Engaging culture

Starving for Connection

The Church can provide relief for the friendship famine.

There is a new famine in your neighborhood, and it may not be immediately recognizable. 

Imagine getting groceries at a local market. This might not be a place you’d associate with “famine,” but the people around you are starving. In a group of ten random people in the store, at least one person does not have a single friend. In addition, six of the ten likely feel isolated or lonely. This group of neighbors may be getting nourishment for their bodies, but relationally, they are malnourished. They are hungry for human connection amid the friendship famine or the “epidemic of loneliness.” 

We’re made for friendships. To go against this created reality doesn't just make life boring but has major consequences. God made friendships to be a source of the good life.

This “friendship recession” is gaining more attention, with writers offering guidance in making friends. Even SNL made a skit called “Man Park,” which takes a humorous look at the friendship famine affecting men. The skit shows women dropping off their boyfriends at a park designed for male socialization, like a dog park for guys. Sometimes laughter is an effective way to make us aware of life’s harder realities. 

Genesis tells us that it is not good for anyone to be alone (2:18). To bear God’s image includes reflecting the fellowship God enjoys within Himself—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We’re made for friendships. To go against this created reality doesn't just make life boring but has major public health consequences in areas of depression, disease and poverty. God made friendships to be a source of the good life. In the coming sections, we’ll explore some causes of the friendship famine, gain a framework for friendship from Proverbs and finally see why friendship is good news in the Christian faith.

Causes of the famine 

Let’s start with expressive individualism. Our highly individualistic society values freedom over commitment. We don’t want to be defined or influenced by anyone else and want to keep our options open. But even individualistic expressions long for recognition, only not in meaningful ways (e.g., “please follow my profile and like my posts”). This results in shallow connections. 

  • “We can be friends as long as you don’t challenge me or ask too many questions about the identity I’m expressing.”
  • “If relationships can serve as a means to greater affluence and sense of security, then those are ones worth keeping.”

In these approaches, friendship is disposable. Any challenges to one’s identity or demands placed on the relationship can lead to its termination. Friendship becomes a tool to achieve personal gain, not an end in itself. 

Another factor is mobility. Things like moving to different cities or neighborhoods, switching jobs or constantly changing churches often leaves “friendship in the rearview mirror” (Made for Friendship, 33). This mobility constantly hits the reset button with the local institutions that cultivate connectedness.

The fellowship of the local church can be an oasis in the midst of a friendship famine.

Technology and social media also play roles in the friendship famine. While promising connection to a community, they often create a siloed environment. We connect primarily with those who share our strengths and weaknesses, fostering an “us vs them” mentality that hinders our ability to build new friendships and maintain existing ones.

Finally, there is the problem of the constant demands on our time. Expectations from school, work and others leave little room for much else amid our weekly routines. And these expectations are ones we gladly take on—that is, if we believe that more money, a better job and the right activities will help us reach our potential and bring us affluence and security.3 The older we get, the more this drain on our time and increased busyness becomes a problem. It’s one reason why friendship seems easier in childhood and college, where there is more time to allow friendship to breathe and grow. 

All these influences can drain our souls—so much so that many people struggle to find any friendships or support at all. If they move, they don’t have anyone to call for help. If they have children, no one supports them or brings them meals. If they have a 3 a.m. crisis, they’re not comfortable calling someone to help—and a Facebook message doesn’t replace someone actually showing up. All these factors not only impact friendships but are also contributors to “the great dechurching.”

The fellowship of the local church can be an oasis in the midst of a friendship famine—and the Book of Proverbs gives us a great framework for it.

Friendship in Proverbs   

Is it really that big of a deal to not have any close friends when you have plenty of acquaintances? Yes, according to Proverbs 18:

“A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, ESV).

True friendship requires courage, vulnerability and embracing an often awkward process. It takes work, energy and mental effort. There are no short-cuts.

If you have a lot of shallow relationships, but lack one friend who is like a brother or sister, what is the outcome? Ruin. As Drew Hunter explains, there are important differences between core friendships, casual friends, acquaintances and your extended network.4 In other words, one can be a well-connected person through your classes, work, neighborhood or kid’s school, and still lack a friend. In this proverb, a close friend is someone that has become like family, which is especially good news for those who have moved. You can still have family through friendship even if you’re far away from your biological family!

Proverbs 27 offers wisdom about how to focus your efforts in making friends with those in proximity:

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of a friend
springs from their heartfelt advice.
Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family,
and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you—
better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away” (Proverbs 27:9-10)

Like perfume and incense, what else is as delightful as a wonderful fragrance? A friend who is interested in you, knows you and gives you advice out of love. There is wisdom to not forsake friends and family who know you well. Invest in those relationships—especially those in your life right now, rather than those at a distance. When disaster strikes, taking care of family is a natural response, but what if you’re far away? This proverb advises, in general, to care for those who are near. 

So, look in front of you! Paying attention to new friends is an important part of making them. This applies both to the new person to town looking for friends and to the one who is content with their current group. Look to make friends and then take steps to do so by asking, making time in your schedule, and opening up your life and heart to someone new. True friendship requires courage, vulnerability and embracing an often awkward process. It takes work, energy and mental effort. There are no short-cuts.

You cannot have friendship without time—the good and the bad.

