4 Reasons Being a Friendly Group Isn’t Enough

Maybe I have your attention. I hope so, because churches don’t need friendly groups. Sound strange? Of course it does. It sounds counter-intuitive, right? If you’d asked me about this in the past, I would have said, “We absolutely need friendly groups in the church.” But today I believe we need groups that go beyond being friendly and become places in which people can forge lasting friendships. There’s a big difference between a friendly group and a group with people who are ready to embrace newcomers (and group members) as friends. As odd as this may sound, friendly groups can be lonely places for “folks on the fringe.”

Biblical hospitality is needed in groups today. What is that? Biblical hospitality is treating strangers like friends. We don’t need to overcomplicate it. Treating strangers like friends goes beyond treating them friendly. Don’t get me wrong – there are some great, friendly groups out there and newer people are embraced, welcomed, and assimilated into the group as they discover new friends, but these groups are the exception and not the norm.

Friendly is good, but we need to move beyond that. At all times we must remember that programs (like Sunday School) don’t connect people – people connect people. Carey Nieuwhof has said that growing churches are going to be the ones that realize community and connection are going to be more important than content. Let that sink in for a moment, and hear the cry for something beyond being a friendly group, but one in which people connect at a heart level with others.

I’d like to share four reasons why friendly groups aren’t enough in our post-COVID ministry landscape, and why each of us must take ownership of the climate that guests (and group members) experience so they come to know the group as a place where they can discover new friends.

  • Friendly groups overestimate their friendliness. I’ve heard group members self-describe their group as “friendly.” That may be true in one sense: they are friendly towards one another, which gives them a false sense of how friendly they are to outsiders or group members who attend only occasionally. Some groups can do both well – be a place where people can form deeper friendships and experience friendliness, but there aren’t many. I have visited groups and no one in the group spoke to me, which also means no one invited me to come back! I know you might think I’m stretching the truth to make a point, but that has happened more than I’d like to tell you.
  • Friendly groups focus on an encounter and not a process. A group might describe themselves as friendly based on their initial encounter with a potential new group member. But the real test is the test of time – can the group maintain the press over the long haul? Pulling the person into the inner circles of relationships and making room for them makes all the difference between being friendly, and being a place where life-long friendships form.
  • Friendly groups forget that people expect friendliness. I wish that we could give bonus points to groups that are friendly to guests, but let’s remember that people expect groups to be friendly! What people are truly searching for are new relationships and new connections with others. Think of all the people who are migrating to your community and starting new lives far from family and friends they’ve left behind. These people expect groups to be friendly to them, but they want more. They need to rebuild friendships and support structures.
  • Friendly groups stop short of doing the hard work. A friendly group may not have people who “own” the responsibility for forming new friendships. Creating “relational tentacles” among and with people is messy, hard work. It requires each member of the group to say, “I’ve got this” – and you know they do when they have a vision for being the catalyst who takes steps to really know new people, and perhaps the irregular attenders as well.

The worst thing a guest can experience is the feeling of being a part of a group, but not really being a part of the group. Friendly groups are needed, of course! But we cannot stop there. We must have groups that are places where authentic relationships can be made. People like friendly, but they like friends even more. Let’s make sure each of us owns the job of making friends with new people God brings to our churches every week.

One comment

  1. True story. While serving at one church years ago, one of our vivacious church members made a motion at a regular church business meeting. The motion was made for the church to vote to be a “friendly church.” Everybody agreed and voted be a “friendly church.” No strategy or ministry was ever implemented as a result of that vote. I am still bewildered by that well intentioned vote.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s