How To Have Deeper Church Relationships?

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Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
So often, no matter what denomination, we have noticed that church relationships are generally shallow and are only temporary. At one point we were even at a means of grace church for seven years, every Lord's Day together, fellowshipping from beginning to end, with lunch together every Sunday, and showing hospitality throughout the week. We are no longer at that church, but from the time we left it seemed like none of the families wanted to stay in contact with us. So often the church's relationships are more like acquaintances that never grow deeper. How can this be fixed? What is the answer for people wanting to share life together and have lifelong friendships?
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
In my experience, if we are asking this question about any relationship, then the relationship will most likely only ever be surface-level. Real and deep relationships occur and develop naturally. They cannot be forced. The moment we ask, "How can we be more deliberate about forming deeper relationships?" the battle is already lost. Just be yourself, and let everyone else be themselves. Not every person in the church needs to be on David-and-Jonathan terms. My very best friend became my friend because we happened to be roommates in college. We had never met each other before. We just happened to live in the same room. We never said or thought, "We need to be deliberate about developing a deep relationship." It just happened. And that, I believe, it how it is meant to be, and how it should be. Contrary to modern, sappy evangelical thought, it is okay to have folks in your church who are nothing more than acquaintances. It doesn't make you any less than brothers or sisters.
 
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Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
In my experience, if we are asking this question about any relationship, then the relationship will most likely only ever be surface-level. Real and deep relationships occur and develop naturally. They cannot be forced. The moment we ask, "How can we be more deliberate about forming deeper relationships?" the battle is already lost. Just be yourself, and let everyone else be themselves. Not every person in the church needs to be on David-and-Jonathan terms. My very best friend became my friend because we happened to be roommates in college. We had never met each other before. We just happened to live in the same room. We never said or thought, "We need to be deliberate about developing a deep relationship." It just happened. And that, I believe, it how it is meant to be, and how it should be. Contrary to modern, sappy evangelical thought, it is okay to have folks in your church who are nothing more than acquaintances. It doesn't make you any less than brothers or sisters.
Thanks for the reply, brother! Sadly from my experience after college, those connections just haven't really happened naturally, and that's not from a lack of me trying. I have found that a lot of people either stick to a clique, and or do not want more meaningful relationships.

I appreciate your thoughts on acquaintances, I just see in the Bible how relationships were much more involved and deeper, where life was shared, and people are referred to as brothers and sisters, as if they are family. I just don't know if the idea of acquaintances is the biblical norm in God's family.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Ryan - I hear what you're saying. There's no easy fix, and you're right: by and large people are "in the moment," so they'll be your friend when you're there but the moment you leave its like they forget you within a few weeks. Which is odd given that modern technology makes it easier than ever before in human history to maintain meaningful contact from long distances.

One thing I do in my church is I really *emphasize* the importance of shared experiences. We worship and study, but we also have regularly scheduled fellowship and relationship-building events. Some egg heads poo-poo the idea that "mere" chit chat is fellowship, but in so doing they reveal that they know nothing about how human connections are formed.

Anyhow, it is a difficulty, and there are no easy cures... but just keep plugging away, that's how life works.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I appreciate your thoughts on acquaintances, I just see in the Bible how relationships were much more involved and deeper, where life was shared, and people are referred to as brothers and sisters, as if they are family. I just don't know if the idea of acquaintances is the biblical norm in God's family.
But you have to remember that, though we are all indeed brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all human. God created us in such a way so that we are mentally and emotionally incapable of having and maintaining dozens of deep and close relationships at the same time. It’s just not possible, and regeneration and church membership doesn’t change that about human nature. I think trying to force the issue will thus almost always end in frustration.

Also, I wonder if in the end you’re importing too much into the fact that we are “brothers and sisters.” This is a familial term, not necessarily a relational-emotional one. I am closer emotionally to my best friend than I am my brother. That’s not because we don’t love each other. We do. But I share a lot more in common with my best friend. In the same way, I love every single brother and sister in my church. I would do anything for any of them. But I don’t have the same level of “deepness” in my relationship with all of them. I really believe that’s okay. It’s how God designed us.

