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The Friendship Factor: The Long Trail for Authentic Community

By Rick Chromey


Friends are hard to come by these days, especially at church.

In an age of social media and instant connections, authentic community is a rare thing indeed. Facebook has reinterpreted “friendship” to mean anybody with whom you accept “connection,” while Twitter reduces relationship to mere “following.”

Never before has humanity been more connected and yet so lonely.

The superficiality of social media certainly feeds this illusion—or delusion—of friendship. Our hyper-connection in our web technology has only highlighted the relational holes in the human heart. Even with individuals we’ve known for years, there’s a relational bias that suggests we know somebody better than we actually do. Just because we were once “best friends” doesn’t mean that status is permanent.

Relationships are naturally messy, unpredictable, and fluid.

In other words, relationships are continually changing.

New friendships sprout and grow quickly, while established relationships drift, disintegrate, and die. We can be friends for a moment, a season, or a lifetime. The best relationships, the ones that truly change us, are marked by respect, trust, love, and joy.

And those mature friendships take time.

A recent study by the University of Kansas revealed that it takes about 50 hours of “time spent in leisure, at home, or at play” to move a relationship from acquaintance to casual friendship. It takes 90 hours for a casual relationship to mature into a friendship, and more than 200 hours for “close friend” status to happen.[i]

Let those numbers sink in.

It’s no wonder most American Christians are dissatisfied with the lack of connection in the Sunday morning worship experience. For many people the weekly attendance ritual is reduced to sitting (or standing) passively looking at the back of someone’s head and then going home. If there are connective traditions to “meet and greet” they are short, forced, and sometimes unwelcomed.

In short, the church of the late 21st century lost the fine art of friendship. For example, when was the last time at church:

  • You engaged in a long conversation?
  • You spent significant time with a visitor or guest to explore common interests, backgrounds, ideas, and feelings?
  • You participated in a fellowship meal?
  • You experienced meaningful small-group opportunity and interactivity?
  • You experienced relational rituals and historic traditions (like baptism, Eucharist, prayer, giving) in community and not as isolated, private, and personal activities?

For centuries the church was the focal point for human relationships. The worship areas were known as “sanctuaries.” The steeples and bells advertised location, time of day, warnings, and gatherings. The church was the center of town life, doubling as community hall, school, and meeting house. If you were lost, lonely, troubled, hurting, or doubting, the church is where you went for help and answers.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once argued “the most segregated hour in Christian America is 11:00 on Sunday morning.” Now it might also be the most isolated place, too.

It’s why postmodern television generations struggle to connect with “church.” We hunger for a place where “everybody knows our name” —whether it’s a bar in Boston or a church in Chino. What we desire most is connection, communion, companionship, collaboration, and cooperation.

We want to be family.

But that type of community still takes time—at least 50 hours of leisure, at home or at play—to blossom authentic friendships. Ironically, community was one of the four hallmarks of the apostolic church (Acts 2:42). The early church was communal and that meant they were messy, unpredictable, fluid, and ever-changing.

Maybe we should be, too.

[i] The University of Kansas study was originally published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and featured in the Southwest Airlines flight magazine, Southwest: The Magazine (July 2018, p. 39).

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