The Friendship Factor
W. Charles Arn
Friendship with others in the church is one of the most important keys in binding members to each other and to the church. The stronger and more meaningful these relationships become, the more assured you can be that these people will become or continue as active Christians in Sunday School and church.
Several intriguing research studies support this fact that people’s participation level in church activities is directly related to the existence of, or lack of, relationships.
Dr. Warren J. Hartman, assistant general secretary for Church School Development in the United Methodist Church, asked over 1,600 lay people how many of their four best friends were involved in the church and Sunday School. The responses were then compared to their records of attendance and participation. There was a direct positive correlation between the number of “best friends” reported in church and Sunday School and the subject’s own attendance and participation. Those who reported a high percentage of their best friends in church and Sunday School also attended very frequently. Those who reported a lower percentage of best friends in church and Sunday School attended less frequently or had already dropped out.
The importance of friendship in the church is seen in another study, by Flavil Yeakley. In his dissertation study Yeakley interviewed 50 lay members who had been in the church for six months and were now actively involved and “incorporated” into the life of the church. He also interviewed 50 recent converts who had joined the church, but had since dropped out. The chart on p. 178 indicates the results of his study identifying the number of new friends that were established with the church by both groups (active and inactives) during the first six months of membership.
This data suggests that when the new convert quickly formed a number of personal relationships with the members of the congregation, they were more likely to become active and involved. The converts who stayed had developed an average of over seven new friends in the church. Those who dropped out could identify an average of less than two changes in friendship pattern.
Additional evidence shows importance of the “friendliness and warmth” of church members to outsiders. Hartman, in another study, identified and interviewed people who had recently dropped out of church. He asked two questions to these dropouts: 1) Why they dropped out, and 2) What would most influence their choice of a new church home. The answer regularly given to question number one was, “Did not feel part of the group.” The response to the second question (nearly 75 percent), was “friendliness of the people.”
Churches aware of the importance of the “friend-ship factor” in not only reaching, but keeping members active, will develop strategy to help build these relationships among members and encourage classes to consider this task as a major clause in their philosophy of ministry statements.
1. Warren J. Hartman. Membership Trends (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1976), p. 41.
2. Flavil R. Yeakley. Why Churches Grow (Arvada, CO: Christian Communications, 1979), p. 54.
3. Warren J. Hartman. A Study of the Church School in the United Methodist Church (Nashville: Board of Education, 1976), p. 54.
This article ‘The Friendship Factor’ was excerpted from Church Growth Insights by W. C. Arn and may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes ‘Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.’