Scripture uses familial language when it talks about the church (1 Tim. 5:1–2), and Jesus said that people would recognize us as his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). In fact, our generosity and love for our neighbors ought to start with those in the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). But making friends is hard. How do we in the church become those who support each other in crisis when we barely know each other? When conversations rarely stretch below the surface in the few minutes of mingling at church each Sunday, how do these strangers in our church body start to feel like family?
On the one hand, the church is a family. We’re adopted children of God, united to one another by faith in Christ. This is the indicative that fuels the imperative. Those people in your church are your people. God has placed you in this community for their benefit and yours, and you each have a part to play in serving one another (1 Cor. 12:12–31).
But on the other hand, it takes effort to get to know one another, and sometimes we just lack the skills. We need better questions that facilitate intentional conversations and cultivate deeper friendships. Here are a few I’ve found helpful:
1. How are you handling that?
It’s so easy for us to talk about what’s happening in our lives—at our jobs, with our kids, in our homes, on our calendars. But this question makes us stop and reflect: how am I handling that?
We could be chatting after church and I might tell you that my mom was just in town, that we had a great visit, and I just took her to the airport. It would be easy for me to talk about that with some detachment—just reporting the facts. But when you ask me how I’m handling it, I might burst into tears. I would tell you how hard it is to live far away from her, how lonely I feel at times, how hard it is to ask for help.
The goal isn’t tears per se, but rather to help break down the walls—to hear more about each other’s hearts, and to know how to pray for and walk alongside one another.
2. How can I be praying for you?
Sharing prayer requests can be a quick pathway to greater depth in relationships. And, when we follow this up by actually praying for each other, it becomes an occasion to reach out and check in. The Lord uses the prayers of his people to strengthen and encourage us throughout the week.
I often ask this question in tandem with the first. Sometimes, “How can I be praying for you?” leads to greater depth in sharing what’s happening in our lives; sometimes it’s a report of events, so I follow it up with, “How are you handling that?” to know not just the circumstances I can be praying for, but also the hopes, doubts, struggles, and fears that undergird them.
3. How were you encouraged or challenged by God’s word today?
I’ve learned this from some women in my church who are eager to discuss the sermon as we sip our coffee in the courtyard after worship. As they share how God’s word nourished, equipped, convicted, or challenged them that day, I get to see glimpses of their walk with the Lord, their joys and sorrows, their challenges and triumphs. I learn from them and get to share my insights as well, and in these conversations, we’re growing in unity and friendship as we celebrate and discuss what we share in common and press God’s word into one another.
4. I’m going to bring you a meal this week. How’s tomorrow? (See also: Can I hang with your kids on Saturday? Can I come clean your house on Tuesday? Can I show up to fold laundry tonight?)
As we pursue more intentional conversations with people in our congregations, we have to guard against the danger of trying to fix things. It’s usually best to listen and commit to helping by shouldering this burden with them before the Lord in prayer.
But sometimes, our conversations will uncover tangible needs we can meet. When I ask the generic question, “How can I help?” I don’t often get a clear answer because people don’t really know what they need, or they feel guilty asking for it.
Through many seasons of my life, it’s been a gift for people to identify a particular need and offer a specific way to meet it. This alleviates the pressure that comes from having to make decisions when I’m already feeling stressed.
Though this may not be much of a conversation starter, I’ve found that meeting people in their vulnerability with compassion and help can be the foundation of deeper relationships within the church.
Embrace the Awkward
Have I mentioned that making friends is hard? I’ve found these questions to be helpful, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t awkward at times. As we pursue deepening relationships—and endure the awkwardness that comes with them—we can be confident that our relationships within the church have a much sturdier foundation than our conversational skills. Christ purchased this family with his blood, and he provides the grace we need to love one another as we cling to him.