I think this would be a good thing to write a book or paper about.
 

bookish_Basset

Puritan Board Freshman
These are good questions. I was asking similar ones at our old church a few years ago, because I was pretty lonely there and didn't know how to change that. I still don't know any easy answers, though I think Taylor's response above is really helpful.

For one, I agree that it's just not possible to have the same depth in all relationships. And even close, genuine friendships won't necessarily last forever, because people change and circumstances change. I can think of a very close friendship that developed between us and another family years ago (and especially between me and the wife in that family). Then they moved rather suddenly, and though we still care about each other and keep in touch sometimes, it just couldn't stay the same. I fought that for a long time before I accepted that that's just how life is, and it doesn't make us any less of brothers and sisters in Christ.

I also agree that forcing deeper friendships won't work; they just have to emerge naturally over time, and every one will look a little different. At our new church, instead of aiming directly at forming friendships, I'm trying to just enjoy the process of gradually getting to know people (and believe me, for a shy introvert, that's not easy!). I'm probably similar to you in that I do long for those deeper connections, but I find those are often a surprise and emerge in ways I don't expect. I believe God has put us among these specific brothers and sisters for His purposes, and I'm trying to relax my expectations for what those will ultimately look like.
 

Grant

Puritan Board Senior
I generally agree with what Taylor is saying. Naturally is best. That said, I do not think the logic is full proof. Having a desire to improve relationships does not mean a battle is lost in this area. Building meaningful relationships does take work and even hard work at times.

More to the OP: As one who has tried to grow my family’s relationship with others in our current congregation, I will say that sharing meals in your home and Church work days are really great tools to help strengthen those binds. We were total strangers 4 years ago. We still don’t have any “close” relationships, but things are improving rather naturally. I do think that the my above suggestions, sharing meals and working together, have helped grow things more quickly.

Also inviting members to non-Church planned events can help. Example: I had a men’s crawfish/bonfire at my home a month ago. I invited my closest friends, but also three of the Deacons who are dear brothers of mine. This helped grow my friendship with those men as well.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Just as a little background, I made the comments I made here because my wife is very introverted. She has really struggled making friends at our current church. (We’ve been there for almost three years.) As an introvert, being deliberate about actively forming relationships is not only tiring, but straight up uncomfortable and exhausting for her. So, what I say is coming from some experience from dealing with her psychological makeup.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I will say that sharing meals in your home and Church work days are really great tools to help strengthen those binds.
In terms of being “deliberate,” I think this is key. There is nothing better for growing relationships than sharing meals together.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
This is a challenge in the church today even among elders and deacons.

Most of the rewarding relationships in life, in church and elsewhere, don’t come without effort. Why should friendships be any different? For most men, asking a women out isn‘t easy. Very few jobs fall in a persons lap. There are case studies where blissful marriages, great jobs, and rich, rewarding friendships seem to drop from the sky but they are outliers. Don’t expect things to work that way. Work is the norm.

I take a little exception to Grant’s and Taylor’s contention that these relationships occur in a ”natural” way. Though Taylor redeemed himself in post 8 and 9 talking about deliberate action and it not being easy :) . What does ”natural” mean anyway? For those that have been doing “natural” for years, even decades and not getting any different results, where does that leave them?

Friendships require some risk. You may say the wrong things or not enough. You may look like you’re trying too hard. I’ve done it. I’ve said genius things like this to a widow, “you must miss your husband.” Doh! That’s a gaffe but heaven save the church from people who won’t talk to each other. People seem to think there is no area between saying and doing nothing and full on Kent and Rosaría Butterfield hospitality. Don‘t let fear of not living up to the latter induce analysis paralysis. Do something. Strike up a conversation and don’t talk about yourself unless you are asked. If someone says they have a son with legal trouble or a niece with leukemia ask, “other than the obvious is there anything or anyone else I can pray for?” Write it down. Call or text in the middle of the week and let them know. In the western middle class church, loneliness is the new hunger. I’d say anger is close second to loneliness, especially among many men. The West in 2021 isn’t 1750 Scotland. Most all of us don’t live within a couple of miles of all your fellow church members and regularly bump into each other at the baker, butcher or blacksmith. We have to be more intentional.

