In my almost 20 years (yikes) since high school, I’ve lived in 2 countries, 6 cities and 8 neighborhoods. I’ve attended 2 schools, worked 7 jobs and belonged to 6 churches. Oh and I’ve gotten married and had 4 kids along the way!
Needless to say, I’m no stranger to transition. Nor am I a stranger to strangers! Each transition, while exciting in its newness and adventure, has come with plenty of goodbyes and hellos. And while I love meeting new people, it’s really difficult to make old friends. So I’ve tried to put together a guide that I wish I had had earlier on in my journey that would’ve helped me more easily build community in each new season.
Let me preface this by saying that choosing to build community isn’t the only choice you can make in transition, but it is the only healthy choice. In every transition, after emotional goodbyes, a part of me wants to promise to build a wall around my heart so I don’t ever feel that pain again. BAD idea.
Whenever I’ve wanted to avoid putting myself out there and opening up to new people, I remember this quote from C.S. Lewis:
““To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
So, my big assumption is that you understand the need for Biblical community. If not, go take care of that!
If we’re on the same page, let’s dive in!
How to make friends and build community:
1. Expect it
So this might seem like more of a why point than a how one, but it’s extremely important. If I believe in the why (that I should pursue Biblical community because it’s vital to my ability to follow Jesus), then along with that truth must come a conviction that if God called me to a place, then He has supplied every provision needed for me in that place, including friends.
I have this truth buried deep in my heart, and it causes me to walk around with wide eyes at everyone I meet, wondering when and how God is going to bring me the person/people I need. I’ve gotten pretty real with Him too when I feel like it’s taking too long.
And sometimes it’s just 1 person. That’s ok. But in every season, God has provided them. And they’re not always who you would expect either! So don’t be too picky!
2. Look around
This is similar to the first, but I believe proximity is important. It’s really hard to build close relationships with people whose life you don’t naturally overlap with. Church, school, co-workers, kids’ sports teams, and so on. These are places and people I rub shoulders with regularly, and I do so with an open heart.
3. Look for the peace
In several places in the New Testament you’ll find the phrase, “it seemed good.” Another verse talks about letting the “peace of God rule in your heart.” God has never opened the heavens and caused a dove to land on my next closest friend. But He has brought along people that seem to carry a peace about them. When I’m with them, my heart is stirred. And they may not even be that spiritual! It has less to do with them than it does the prompting of the Holy Spirit within you.
4. Put in the time
They say it takes 200 hours to make a close friend. That’s a long time! This has always been frustrating for me, because I do tend to go deeper with people quicker than they do with me. I always want to rush this process, but there’s really no substitute for it. Which again is why proximity is important. It’s really hard to build that 200 hours if your lives don’t naturally intersect. Either way, you have to be intentional. Coffee, meals, walks, road trips. So important.
5. Learn to ask good questions and to listen
I believe questions and listening are the two great lost arts of our day. It’s at pandemic level. We spend so much time projecting our image online. Then we have an actual conversation face to face and we’re thinking about how their point relates to something in our lives. We can’t wait until they’re finished talking to tell them about what story that reminded you of.
There’s no magic bullet to making friends. But listening well is the closest thing to it. People love to be around good listeners.
I think it’s because it’s so rare and refreshing.
So the next conversation you have with somebody, try this: listen to understand, not to be understood. Instead of immediately responding with your own thoughts or story, try asking them
a follow-up question, like: “Wow, so did you grow up enjoying/valuing/involved in that?” or something related to their story.
Find. Out. Their. Story.
Ask enough questions. You’ll get there.
6. Follow up
Inevitably in people’s stories, there are significant events, some old and some recent, that have shaped them. And inevitably, you will come across something in the coming days or weeks that will remind you of that event that someone shared. Or maybe the Holy Spirit will just bring it to remembrance.
Maybe they shared about a painful relationship, a sport or hobby they love or used to love, a place they visited or lived in that impacted them. A week later, when you come across something that triggers a memory of the conversation, let them know. Shoot them a text and tell them you were just thinking about that painful memory they shared and you just stopped to pray for them.
7. Be patient but not afraid to pursue
Nobody likes the person who’s too overeager, but too often, people let friendships pass them by because they’re waiting on the other person to initiate. Maybe there’s a really good reason why they haven’t reciprocated your invitation to coffee. Maybe they’re struggling and are insecure about putting themselves out there.
If you’re in that place, go back to points 1 and 2. If you’ve got that conviction and expectation in your heart that God has people for you and you’ve identified a person of peace, keep pursuing the relationship until the Holy Spirit gives you a stop sign (you’ll know it when you get it.)
We give up on each other too easily. We settle for shallowness too readily. In the age of surface-level friendships (how many “friends” do you have on Facebook again?), we need people who will pursue each other’s HEARTS like God pursued ours.
And let me just say…guys–don’t do this with girls that you don’t intend to pursue for marriage. And girls–don’t do this with guys…period.
But be patient. It takes 200 hours.
But it’s absolutely necessary and WORTH IT.
Could you get hurt?
Of course! (See the C.S. Lewis quote above)
That’s when you lean on the Friend that sticks closer than a brother.
Jesus…from whose love we get the love needed to pursue others anyways.
So start with Him.
Get back up when you crash and burn.
Lean into the messiness and possibly the social awkwardness. Go on the journey of finding community, and find yourself at a destination that you probably didn’t expect but wouldn’t trade for anything.