Making New Friends…Are We Ready for That?

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

I remember having lunch with my friend, Ben, who is starting new works in a particularly “unchurched” area of our city.  He is taking a pretty non-traditional approach, at least in terms of denominational church starts.  He is simply making friendships in businesses and schools and other  places in the neighborhood, then watching as some of  those friendships develop into Bible studies.  The goal, I believe, is to start a number of these Bible studies in multiple locations around the neighborhood and see what happens.

friendship1So, as Ben and I were enjoying our Mexican food, we were talking about these friendships he was making.  Many of them are not the kind of people who would ever feel comfortable walking into my very traditional, very WASP downtown church.  As he was explaining his approach to these friendships, he said something that really hit my traditional, institutional church paradigm completely sideways.  He said, “Blake, the people I am talking to about Spiritual things are not asking the question, ‘what do you believe?’  That’s not a question they care about at all.  What they are asking is, ‘Are you somebody I want to be like?’”

I haven’t been able to get that comment out of my head.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  It has really shaken my world.

I live and move in a world of strategic planning.  I consult with churches regularly, telling them how important it is that they spend time defining who they are and what they believe. I am big on mission statements and purpose statements and vision statements and core values.  If you ask me to describe my own church to you I would probably begin with what we believe.  When I talk about Christianity to non-Christian friends, my entire mindset is about what we believe.  Frankly, it is where I find meaning in almost everything.  So, if there is a generation (or two) of nonbelievers to whom I am supposed to witness and whose radar screen doesn’t even have the question “what do you believe?” anywhere on it, then I am suddenly feeling woefully ill-equipped.

Can this be true?  As a church, are we really creating entire websites that are answering questions our target audience isn’t even asking?  I mean, I’m not completely out of touch.  I’ve been reading for years now about the disconnect between the mainstream church and the culture in which it lives.  But this distinction seems to me to be pretty fundamental.  If my friend is correct, then evangelism cannot begin with what I believe.  The gospel does not start with the message of salvation, in fact, it does not start with a message at all.  If Ben is right, it actually starts with something much simpler and much more foundational than words…

…it starts with friendships.

What Ben’s philosophy holds is that, long before we have earned the right to sit and discuss beliefs, we must be friends.  There must be needs being met and a genuine desire to spend time around each other without any agenda at all…just friends hanging out together.  If Ben is correct, then the church has got to re-think how it operates, because we actually have to be looking to make new friends all the time.  We have to be willing to open up our lives and forge new, meaningful relationships with people we don’t know.  We have to spend time with them during the week and care about much more than just their spiritual well-being.  We may have to put the spiritual discussions on hold for long periods of time in order to strengthen the friendship, with no guarantee that the spiritual part will ever bear fruit at all.  We have to do more than just minister…we actually have to become friends.

I hope Ben is wrong about having to make new friends in order to reach people with the gospel.  Because I’m not altogether sure we’re set up for that.  Are you?

© Blake Coffee

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7 responses to “Making New Friends…Are We Ready for That?”

  1. This what I want!!! If you figure out how to put this into action let me know!!! I am so excited by the number of things God is surrounding me with that just confirm so many of the ways I am to Love the Lord!!! I am ready I just don’t know how to do it. I have friendships started but I feel like I am supposed to do more? We have talked about a partial issue together but it is bigger than that. I am not sure if we teach our church how to Love this world or if we just do it and have them ask “what are you doing.” Thank you Blake!!!

  2. Thanks, Keesha, for chiming in. Great comment! As to how to “put this into action”, I suppose all you or I can be responsible for is ourselves. So, putting this into action means going and making new friends myself, and constantly working to get better and better at it…NOT with an agenda for bringing them to church, but just to be friends.

    Thanks for checking in from time to time!

