Americans surprised pollsters in 1985 when they reported that they only had three close friends. Today, in 2006, they say they have only two such close friends. And one in four people say that they have no one with whom they can discuss important matters; i.e., no close friend as the survey defined the terms.
These results had little to do with gender, race, age or education. Most who had good friends said these friends were members of their nuclear family. But then those numbers declined as well, demonstrating that intimacy in families is markedly down. The findings appear in the June issue of the American Sociology Review.
Weakening bonds of friendship have huge social consequences, especially when there is great human need as in crises like Hurricane Katrina. And, the article further suggested, the decline in friendship outside the family puts added stress on spouses, families and counselors.
Why are Christians surprised, when they put a great deal of emphasis upon being friends with their neighbors, that there are a myriad of open doors to do good and display the love of God in the most practical ways? In my early years in ministry we used to debate “friendship evangelism” versus “proclamation evangelism.” I highly doubt that any form other than friendship evangelism will work well in our culture in the years ahead. The luxury of “hit and run” evangelism is dead and only the Christian and church that is willing to place friendship at the top of its agenda will succeed in making new disciples for Christ. Sadly, many Christians are as lonely as nonbelievers and do not have good friends in or out of the church. This circle must be broken if we are to renew the church in the love of Christ.
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Does my high speed internet connection count as a good friend? If so, I have five. If not, I have four and am still ahead of the game.
I agree with your assessment of friendship evangelism. I’ve been associated with churches and organizations that have passed out tens of millions of tracts, literally, and have yet to meet one American converted by a tract. After ten years of being a Christian, I finally met a tract convert, but he was here as a student from India.
Love thy neighbor [singular].
Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.
One, I think we err by separating friendship and proclamation. It’s like starting in Genesis 2 without Genesis 1 or thinking that the Church exists without the Word. It is the royal proclamation of Christ’s Lordship that makes God friends with sinners. The current trend of relegating proclamation to a the graveyard (‘hit & run’ evanglism is dead, unless h&r is not a substitute for proclamation)explains the impotence in most pulpits. It is only when the pulpit is restored to its proper role that the power of proclamation will be seen again. Then, through the community that is created by the proclamation of the Word, we will see true friendship thrive and friendship evangelism be meaningful. Until then, the Church will dine on the dinner mints of Olsteen and we will try to befriend our neighbors with this rich fare.