If there is no meal program for new babies, deaths, serious illnesses offer to take meal to someone and pray. In our church it has always been an elder’s or deacon’s wife who organizes meal drives. Maybe someone would volunteer if an announcement is made. When you drop of the food, stay a few minutes and inquire into the situation. Take prayer requests or offer to pray. Rarely is five minutes intrusive unless it is a surprise.. Don’t stay longer unless that was the plan to begin with.

Most folks are dealing something- their own sin, financial struggles, health scares/struggles or the effects of those things in the lives of others. Get started. You will mess up in those relationships as in others. People will mess up as they try to relate to you. Move forward. You will spend time with those that after a few months, weeks and years will leave the church and never be heard from again. Below are a couple of resources that I have found helpful.


 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
These are good replies. Thanks so much!

Something we've really been focusing on is just hanging out with people, and not making things formalized. Even a meal at times would seem too structured in the past.

We still always have people over for a meal, but for example, last night we had a family over for dinner, but dinner was just a small part of being together. We played soccer in the street with some neighbors, played some rock music on the guitar, played with our kids on the swing set, talked while sitting on our living room floor and playing with the kids.

Maybe we can be too meeting focused and structured, and need to just be organic?

Christ is what unites us, but people from the church can come over to play board games, cards, sports, etc., to where the relationships can be more freeing, fun, and focused on just living life together.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Hymn and Psalm sings with cookies, popcorn, coffee, whatever!

Learn new tunes. Giggle over missed notes. Pray.

At least, that is something we like to do. We need it more often.
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
There are also people who are willing to be friends with you as long as you do all the work to keep the friendship alive. If you talk to them on the phone, it's because you called them. If you get together somewhere, it's because you took the initiative to set it up. Otherwise, you rarely see or hear from them. I've had this experience.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Graduate
There are also people who are willing to be friends with you as long as you do all the work to keep the friendship alive. If you talk to them on the phone, it's because you called them. If you get together somewhere, it's because you took the initiative to set it up. Otherwise, you rarely see or hear from them. I've had this experience.
Yep. And if you never call them again, they'll never call you again. So, don't call them for a while, and see what happens. If nothing, fine. Move on with your life without grudging it against them. If they do call you, great! You may have underestimated them. Be thankful, and reciprocate their love as you are able.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Graduate
Lot's of excellent replies. I'll just add my :2cents:.

So much in life is ruined by our own unreasonable expectations. Church fellowship is not immune to this disorder. I can't tell you the hours I have spent over the years with people disaffected with their church over their own disappointed expectations about how close/rich/fulfilling they thought their fellowship would be; and it wasn't. But surprise, surprise... were not yet in heaven!

But there is a tremendous blessing in the embrace of a realistic approach to this subject. Just be easy. Focus on your responsibility to love, not on others responsibility to love you. Realize that some brethren will not be as close. A small number will. And for them, we must be unfailingly thankful. But we are called to love our brethren. We are not called to be "besties" with all of them. Love them regardless of how that's reciprocated, and God will bless it (Matt. 10:42).
 
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Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
This is a challenge in the church today even among elders and deacons.

Most of the rewarding relationships in life, in church and elsewhere, don’t come without effort. Why should friendships be any different? For most men, asking a women out isn‘t easy. Very few jobs fall in a persons lap. There are case studies where blissful marriages, great jobs, and rich, rewarding friendships seem to drop from the sky but they are outliers. Don’t expect things to work that way. Work is the norm.

I take a little exception to Grant’s and Taylor’s contention that these relationships occur in a ”natural” way. Though Taylor redeemed himself in post 8 and 9 talking about deliberate action and it not being easy :) . What does ”natural” mean anyway? For those that have been doing “natural” for years, even decades and not getting any different results, where does that leave them?

Friendships require some risk. You may say the wrong things or not enough. You may look like you’re trying too hard. I’ve done it. I’ve said genius things like this to a widow, “you must miss your husband.” Doh! That’s a gaffe but heaven save the church from people who won’t talk to each other. People seem to think there is no area between saying and doing nothing and full on Kent and Rosaría Butterfield hospitality. Don‘t let fear of not living up to the latter induce analysis paralysis. Do something. Strike up a conversation and don’t talk about yourself unless you are asked. If someone says they have a son with legal trouble or a niece with leukemia ask, “other than the obvious is there anything or anyone else I can pray for?” Write it down. Call or text in the middle of the week and let them know. In the western middle class church, loneliness is the new hunger. I’d say anger is close second to loneliness, especially among many men. The West in 2021 isn’t 1750 Scotland. Most all of us don’t live within a couple of miles of all your fellow church members and regularly bump into each other at the baker, butcher or blacksmith. We have to be more intentional.

