Growing up, I had school friends and church friends – with the occasional few that fell into both categories. The churches my family served in were usually large and reached people all over the city and therefore multiple schools were represented. This meant I had separate groups of friends for the most part and while I enjoyed my school friends, it was my church friends that had a lasting impact. I have fond memories of getting to see my church friends twice a week and since we were regular attenders, we consistently saw one another and grew friendships that were meaningful. We went to VBS and camps in the summer, served in missions together, consistently attended Sunday school and Bible studies and often sat together in worship services (though our parents would glare at us for talking too much during the sermon)!
More than anything, we grew together spiritually as we responded to the gospel, watched each other be baptized and learned more and more about the Bible. As we got older, we even began to hold one another accountable for how we displayed our faith in our daily walk. These are the relationships that carried me through the good times and the hard times while growing up. It turns out that these friendships were one of the most important parts of my spiritual formation into adulthood.
In a study conducted by Lifeway Research (Nothing Less 2017), children and teens who had a best friend who influenced them to follow Christ while growing up had a higher score of spiritual maturity as adults. This means that they did not leave the Church, beating the statistics that suggest that a majority of students do leave while in college, many never to return. Instead, this study says they are thriving in their faith as adults. So in light of this research (in addition to my own personal experience), I believe those of us in ministry should actively be fostering friendships at church. Here are three ways that can be accomplished:
- Be active in connecting kids with one another: As a ministry leader, you have a unique opportunity to help kids make connections. You know names, who goes to what school, and maybe even individual characteristics such as favorite sports and hobbies. With this information you can be sure that kids find some common interests with one another – and then encourage them to talk about those things!
- Provide opportunities for families to interact: The parents in your church have a big thing in common – raising children. They are in the same season of life, depending on the age of each kid. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect families with each other during this shared experience. When parents are friends, their kids are friends (usually) which helps develop lasting relationships that make a difference.
- Evaluate your programming: Does the experience you are providing on Sundays, Wednesdays or any other time foster relationship building? Or is it primarily one-way teaching? These are important questions to ask as you seek to connect kids with each other. It may be that changing your focus to a relational emphasis vs instructional programming is the key to unlocking a world of potential friendships.
These are just a few ways to reframe your thinking about how to approach fostering friendships at church. It may mean that you have to train your volunteers to think differently about how they lead in various environments. It will be worth the effort if the outcome results in kids having meaningful relationships at church that could ultimately point them to a lifetime of lasting faith.
Jana Magruder serves as the Strategic Initiatives Director of Lifeway Kids in Nashville, TN. With a background in education, publishing, and ministry, she loves championing the local church to help families disciple kids of all ages. She is the author of Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. Jana and her husband, Michael, are native Texans planted in Tennessee and love to explore both states with their three teenagers.