“Party of One, Table for One” – How to Make Friends in Church

12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 17 These things I command you, that you love one another. – John 15

If you’re like me, you may not naturally make friends but have to work on it. Good news! Today we are talking about how to make friends at church. We will address the friendship crisis in church. This will provide a foundation to make new friends in church and for life.

Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion, the night of the Last Supper and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, told his disciples, ” 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” The Lord gave them and us the gift if friendship with God and one another. It is a gift you can receive today.

The Friendship Handicap : “Solo Party of one; Table for One”

Notice how easy it was to make friends as a child. Messy friendships … you threw up in your home-room class. You all endured dread teacher, “Ms. Meany,” who turned out to be quite nice in spite of her name. A food fight in the cafeteria bonded you with another student as you hid under your new friend’s food tray.

Why is it so difficult today to make and keep friends as an adult?

The Survey Center on American Life shows how we have become more friendless over the years. Between 1990 and 2021 those with two or fewer close friends had increased from 16% in 1990 to 32% in 2021.

Stillness: The Beginning of True Friendship and Connection

True friendship and connection with God and others begin in stillness. In the Quaker church, aka Society of Friends. The meeting begins as you come in and someone shakes your hand. Then you “Listen from the stillness.” This is a sense of connection with God, yourself, and those around you. You can’t be friend with others if you are not at stillness and peace within yourself. If you are running around looking for someone to shake your hand and be an instant friend, you will be disappointed.

Quaker meetings are simple gatherings that usually last around an hour and are based on silence. There are no ministers, creeds, or set hymns, prayers, or sermons. Instead, Quakers gather in silence to quiet their minds, open their hearts, and listen to new insights and guidance. 

During the meeting, people may share what they discover with those present, which is called “ministry.” Anyone can give ministry, including visitors. For example, you might be invited to talk about what brought you to the meeting, and your experience. 

Ministry is what is on one’s soul, and it can be in direct contradiction to what is on one’s mind. It’s what the Inner Light gently pushes you toward or suddenly dumps in your lap. It is rooted in the eternity, divinity, and selflessness of the Inner Light; not in the worldly, egoistic functions of the conscious mind. – Marrianne McMullen, 1987, Quaker faith & practice 2.66

From the stillness of worship, people sometimes feel moved by the spirit to stand and speak, or sometimes sing. Quakers refer to this as vocal ministry, and its hallmark is that it comes from deep within, or from God. Stillness gives us understanding.

Understanding: Making Friends Takes Time

How many times have we heard, “I tried that church, but they weren’t friendly to me. Nobody said ‘Hello,’ not even the pastor.” “They don’t like me because I am not this at not that.” It’s like you arrived with stiff new jeans while everyone else enjoys the broken in jeans of longtime friendship.

I read of a Mystery Worshipper for Ship of Fools church review website who visited a church where I previously served as Executive Pastor.

Ship of Fools: The Church at Litchfield Park, Litchfield Park, Arizona, USA

Did anyone welcome you personally? One of the associate pastors, wearing a black Geneva gown and green stole, was standing at the door. She shook my hand and said, ‘Good morning. Good to have you here.’ Inside, everyone was too busy visiting with friends to take note of a stranger.

The above Mystery Worshipper did not understand that making friends takes time.

Determination: You Will Persevere and Be a Friend to Make a Friend

A man turned to his wife while leaving church one Sunday in a huff. The man told his wife in the parking lot, “Honey, we are never coming back to this church. The people don’t like me. They didn’t like what I wore. Nobody was friendly. Why I even tried to shake hands with a deacon, who turned on his heels and walked the other way.” His wife smiled and said, “I’ll give you three reasons why we are coming back – 1. Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ 2. That deacon is a neighbor, and 3. You’ve got to come back; … you’re the pastor!”

Tom Whittaker’s right foot needed to be amputated following a car accident in 1979. He thought this derailed his future as a young athlete. Yet following this serious accident, he regained his strength and continued mountain climbing. His first attempt on Everest was in 1995. On May 27, 1998, on his third attempt, Whittaker reached the summit of Mt. Everest, a lifelong dream, making him the first person with a disability to accomplish this feat. Tom Whitaker of Arizona was the first disabled person to climb Mt. Everest.