If there is no meal program for new babies, deaths, serious illnesses offer to take meal to someone and pray. In our church it has always been an elder’s or deacon’s wife who organizes meal drives. Maybe someone would volunteer if an announcement is made. When you drop of the food, stay a few minutes and inquire into the situation. Take prayer requests or offer to pray. Rarely is five minutes intrusive unless it is a surprise.. Don’t stay longer unless that was the plan to begin with.

Most folks are dealing something- their own sin, financial struggles, health scares/struggles or the effects of those things in the lives of others. Get started. You will mess up in those relationships as in others. People will mess up as they try to relate to you. Move forward. You will spend time with those that after a few months, weeks and years will leave the church and never be heard from again. Below are a couple of resources that I have found helpful.


To be clear, I never said relationships aren’t work. To say the deepest relationships form and develop “naturally” is not to say they form and develop without work. What I am talking about is more of a mindset thing. I’m saying that, in my own experience, going into a relationship asking, “How can I make this a deep relationship?” or going around actively seeking out deep relationships, are not the best ways to make deep relationships. It’s like when I was in seminary. In an effort for the administration to encourage spiritual formation among the student body, they were “deliberate” about it, and so we were assigned required “spiritual formation” classes. Guess what didn’t happen in those classes...
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
There are also people who are willing to be friends with you as long as you do all the work to keep the friendship alive. If you talk to them on the phone, it's because you called them. If you get together somewhere, it's because you took the initiative to set it up. Otherwise, you rarely see or hear from them. I've had this experience.
Brother, so true!
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
I wouldn't get too worked up over friends falling out of touch after you relocate geographically or separate in another sense. If you've had a group of friends for years and none of them even bothers to follow up with you at all after you've left, that would be disappointing. But consider how many people, particularly in today's age, we know. Fellowshipping with those who are co-located with you and especially in your church should probably take priority. In a sense, continuing to devote time to others whom you no longer are with can take away time devoted to those in your church.

I personally find it difficult to maintain close relations with friends over time (eventually, you get worn out trying to stay connected to people whom you may never see again).

The (few) long-term, remote friendships I've maintained are with men who I have developed mutual interests (particularly theologically) and deep dialogues. I have one friend in particular who I will often call to pick his brain on various things.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
I just see in the Bible how relationships were much more involved and deeper, where life was shared,
Well, the congregation wasn't spread out over 5000 square miles. The deeper friendships in our church are likely the folks that live within a few blocks of each other and have the same schools, stores, and recreations together. Folks that see each other every day, not 3 hours a week.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Graduate
Well, the congregation wasn't spread out over 5000 square miles. The deeper friendships in our church are likely the folks that live within a few blocks of each other and have the same schools, stores, and recreations together. Folks that see each other every day, not 3 hours a week.
That's why it's good for Christians to live in close proximity to their church if it is at all possible, and to never live at a distance if it can be avoided.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
Well, the congregation wasn't spread out over 5000 square miles. The deeper friendships in our church are likely the folks that live within a few blocks of each other and have the same schools, stores, and recreations together. Folks that see each other every day, not 3 hours a week.
Yeah this is a really good point and very true.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
That's why it's good for Christians to live in close proximity to their church if it is at all possible
It doesn't make more than 5 minutes difference if I go Southwest, or to PCA churches to the southeast, northwest, or north. The Reformed Presbyterian church northeast would probably be about 10 minutes farther. I could learn Korean, I suppose, and walk to an independent presbyterian church.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
This is well worth the watch. It's a scientific study for over 75 years, examining people's lives to see what is most important and gives people the best quality of life. I posted it here because it has to do with human relationships.

 

VilnaGaon

Puritan Board Sophomore
Just to add in my 2 Cents, I have found that the deeper a fellowship we have with the Lord Jesus Christ, the more people are just drawn to you.
 
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