  3. To me, it is a perfect example of how our current society wants to be able to put their feet in the pool to feel good but is unwilling to commit to jumping in. There is no absolute truth to many in this generation. I think that the truth of the Bible is absolute and if that is the case, “belief” is the core of that message – friend or no friend, it makes no difference. While I do think that relationship is imperative to Christian growth – I do not think we do anyone any good by holding back the message that Christ wants us to disperse. Our lives should certainly be able to stand public scrutiny and people should be able to see how Christ has changed us – we may be the only Jesus they ever see. But if there is no question in their mind about whether or not they believe in that change (or more imprtantly what changed us), there will always be a question in their mind of whether or not that change they see is real. To them you are most likely just another “good person”. There is not a person alive that does not believe in something – even a lack of belief in God qualifies as a belief in something else (material or otherwise). The thief on the cross didn’t need to make friends to see the truth – he saw the truth and then made a friend! Don’t get me wrong, I think that those who have deep friendships with people that are lost have those friendships for a reason. What I don’t think is right is making friendships on the premise that it’s my only way to reach a person for Christ. A person may not like me at all but that does not change the fact that I am secure in my belief in Christ and it does not change the fact that the ONLY thing that will save that person is THEIR OWN belief in Christ. I tell the youth constantly to do their best to know WHAT they believe and WHY they believe it. I do this for two reasons – a young Christian will make a far more effective witness if they are able defend their faith and secondly, if a student is not sure or has not made a decision to follow Christ, it challenges them to explore at the deepest points of their life what it is that’s missing. Nothing sets my atheist brother’s buddies off more than asking them to define exactly what they hold hope in. I really do not know them very well at all, but I get great dialogue and an open door to proclaim my faith. I guarantee that someone in that group has asked the question – “What is it that I do believe in?” Rather than thinking we need to be friends with everyone, I would rather see the church be better at freely opening a non-threatening dialogue with the people in the community. We need to do a better job of taking the gospel to them! We need to do a better job of meeting physical needs. This will drive conversation and those conversations will, in my opinion, reveal that we all believe in something, it just may not be the right thing – we have to be better at being able to defend our own core belief – I bet we will have a lot of friends when we are done!

    1. Don-

      By my own unscientific estimation, you and I are about 90% in agreement, at least based upon what you’ve said in this comment. I absolutely agree that every Christian should be ready, capable and willing to give testimony about what he believes and why. I also agree that we should all live lives of transparency which would survive public scrutiny. I also agree that the Bible is clear and that the only way to God is through belief in Christ.

      But here are some other observations with which I suspect you would agree…

      You are not likely to argue a lost person into a relationship with Christ. If I bury someone in a debate and embarrass him with my skills as an advocate for Christ, I may gain the pleasure of being right, but I have not gained a brother. I think the church is guilty of this.

      I also think the church often sends a subliminal message in our efforts to do ministry or evangelism: “I am acting as if I love you and care about you, but only in order to get you to agree with me and join my church…if you’re not interested in that RIGHT NOW then I’m not really interested in you.”. Obviously, that is not an intentional message…but it’s a message nonetheless.

      To me, acting as if we care about someone in order to get them into the conversation we want them to have is the better example of “testing the water” without really committing. That may be the 10% or so of this topic where you and I agree to disagree. 🙂

  4. You make some very good points. I don’t want to “do” church any more, I want community, somewhere safe and full of love. And suprise, the rest of the world wants that too!

  5. i am happy to know many about your points of view. but i let you know that be friend must be one of the important characteristics of christian. here in africa especialy in DRCongo, the church is a place when many people meet, even ennemies can meet in the church. the recent exemple and helpfull story a woman who forgive someone who killed six mounth ago her husband and children. after some mouths the to persons become friends end get married. todays they are living togethers.
    brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s me know you that The Churches play the important role in the resolution of ethnic war conflit. persons who some years ago were ennemies, become friends and works together.
    God is able to make us friends, He could change everyone as He wants.
    To end let me say that we must be friend of God and than friend of our brothers and sisters in God. God Bless you all

  6. My thoughts regarding this are very strong. As I have grown older, I continue to observe the world morphing into a very strange place. I find myself wondering “Joy is it really strange or are you just becoming set in your ways? Hum
    Then I realized on many ocassions I am very set in my ways. My choice to have friends regardless of their belief in the Lord and deciding weather or not I would be of assistance to them because of their belief is irrelavent. When the Lord called me to be His daughter and I opened my heart for Him to reside in me, that was it. We are the church. Where ever we go and whatever we do He is in our midst and of those around us.
    Six monthes ago I started a new job. A couple of weeks later out of know where a lady who I had not known before came up to me and said I don’t know what it is about you but you are different, you are very special. Since that day when I see her she always makes sure she give me a hug when our paths cross. Look, I know what it is like to live with family members that do not believe. Their was a time in my life when I would” preach”to them to know end about the Lord and what a difference He could make in their lives.”He does the calling and it obviously was not through me”. The bottom line is no matter what they choose to believe I will continue to love them. “They” are my children, I continue to remain in prayer daily for them. My neighbors are Jehovah witness and I would do almost anything for them. “I can do all things through Christ who strenghens me”. He never said it was going to be easy and forgiveness is one of the last things He ask for for those who persecuted Him while on the cross. Shalom