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One of the things I’ve discovered in my time in the church world is that church friendships are almost exactly like work relationships, except people see each other even more infrequently. This applies perhaps even more so to leaders - even amongst each other. Which means you’re “friends” or at least “friendly” as long as you go to the church. Leave the church and you can pretty much bet that’s the last you’ll see of anyone at the church. I’m guilty of contributing to this and participating in it as much as any one but it must stop.

I believe this is one of the reasons so many people become disillusioned with church after awhile. This either needs to change or people need to appropriately shift their expectations. I personally would rather see it change.

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  1. Dan — January 21, 2008 #

    Alas, it can be true. the problem is that often Church can place so much extra pressure on others. I haven’t been involved, really involved in church, since maybe 7th grade. Yeah, I did various misisons in college, and was there for small group over the last few years, but to really be there one must feel okay in letting other know about the struggles. Like depression, like doubt, like hermanutics, Its scary when you believe in Jesus and grace, but am not sure about how one votes, or has touched a boob, or says shit sometimes…. If you haven’t fallen directly in line you fear the being audited by the “denomination” police.” ANd really I love denominational difference, that’s how we find our niche, but sometimes we hold onto these too much. As I know you have seen, there is problem in holding to strong demoninationalism, and failing to recognize the importance of denominations… And that is why I often am confused in the nuancies of those who have come out of Christendom… I left the ‘endom’ a long time ago… and am learning about it from the other…

  2. Erin — January 21, 2008 #

    Wow. Yeah. It’s very true, been there. I would love to see that change.

  3. Rick — January 22, 2008 #

    When we left a former church under less than ideal circumstances, one friend told us it was just so much easier when we were in the same place every week. We were friends by happenstance and location, felt fairly arbitrary, when you think “friendship” would mean more than that.

  4. Angela — January 22, 2008 #

    Amen Sister! I could have written this one.
    Personally I think some of the problem is thw way we (we- as in Christians as a whole) view the church. Too many of us still think of the church as a building and not as people. It’s a “local church body/building” mentality and not a “unified with other belivers global, no matter which building/home we congregate in” mentality.(hope that made sense-it’s early here)
    Anyway, I too agree that it should stop. We need to unify with other believers and remember that if you invite fellow believers over for dinnerfellowship then you are “having church”. We are the church; not a building.

    p.s. It’s almost scary in the way some people are austrisized (sp?) when they leave a local church body to attend another. I have thought before that it’s almost “cultlike” in the way the are “shunned” for leaving “THE church”.

  5. Cathy — January 22, 2008 #

    After I had become a Christian in my forties I was struck by how many sick people I had come to know. Then I realized that I had increased my community greatly by being a part of a church. I am by nature not one to have a lot of friends. And frankly, it’s hard to handle having as many friends I have through church. So if someone goes away, I don’t feel able to maintain a friendship with someone I don’t see. Yes, it IS like work friendships.

  6. Mak — January 22, 2008 #

    Cathy, I think that’s part of the problem - church people are expected to like and spend time with everyone and if you just outright don’t like someone it’s not acceptable. The demands on your emotional energy are unusually high.

    I think if we started to create environments where everyone had to be friends we’d be missing the point entirely because people just don’t have the space for that in their lives.

    Angela - good point about seeing the church as the people not just as a building. As for people being ostracized when they leave, it’s really disturbing I agree.

    Rick - man, that was a very telling statement eh?

    Erin - yeah, and as you can tell, i don’t necessarily have answers except to stop planting churches as if they were just buildings and start allowing organic community to form

  7. Julie Clawson — January 22, 2008 #

    It is scary. After we left our last church because of our “emerging” connection people who we thought were good friends started pretending like we didn’t exist. If we saw them in a store and said hi they would ignore us and walk right by. I was shocked by how immature it all was.

  8. Maria — January 22, 2008 #

    This is so true. In fact, my drift away from “church” began after having a couple of kids and realizing that all of our “friends” from church had disappeared. They were still there, and so were we, except now it was hard to have a conversation on Sunday morning, and I dropped a lot of the “ministry” stuff I was doing, so I never saw them. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I had managed to fit into the current Mom’s group a bit better, but even there the relationships were so superficial, it just didn’t seem worth the effort.

