The Friendship Factor

Asher Phillips

Soon after comedian Jack Benny died, George Burns said, ‘Jack and I bad a wonderful friendship for nearly 55 years. Jack never walked out on me when I sang and I never walked out on him when he played the violin. We laughed together we played together, we worked together, we ate together. I suppose that for many of those years we talked every single day.

Jack Benny and George Burns were an exception. Many of those who study the human condition contend that one of the biggest concerns of people over the last several decades has been the loss of friendship and relationships in the modem world. It’s hard to dispute the conclusion of the novelist Thomas Wolfe who said, “The whole conviction of my life now rests in the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomena, peculiar to myself and a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”

This universal cry for meaningful relationships provides Christians with a strategic opportunity for evangelism, especially in light of the fact that relationships are a major path people follow in coming to
Christ and to a particular church. The Institute for American Church Growth has conducted informal surveys over the years in their church growth seminars in which thousands of lay people have been asked, “Why are most of the people in your church pan of your church?” The results have been impressively consistent over the years:

Evangelistic Crusade 1%
Visitation 1-2%
Programs 2-4%
Special need 2-4%
Sunday School 4-6%
Walk-ins 4-6%
Pastor 4-7%
Friend/Relative 70-90%

Note that 70-90% are part of their church because of a friend or relative who influenced their decision. Search Ministries has conducted similar informal surveys in our Heart for the Harvest lifestyle evangelism seminars and found that the same high percentage of people come to Christ primarily because of the influence of a friend or relative who cared for them and shared Christ with them.

Jesus modeled this principle of reaching people through relationships. A study of the Gospel accounts shows that He spent more time with people in the relational contexts of homes and the marketplace than He did in the religious contexts of the synagogue or temple. For this the religious leaders derided him as “a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” But Jesus didn’t change his approach. He knew that a person’s journey to faith is often facilitated by friendship. Our webs of relationships (family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.) provide tremendous opportunities for sharing God’s love. Make it a lifestyle-be a friend, make a friend, and introduce that friend to the friend of sinners, Jesus Christ.

Reading on Friendship

The art of making friends doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For most, some instruction on the definition, development, and dynamics of meaningful friendships would be beneficial. The following books are helpful in these areas and are recommended for your study. And remember, your investment of time and energy is an investment in that which is eternal-people.

Friends and Friendship, Jerry & Mary White, NavPress, 1982.

Friendship Evangelism, Arthur McPhee, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1990.

The Friendship Factor, Alan Loy McGinnis, Augsburg Press, 1979.

Friendship: Having a Friend, Being a Friend, Jim Conway, Zondervan, 1989.

Making Friends and Making Them Count, Em Griffin, Intervarsity Press, 1987.

Making Friends for Christ, Wayne McDill, Broadman Press, 1979.

Quality Friendship. Press, 1981.

The Risks and Rewards, Gary Inrig, Moody

The Church and Evangelism

As we have seen, the great majority of Christians today came to Christ and their church through a meaningful relationship with another caring Christian person(s). The conclusion is clear: love holds the key to effective evangelism in our culture. As one author has put it, “Evangelizing America … and the world … will be effective in direct relationship to the church’s ability to evidence Christ’s love.”

The following is a quick “checkup” for you to use in making sure your church strategy is as effective as possible.

1. IS evangelism seen as a responsibility of a) every member, and b)every group in the church?

2. is the focus on the evangelistic “process,” not just an evangelistic “event?”

Is unconditional love your message, method, and motivation?

4. Does evangelism training give equal weight to what is said, how it’s said, and what is done?

5. Is the goal of evangelism a disciple, not just a decision?

A Search Recommendation

We highly recommend Joe Aldrich’s book Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You (Multnomah Press, 1981). Aldrich develops his material in three parts and they are filled with insight and practical application.

Part 1: ”Evangelism As It Should Be.” This section builds the foundation, describing evangelism as a lifestyle. he does away with many of the myths of evangelism and shows the power and practicality of
a spiritually redemptive lifestyle.

Part II: “Evangelism And The Local Church. ” Here Aldrich does an excellent job of defining the crucial role of the local church, pastor and every member in the evangelistic enterprise.

Part III: “Evangelism, And You.” This final section zeros in on individual application. it is filled with helpful instruction of such things as developing your personal testimony, planting seeds, and utilizing a variety of harvest vehicles.