Why Making Friends in Church Is So Hard (but So Important)

With competing priorities for our time and attention, should we even expect to have friends where we worship?

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on Forging Friendships in the Faith.

Eliza Tan

Why Making Friends in Church Is So Hard (but So Important)

With competing priorities for our time and attention, should we even expect to have friends where we worship?

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on Forging Friendships in the Faith.

Eliza Tan

You might have read an article that is making its rounds on social media. In “The Lonely Crowd: Churches Dying Due to Friendlessness”, Australian missiologist Mike Frost tells of how people are leaving churches because they have no friends there. 

Why is this happening? He suggests some reasons: people in church don’t listen well, struggle to open themselves up to others, or are simply too busy. 

If you can identify with these reasons, you’re not alone. 

Not only have many Christians in Singapore shared the link—suggesting that the article has resonated with them—but their comments and posts reveal that many are also struggling to find friends in church: 

“I told my husband it’s sad that even though we met our connect group weekly pre-Covid, I feel like I don’t know them well at all. It’s so easy to hide behind talk about our parenting, our children, our work, but not about our struggles and our joys.”

“The lack of authenticity is so real. Everyone is so busy trying to show their best selves while hiding their pain because they want to appear to be good Christians.”

“Finding friends is difficult when we have competing priorities. After service, we rush to family gatherings or other meetings. During care group time, we talk about the sermon message or assigned topic. There’s no time to share our personal lives.”

Why It’s Hard to Make Friends . . . Anywhere

Perhaps all these reactions shouldn’t be surprising, given what’s happening in today’s society. Sociologists have long noted that communities in high-income countries tend to be more individualistic and independent, with more people feeling lonely than before. 

Not that we don’t think friendship is important. According to local surveys, Singaporeans list family and friends as their top two priorities. Yet, on average, we spend only 2.8 hours enjoying the company of family and friends each week, excluding mealtime. 

What’s more alarming is that more than half of people in Singapore, at least according to a 2014 survey, say that they would consider sacrificing their friendship with a colleague for a promotion.

This is ironic, given how difficult it can get to make new friends as we grow older. 

Human development studies suggest that we’re more likely to make friends until we’re in our early 20s. When we’re young, we tend to be more trusting of peers, and we may also spend more time with them in environments that incubate the essential ingredients for friendship—time and trust.

As we move on, however, life will have taught us to be more cautious about befriending people, with lessons coming from disappointments and betrayal from those we trust. After entering the workforce, we are likely to become even more guarded, and wonder if those seeking to get closer to us are doing so for ulterior motives.

Men and women also tend to make friends differently. Women are more likely to build their friendships through open conversation on heartfelt topics, whereas men tend to bond through activities, usually in groups. Men may also find it harder to make friends because of gender stereotypes: they might be hesitant to share about their personal problems for fear of appearing weak. 

For both, however, engaging in deep conversations and activities might be a luxury these days. This is because of the many demands on our time, from our many commitments and responsibilities, and long hours at work.

Clearly, the difficulties that Frost identifies in making friends in church—not enough time, no active listening, no vulnerability—are the same reasons why we have difficulty making friends anywhere else. 

If this is the case, is it worth the trouble trying to make friends at church? Why bother, if it seems near impossible?

Why We Need Spiritual Friendships

In life, we are bound to face setbacks, crossroads and victories. Won’t you want a friend on the same journey to encourage you when you falter, comfort when you are hurt, advise when you are perplexed, and rejoice with you when you overcome? Won’t you want a friend to support you in your struggles as a fellow follower of God, trying to deal with life’s challenges in a godly way?

Friendship is such a vital part of life that God saw fit to give us much advice on it in His Word. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, for example, talk about the traits of good friends (for more on these traits, look out for Part 2 of this series).      

Having Christian friends is important, because they can help us grow (and stay faithful) in our walk with God (Proverbs 27:17). They can correct and even rebuke us when we stumble in our spiritual journey or become distracted (vv. 5–6). And if we fall because of sin, they can help restore us (Galatians 6:1–2).

The Bible features some notable friendships between key characters. 

The friendship between David and Jonathan, for example, is well known. Despite the conflict between David and his father Saul, Jonathan loved David as himself (1 Samuel 20:17). Jonathan promised to be loyal to his friend—even though David, instead of Jonathan himself, was anointed to succeed his father. 

And who can forget Job’s friends? Though somewhat flawed in their theology, they immediately went to Job to comfort him when they heard of his afflictions, sitting in silence for seven days and seven nights to mourn with him (Job 2:13). 

Jesus himself set the highest bar for friendship when He spoke of what true friendship involved. It is not just companionship, but also self-sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). 

To have friends to be with us on the path of life is a blessing from God, the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). If we yearn to have friends in church, let us ask our heavenly Father for them.

He loves to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11).

Dear God, thank You for the gifts of friendship and companionship. Help me to find godly friends who can encourage me to love You more. Grant me discernment, that I may know whom I can connect with and be vulnerable with. And enable me to be that friend who comforts, counsels, and loves in a way that reflects Your Son Jesus. In His name. Amen.

How to Be a Friend, According to the Bible

Eliza Tan is known by many names, but her favourite is 'My beloved child'. Though she eats to live rather than lives to eat, she still enjoys her food and wholeheartedly agrees with Ecclesiastes 3:13, "That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God."

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