    I realized that after spending my entire adult life in church, I really have no idea how to build or maintain a friendship with someone that doesn’t depend on running into them a couple of times a week at some church function. I’m willing to own my introversion and anti-social tendencies, but as far as I can see, discipleship hasn’t helped most of us to break down the isolation and fragmentation of suburban culture.

  9. Mak — January 22, 2008 #

    Maria, I’m so glad you admitted that about realizing that you didn’t really know how to build or maintain a friendship outside of that context.

    I have experienced the EXACT SAME THING - esp. as an introvert.

    I also wanted to mention that my friend Dan - who commented above - and I have talked about how, in the real world, differences and problems within relationships are much more acceptable and managed in a much more healthy way. Conflict in the church world is handled in an almost stunted way - very juvenile and very extreme (as he mentioned). It’s bizarre and I’m only now beginning to see how much so now that I’m out of that “world”

  10. Jenn — January 22, 2008 #

    This is such an identifiable topic for me. I just decided that 2008 is going to be different. I am presently in leadership and had a lot of “friends” but didn’t take enough time to nurture the few deep friendships. I bought into the mentality (potentially self inflicted) that I needed to be friends with everybody. When we branched out in the fall to help with a church for students, our “friends” dropped off- some didn’t even realize we had left! Eye opening for sure and a big smack upside the head about how much energy had been wasted on surface relationships vs. feeding into deep meaningful ones. Thanks for, as always, touching on a touchy topic that needs to be talked about. :)

  11. Michelle — January 22, 2008 #

    thanks for this post and this thread. It reminded me that I’ve let this happen in a couple of situations without even meaning for it too. I’ve made efforts to correct that, and appreciate the food for thought very much! Can anyone say Superbowl party? Football fan or not, it’s a good excuse for gathering friends together, “old” and new.

  12. kendra — January 22, 2008 #

    I think we also confuse “church” with “kingdom of God” and they are not the same…. if you equate the two, it could be VERY easy to become disillusioned with church.

    we are called to walk in the light of God, be forgiven people and love and forgive others, whoever they are, because we are all made in the image of God.

    However, we are conditioned by a cultural paradigm to “wear our best” and “put on a happy face” and perform at church as if nothing were wrong….

  13. Mak — January 22, 2008 #

    yes indeed kendra. Although, I think perhaps there isn’t agreement that the “kingdom of God” is the church. I actually don’t necessarily see it that way.

  14. sonja — January 22, 2008 #

    I wonder too, if this is not more widespread than we realize. I’m finding this to be the case in many places in my life, and not limited to church. It’s simply harder to take in the church realm because we think it’s not supposed to be that way.

    I think that, in general, we have lost a lot of our ability as a culture to maintain and grow long term intimate relationships. So, we see it in church too … se va.

    Would that it were not true, but since the divorce rate in churches is no different than the divorce rate in the rest of our culture, we prob’ly shouldn’t expect the rest of our relationships to look any different either.

    I’m just a bright ray of jolly sunshine today

  15. Mak — January 22, 2008 #

    it’s not that way in my other social networks.

    the only comparable area I can think of is the work place and certain clubs.

    I do agree though that the ability to grow and maintain healthy friendships is dysfunctional in society at large. But regardless, I expect we as christians to set pace, not lag behind or even break even.

  16. sonja — January 22, 2008 #

    hehehe … I didn’t say that very well.

    Actually, I do “expect” Christians to set the tone/pace and not lag behind. However, given the current state of affairs, I just don’t “anticipate” that they will. Does that give you a clearer picture of what I’m sayin’?

  17. Mak — January 22, 2008 #

    I wasn’t unclear about what you were saying before :) just expounding

  18. Lori — January 22, 2008 #

    Hmmm, yes, have been there. We had friends that said we were family, and after we left the church, it would seem we are more like the crazy uncle no one speaks of. Of course there are friends in our old church we would love to get together with, but our different schedules don’t line up. It is a sad thing, but I think it’s just the way the ball bounces some times.