Proverbs 17 continues to add to the wisdom of friendship:

“A friend loves at all times, 
and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

There are a couple different ways to understand this proverb, but the two lines may be getting at the same point rather than a contrast. In other words, you need core relationships like friends and family to show up during both good and bad times. A friend shows up during your birthday parties and when you end up in the ER. A friend gets you a gift for Christmas and flowers when a family member passes. You laugh and cry with close friends. This passage elevates friendship much higher than people today tend to do. 

Another implication from this proverb is that friendship takes time. Deep fellowship does not happen without time spent together—and a lot of it. One author suggests it takes 40-60 hours to make a casual friend and 80-100 hours to start a deep friendship.5 Spending 40+ hours with someone can go quickly in certain settings (e.g., college, road trips, vacations, etc.), but on the flipside, even if you spend one hour a week with someone, it can take years to truly dive beneath the water line

You cannot have friendship without time—the good and the bad. 

Finally, friendship requires commitment: 

“Many claim to have unfailing love,
but a faithful person who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)

Faithfulness is related to “unfailing love”—love that is covenantal and committed—which is often how the Bible describes God’s love for His people. A faithful friend makes a commitment to someone and backs it up through actions. 

Jesus is described as our Lord, our King, our Judge and our Savior. He is all those things, and yet He calls His followers friends.

To show commitment to your friends, create regular rituals rather than always relying on spontaneity. Friendship requires consistency. Cement times into your schedule where friends are a part of normal routine. Have a default evening in the summer where your front porch is open or keep the living room fireplace warm in the winter. Add these ordinary rituals not as a one-off evening, but as a normal rhythm of your life. Regular dinner parties, card clubs, hikes or pick-up basketball during the lunch hour all help.

Some might think friendships are merely a secondary benefit of church life, but the Bible portrays friendship as essential for spiritual growth.

Jesus is our friend   

In His ministry, just as He heals broken bodies, Jesus restores broken relationships. He calls disciples to follow Him as Lord, yet,in John 15, He says to them: 

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:12-15).

Christ’s love chose imperfect disciples to follow Him. Yet they are more than disciples. They’re friends. 

Jesus is described as our Lord, our King, our Judge and our Savior. He is all those things. He has authority over us, He is sovereign over all things, He will judge the living and the dead, and He rescued and redeemed helpless sinners like you and me. He is all of that, and yet He calls His followers friends. 

Why are we friends? Look at the nature of Christ’s love for them articulated in these verses. First, He chooses them and makes a commitment to them. Jesus initiated this friendship. He calls His disciples to Himself. We love Jesus because He first loved us. 

Jesus is all-in with His friends, and this friendship can never be broken. Perhaps the biggest contrast between our friendship with Christ and our earthly friendships is that the latter are often tainted—by sin, by moving or even by death. But not our friendship with Christ. Jesus never leaves us, forsakes us or sins against us. Even death cannot separate Him from us! 

The world today not only needs healthy churches with a powerful worship gathering, regular Bible studies and service in the community. They also need to be invited into a fellowship of love—a church filled with friends.

Jesus also sacrifices for us. Forgiveness and grace are essential to friendship, and they both require sacrifice. If you accidentally damage something loaned to you, a friend forgives you—they might even cover the cost. So too, Jesus paid it all to restore what our sin broke. He willfully laid down His life out of His great love for us. True friendship is all about both giving and receiving sacrifice from friends.

Finally, as He says in John 15, Jesus shares everything He learns from the Father with His friends. Disclosure is something we experience in true friendship. Coworkers become friends not only when we talk shop, but when we start to share our lives, struggles and hopes with that person. Or perhaps you’ve experienced the pain when someone you thought was a friend doesn’t let you in on significant life events. Why does that hurt? Because true friends share business and burdens with each other. 

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus calls and forgives sinners, making friendship with the Lord of heaven and earth possible. And it’s exactly what both the Church and this isolated world need.


One of the most powerful ways to reach our neighbors and the world is by being a church deeply rooted in love for Jesus and one another, a church defined by this kind of friendship. This deep unity is a way for the world to know the good news of God’s love (John 17:20-23). Building deep and meaningful friendships within the local church—and inviting others into that fellowship—is one of the most evangelistic actions in today’s world. 

When the Church has seen famines and food insecurity, we have rightfully responded through the local church, denominations and non-profit ministries to provide relief. We’ve proclaimed the gospel about the Bread of Life but also mobilized to feed the hungry. So too, the Church today is called to address the friendship famine by proclaiming the good news that Jesus is our friend and inviting isolated neighbors into the friendship. The hospitality of the church will feed those hungry for friendship. 

An entire article could be written about practical steps for outreach, but sometimes the simplest approach is the most powerful. Build strong friendships within your local church. Make extra room at the relationship table by pulling in some extra chairs. Then, it's not about forcing people into uncomfortable situations, it's about extending a natural invitation. Reaching out to a neighbor or coworker with a simple, "Would you like to join me?" might surprise you. There are tons of people just waiting for you to ask. The world today not only needs healthy churches with a powerful worship gathering, regular Bible studies and service in the community. They also need to be invited into a fellowship of love—a church filled with friends. As Jesus taught in John 13:35:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 


Edward Davies, “Loneliness is a Moder Scourge, but It Doesn’t Have to Be,” Center for Social Justice; quoted in James K.A. Smith, On the Road with Saint Augustine (Brazos Press, 128).


These are similar problems highlighted by Smith (individualism) and Hunter (busyness, technology, and mobility).



Bryan Lair

Bryan Lair serves as the pastor of Trinity City Church (EFCA) in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Send a Response

Share your thoughts with the author.