor whose church was experiencing significant decline. This pastor led his church in a major effort to reach out to drug addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless. The pastor didn’t just invite them to church, he wanted to help them in their everyday problems, turning their “existence” into “real life.” Of course, he also found that people of all races and economic status have hurts, hang-ups, and destructive habits. Everyone eventually needs a friend.
So what happened to the pastor’s church? In a couple of years the building was packed with worshipers.
I would never suggest that offering genuine friendships to hurting people will fill your church building in a couple of years. But I do believe that’s how Jesus reached out to others, offering God’s unconditional love. That is how Paul and the apostles reached out. And I believe that’s how every Christian is called to serve others. Not doing something to them, but rather, doing something with them. Genuine friendship is often the first step to discipleship.
QUESTION: In what ways are you offering your friendship to others who may be hurting and need to experience God’s love and mercy? Please respond in the Comments sections below.