My young sons and I heard him speak about what he learned on his journey to conquer Everest, where he said, “Don’t let the averted gaze of others deter you from your appointed destination.”

In my third pastorate of a United Methodist church, I tried a lunch meeting with a group of fellow pastors … two  Methodists, a Presbyterian, and an Episcopalian. I showed up with my new jeans as a former Southern Baptist … and felt not as high church, sophisticated as the others. The conversations seemed to walk around me and felt at times as the invisible man. But I determined not to let the averted eyes deter me, kept showing up, and discovered my new jeans broke in and was accepted by the group. I learned as a pastor not to let disappointed looks and averted eyes deter me from building friendships.

One of my best friends in my first church, Deacon Ralph Spotts, initially voted against me coming as new pastor because I was too young. The church voted me in as pastor, and Deacon Ralph volunteered anyway to show me around the community. He introduced me to the Lion’s Club. Every Sunday in the Sanctuary, his senior Berean Bible class doors opened and I would see him seated as teacher at the table. Eventually, I buried his beloved wife who died of cancer. Sometime later he called me one morning at the church to come help him. I barely understood him as he had suffered a devastating stroke and lay slumped over the kitchen counter. Time passed and he was the only person I knew who left a skilled nursing home to return home and marry a widow in the church. I presided over the wedding standing with his grown children. Had I been deterred by his averted eyes on that first “Nay” vote, our friendship would have never occurred.

Tom Whittaker explained further what mountaineers do when they get into trouble: “When mountaineers get into trouble, they look for the next handhold. Then the next handhold.”

“When mountaineers get into trouble, they take it one handhold at a time. Then the next handhold.” – Tom Whittaker

Determine that you will climb that friendship mountain and make a friend at church. This next Sunday look for your the next friendship handhold.

Handholds: A Bridge to Friendships at Church

  • Study the weekly worship bulletin and look for meetings where food is served or where you will served together as a group. The bulletin as the website may not be updated:
  • Examples –

Pancake Breakfast

Dinner for Eight

Men’s Breakfast

Camp cookout

  • Be “new” with others. Join a newly formed group.

Arthur Flake the Southern Baptist genius and father of modern Sunday School taught that new groups grow faster than existing groups. If they could find 8 – 10 new people, the Southern Baptists would form another Sunday School class … because it provided a way to make new friends around studying the Bible. The genius he discovered – “New groups grow faster than old groups.” Southern Baptists grew to this day to be the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

Arthur Flake – Father of the Modern Sunday School

For pastors and church leaders – what new groups have you formed? If you have a long-standing existing class, consider short term study seminars open to all.

Ekron Baptist Church Sunday School

The above Sunday School group at Ekron Baptist shows a typical Sunday Bible study. If we can take some liberty and peel back layers to show hypothetically why it is so difficult for a visitor to make friends in any longstanding Sunday School group.

The three ladies in the front have attended the same closed bridge circle for the last five years. The men seated at the back went to high school together and serve in the same Lion’s Club for over 10 years. The younger adults are children of the Lion’s Club members who plan on attending a Lion’s Club BBQ with their parents after church. Each of these groups in a group are siloed off in their existing circle of interest and apart from new people. This is not wrong; it simply is.

You as a visitor arrive. The people smile and greet you, but you don’t understand why you feel like an outsider. You feel like new stiff blue jeans in a group of broken-in jeans.

Existing Groups Revolve around Prior Formed Backchannels of Communication

If you attend an established group, give yourself permission to feel like an outsider for a year. Arrive early and stay late. Make your own name tag.

As a long-term stakeholder in the group, go out of your way to include the newcomers as lines of communication often proceed along lines of relationship rather than official group communications. There’s no need for a newsletter or an accurate website because word-of-mouth spreads naturally among friends, unless you are new. Though the church’s website contains a calendar six months out-of-date, those part of the in-network get all the information they need. The newcomers remain outside the homegrown chain of communication.

New Groups Create Direct Lines of Communication with Others

Your Friendship Handholds This Week

“When mountaineers get into trouble, they look for the next handhold … Then the next handhold.”

  1. Wear a name tag with your first name. You can print out the one below.
  2. Review the weekly worship bulletin for opportunities to eat or serve together.
  3. Learn the names of three people.
  4. Arrive early and stay late.