  19. Mak — January 22, 2008 #

    I’m going to ramble a bit here, this isn’t directed at anyone in particular.

    friendships evolve - the nature of the relationship shifts - that is to be expected, it’s natural and normal and healthy. There are people who have left churches we’ve been involved with and we loved them and missed them but didn’t have the emotional or calendar space to maintain the friendship in the same capacity and I accept that very often that has been the case when we have left places.

    I am not in any way suggesting that we all need to be madly in love at all times forever. hehe… but merely that we own up to this situation in our churches - and in my estimation the situation is this: we treat one another in such a way that people outside of the church wouldn’t dare.

    Of course I speak only of my personal experience and that of those who share their stories (as many of you here have) and don’t presume this is the case across the board by any stretch of the imagination.

    But it is so consistent in my experiences and anecdotally that it cannot be ignored - - at least that is my opinion as a “church leader” and “churchy person” hehe These thoughts are often my attempt to continue to work within a system that i would often rather abandon sometimes. So take it for what it’s worth - very less than a grain of salt. ;)

  20. Jenn — January 23, 2008 #

    Absolutely agreed. I’m sure it varies a little based on the “health” of the church but I will add my grain of salt to the shaker because I’ve experienced way harsher treatment within the “church” than ever outside of it.

  21. Dan Brennan — January 23, 2008 #

    Hey Mak,

    Amen–and we wonder why people become disillusioned to institutional “love.” The parallels of work relationships and church relationships are so appropo. I loved your ramble, too.

  22. sue — January 23, 2008 #

    Have you been reading my mind?

  23. Joy — January 23, 2008 #

    Just posting this as a response;

    Cynthia, I NEVER NEVER NEVER want to be in the same IC with you… ‘k?

    Thanks Mak!

  24. Mak — January 23, 2008 #

    Sue - maybe! ooooooo… hehe

    Dan - thanks buddy :)

    Jenn- me too, and this is I guess what I find disturbing maybe is what it comes down to.

    Joy - I think I’m confused, or missing something, or both hehe

  25. Pingback - Shawna R. B. Atteberry » Church vs. Community — January 23, 2008 #

    [...] had this to say over at Swinging from the Vine: One of the things I’ve discovered in my time in the church world is that church friendships are [...]

  26. Joy — January 23, 2008 #


    Sorry Mak…

    Cynthia (A Life Profound) who reads here and comments here, is my bff irl! I’m just letting her know that we can never be in the same IC!! My experience is that you are so right!!

  27. Michael — January 26, 2008 #

    “church friendships are almost exactly like work relationships, except people see each other even more infrequently”

    – I think then that’s why it’s so crucial to not have all your eggs in the same basket. That is, to have all your social functions be revolved around one particular church group!

    It’s good to have genuine Christian friends, who are really more like family than even one’s one family, but these are often built in home groups/small groups and such.

    We’ve been fortunate enough to have had some that lasted for years where up to 6,7, or 8 different ‘churches’ were represented, with some not attending any church at all. The basis of the groups went beyond just attending the same church building. I’ve found that even these groups are hard to just forge–they have to just sort of come naturally, spirit led.

    I’m so very thankful for this wide group of genuine freinds who have become family and are family in Him as I honestly believe that without them, I don’t think we could have stood many of the trials of life on our own or just relying on the removed solace of people (however good intentioned) only seen weekly, if that.

    Another advantage of that sort of believing ‘community’ is that as it’s not dependent on ‘chuch’ per se, it matters less if one later, for whatever reason, moves on to a different place to worship. And, it gives one an appeciation of the braoder range and depth of believers all over, not just based on one’s small group of faithful ‘attendees.’

    Finally, with stretching out one’s hand of fellowship beyond one’s regular weekly church, it becomes easier to meet and get to genuinely know others outside the church through this active social network.

  28. sue — January 27, 2008 #

    Mak, I had linked to this post in one I had written that followed along the same subject. I got so much flack for discussing it I had to take the posts down. Very touchy subject within my community right now.

  29. Mak — January 27, 2008 #

    I’m sorry about that Sue - what a bummer

  30. Mak — January 27, 2008 #

    joy - ah, gotcha hehe

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