Whether you’re new to your church or have been there for years, getting to know brothers and sisters in Christ can be challenging. Perhaps it’s the hustle and bustle of Sunday, your inability to attend a small group or Bible study, or perceived incompatibility—whatever the reason, making friends at church often takes work.
But if we dig in, commit to prayer, and make ourselves available to others, we’ll find these hard-fought friendships to be some of the richest. So where do we start?
1. Introduce yourself to one person each Sunday.
Even as I write this encouragement, I feel squeamish thinking about walking over and sticking out my hand to a stranger or, even worse, to somebody I’ve seen regularly and haven’t yet greeted. But what’s the worst that could happen?
I feel squeamish thinking about walking over and sticking out my hand to a stranger. But what’s the worst that could happen?
You could, as I have, introduce yourself to the same person more than once. It’s OK to sometimes make fools of ourselves for the sake of making others feel known. Remember how Paul instructs us to look “to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). The Lord can help us get over ourselves and take courage in meeting people. Consider leading with “Have we met before?” If the answer is an awkward yes, laugh about it. Sharing a laugh helps break the ice!
2. Ask God to guide your availability.
Sometimes as I’m standing in the back of the church, I feel overwhelmed by all the people I wish I knew better. So I ask the Lord to help me wisely use my time and attention after the service. Perhaps you need guidance on whom to approach because your children are hungry, your introverted heart is worn out, or you can’t reach enough people fast enough. God is faithful to guide us with wisdom and discernment, even in little details like how to steward our limited availability before leaving church (James 1:5).
3. Write down names.
There are times I introduce myself and I’m so nervous that I struggle to retain my new acquaintance’s name. In those instances, you might ask a pastor or fellow member if he knows the person’s name, or walk right back up to her and say, “Remind me of your name one more time!” Once you’re confident you have it right, scribble the name somewhere. I like to put it in the notes section of my phone. Don’t worry if this feels machine-like. We’re called to meet with and encourage our spiritual siblings (Heb. 10:25). Learning their names is a necessary part of growing in relationship.
Whenever I hear about somebody struggling to build relationships in his or her church, I immediately inquire about serving opportunities. Small groups and Bible studies can be incredibly helpful for connecting and growing with a specific group of people. But if you can’t make it to those sorts of gatherings, be encouraged. Some of my closest friendships in the church formed organically through serving together. The bond of teamwork and shared experience is essential to becoming partners in the gospel who are like-minded in Christ (Phil. 1:5; 2:2).
5. Pray for specific individuals.
We may pray generally for our church community and specifically for those we know are ailed, suffering, or requesting intercession. We can also pray for specific relationships. When I’m hoping to connect with someone and struggling to make progress, I take it up in prayer. We can start by praying for God’s blessing for the person we want to know better, and we can ask him for ideas about how to pursue her. We can pray for opportunities to have good conversations and think ahead of time about questions we might ask or topics we might bring up.
6. Pursue the harder ones.
I hope you have easy friendships at church, but I also hope you have less comfortable ones. If we avoid friendships that require us to push through awkwardness or work at connection, we won’t have many relationships in a community of broken sinners.
The bond of teamwork and shared experience is essential to becoming partners in the gospel.
A beautiful part of the body of Christ is the different perspectives and life experiences we each bring to the table, knowing our greatest compatibility is through Christ himself. Does building relationships despite our differences take time? Sure. Does it demand we show up and get uncomfortable? At least for a while. Will it get easier? One hundred percent. We can’t expect to have lightning chemistry with everyone at church. But we can trust Christ’s ability to unify his body. It might even be a lack of chemistry that compels us to love better, pursue harder, and pray more thoughtfully. This is Christ in us.
Pursuing and praying about friendships at church is deserving of our time. We’re more than bodies that worship God side by side on Sundays. Together, we’re the body of Christ. When we invest in relationships with fellow believers, we also grow in fellowship with the Lord.