“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