Click on this link to download your copy of the Friendship Guide.

The above example shows a Men’s Pancake Breakfast and special new services for Holy Week.

Power Tip for Pastors and Teachers

If you want to become a master of learning names and staying in touch with people. At the beginning and end of the service, turn on a voice activated recorder in your pocket. You can transcribe later the names, needs and milestones of those in your care, as well as reminders for follow-up. People will think you had a photographic memory, while you had a little help from St. Sony.

Sony Digital Voice Editor


Jesus gave us the example of how to be a friend of God and others. Remember, friendship with God begins with willingness to trust, obey, and desire to know God intimately. May the above start you on a friendship journey with God and others that will last this life and into the next.

Your Friend,

Pastor Jim

 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15

The Liver & Onions Test

As Walmart steaks run $30 for a package of two, folks turn stares of disbelief to beef liver as the affordable cut of meat. The $300 grocery tab reinforces a gut punch that politicians delivered a message, "Let them eat liver!"

Applying the liver & onions test to the church, what one ministry stands as critical nourishment for today’s church? There is one clear winner – Bible study.

“Let them eat liver!”

Bible Deserts

King David reflected on the nourishment received from studying the Word of God, saying, ” The law of the Lord is perfect,  refreshing the soul.” Like a food desert, where nourishing food is priced out of a neighborhood due to location, so some churches fail to thrive due to missing a balanced Bible study.

They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.

Psalm 19:10

You Are What You Eat

Jesus knew the importance of this concept in his temptation when he responded to the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” ( Matthew 4:4), a quote from Deuteronomy that beyond physical bread we need the bread of life that comes from heaven.

Chef’s Table

Take a busy pastor as an example, what more could he or she do considering an already jammed Sunday schedule? How could the church move from a spiritual food desert to a Michelin Star?

No Michelin Pot Luck’s

No Michelin Star is awarded to a church pot luck rather to a restaurant where every aspect of the meal was planned. A busy pastor could begin by asking volunteers to form a Christian Education Council assigned to create a unified system of Christian education that will help church members continue their Bible study “from the basket to the casket” (As our Baptist friends teach).

ABT – Always Be Teaching

Applying the ABT method, the Christian Education Council could begin with a sheet of butcher paper by mapping what classes are taught and what is being taught from the nursery to senior adults. What curriculum is used for children, youth, and adult classes?

You may say, “Pastor Jim, I’m too busy to teach. I lead multiple services on Sunday. The people get what they need from my sermons.” Believing that concept, a pastor is on the path to “congregation drift” to be blown along whatever favorite study they stumble into. Years of congregational drift in Bible study could unravel those inspiring Sunday sermonettes.

The ABT method does not mean the pastor does all the teaching but that the pastor is engaged with what is being taught.

Seasons of Learning

Overheard – “People don’t want to be committed to leading a class every Sunday. They want to go fishing, to the lake, or to their timeshare in Aruba.” Rather than resist natural patterns of ebb and flow, use your butcher paper to draw an education stream that flows with the bends and eddies.

The pastor, staff, and a few key leaders can survey what material is presently being taught and ask, 1. Does the material support our church and denomination? 2. Does the material give the leaders what they need to proving a compelling class experience that builds the spiritual life of the participants? 3. Can others use the material and duplicate the experience?

1. Does the material support our church and denomination? 2. Does the material give the leaders what they need to proving a compelling class experience that builds the spiritual life of the participants? 3. Can others use the material and duplicate the experience?

Back to the butcher paper and magic markers, write Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. While worship services are best designed around the Liturgical Calendar, Christian Education is best designed around the school year, which provides natural breaks and pauses –

Fall, Winter: Advent – Christmas, Spring: Lent- Easter, Summer.

Take a moment and outline what classes are taught for all ages during these season. Next, use the denominational resource that fits your church, select classes and materials to balance out the year, giving times of rest and refreshment as in a school year.

For United Methodists, Cokesbury is their publishing house. Southern Baptists look to Lifeway for resources. Considering Advent, a church could use this interactive Cokesbury’s Advent Studies guide to schedule class resources.

