Friendfluence has some significant implications for understanding relationships and the development of communities within the church. Flora brings new insights, as well as providing more depth for truths I have known. Although there were an abundance of things I took note of in the book, I will just mention three. The first is the number of people we relate to. “We have five intimate friends. Fifteen close friends, 50 good friends, 150 friends.” Those numbers are well-documented and have stood the test of time. The implications for church size, and small group size, are noteworthy. But I do not know of any churches that intentionally structure themselves around those numbers. I wonder what would happen if we did? I suspect we would see the level of community deepen, even apart from scheduling activities and doing other things to build community. For large churches, it would be worth taking the time to figure out how to maintain those kinds of numbers within the larger body.
The second thing that struck me was the difference in how genders naturally relate. Girls tend to talk about their problems, which brings them closer together but can make them vulnerable to depression; boys don’t think of that as a good strategy. It is not news that men and women are different, and that they relate differently. It is certainly worth taking those differences into account when thinking about small groups and same-gender ministries and activities.
Finally, the impact of having friends on our life spans was something I took note of. It was a surprise to read that having friends had a different effect than having a spouse, and that having friends is more significant for our longevity. I do not fully understand that—I would have put all relationships in the same category. But it does highlight the power and importance of being in a community. For a church, it emphasizes that we should not take the development of community for granted. We need to plan for it: plan for how to help new people plug into it, and plan ways to help people make connections.
As leaders, we cannot guarantee anyone that they will develop intimate relationships or even deep friendships, but we can create opportunities for those relationships to happen. We should do everything we can to make it possible, even while realizing our limitations. The benefits derived from developing friends are worth the effort. And frankly, I suspect it will lower the pastoral load of many pastors if the bonds within the community are strong. Many issues will be dealt with before they ever come to our attention.
The power of friendship is huge; it’s worth cultivating within our church communities. How have you seen this at work?