No Artificial Ingredients

Some adult classes have met for years using the curriculum they like, and they have no plans to change. You may say, “Pastor Jim, one leader in our Methodist church is teaching Nazarene material.” Rather than foment an insurrection over a teacher’s use of nonapproved curriculum, the solution lies in forming new groups based on vibrant Bible based material. New groups always grow faster than older groups. Rather than battling to change a group, add a new one in line with your direction. Or, as overheard in the work-a-day world, “People hate to be sold … but they love to buy!” If I had to do my ministry over, I would have taken the above high road of a gentle, patient path toward change. I would have worked a lot more on consensus and valuing the opinion of the negative vote versus running roughshod over those holding a contrary position. Looking back, I could have spent more time actively listening to church members than talking at them.

Now that your church year class schedule is mapped, consider where the classes will meet, review the budget, and ask adult participants to share in the expense of materials. How does your Christian Education budget reflect the priority of Bible Study as a spiritual discipline?

Master Chef

The important work of the Christian Education Council means nominating teachers and leaders who best fit the group and material taught. When calling those persons to ask them to consider the opportunity, it is a comfort knowing they have the resources to be successful and along with a set start and end date, improves successful recruiting for teachers and leaders. The Christian Education Council meetings, rather than all business, should involve sharing the journey over food and drink and sharing of the journey.

When I served as Executive Pastor in my last position, the Kitchen Director would bring leftovers on a cart from the Wednesday night meal so that we might break bread together in our staff meetings the next day. Some of the best days of church staff planning revolved around those meals together. While we didn’t solve all the world’s problems, we left satisfied and excited about the new plans in ministry.

Two things have enteral life – the human soul and a church volunteer position without an end date.

“17Jesus said to Peter the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.'  Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep'” (John 21:17, ESV).

Bon Appétit

Pastor Jim

Jim’s Maxim

Played out in risk sensitive fields. The electric outlet not GFCI protected becomes the favorite to run extension cords out to parties on wet grass. The corporate exec who uses “password” as password.

As a pastor and insurance adjuster, this maxim to capture the Delta-V of where you are likely to experience a loss. It is a moving target. In my last church, now over 80 years old, we inspected and protected every outdoor outlet with GFCI “ground fault” protection. To my shock (forgive the pun), the lawn carnival, water slide vendors, not finding a nearby outlet, opened the nearest door and plugged extension cords into 20 amp nonprotected electrical outlets.

Using “Jim’s Maxim,” the jump-house people, who assured us that all their equipment was “GFCI protected,” admitted to me they either didn’t have GFCI or forgot to bring it. Now we had 500 youth and children on campus to enjoy the nearly inflated water slide. We had a choice – shut down the main event …. or make a Home Depot run for a solution:

Solution: a 20 amp GFCI extension cord.

-Pastor Jim

The Pastor and the Floozy

“The issue facing us is not the left versus the right but the crisis of intolerance.”-Pastor Vincent Woolsey

Tolerance … “The pastor’s wife is a bar-fly who frequents a bar. We don’t want our church money going to a floozy … ”

So, the rumors wafted about the local teetotaling Wesleyan Methodist pastor’s wife and family, friends of mine. Visiting in their home, they came clean to me. Their only beautiful son, a toddler, had serious medical problems. As they couldn’t afford healthcare on his pastor’s chicken feed salary alone, they agreed she would take a job waiting tables at night in a Phoenix restaurant that happened to serve alcohol. To this day I wonder if some of those very church members dined in that restaurant? I, too, am a floozy for Christ .

-Pastor Jim

Saloon Girl

For Flock’s Sake, Shorten Sermons!

Pope Francis, on the subject of preaching, said, “How many times have we seen people sleeping during a homily, or chatting among themselves, or outside smoking a cigarette?”

When people laughed at the image, Francis said, “It’s true, you all know it … it’s true!”

Concluding that line of reflection, Francis said, “Please be brief … no more than 10 minutes, please!”

Pope Francis said this to the fifth General Audience of 2018, attended by 8,000.

Baptist deacons responded in shock about parishioners smoking during the sermon, declaring that “the Christian thing to do is to humbly slip out, have brunch at the local diner then sneak back in before the benediction.”

A priest shows Pope Francis a mobile phone before the start of the weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017