"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." ~~ Philippians 2: 1-2
New national poll data indicates that friendships play a major role in church growth. A recent Gallup survey among U.S. congregation members revealed that church friendliness correlated with both church attendance and volunteerism.
The Gallup poll also found that friendships with other church members is a key reason why many individuals joined a specific church. And members who have best friends at church tend to be more satisfied and more involved with their churches.
Michael Lindsey is a research specialist with the Gallup organization. He says church members want to worship in a church where they feel welcomed, and friendships are "the silver bullet that churches have been looking for."
Lindsey says when he goes across the country talking to pastors and church leaders, "they are oftentimes looking for special programs or initiatives that will help their people grow deeper in their relationship with God and with neighbor." And thanks to the information provided by this recent survey, he adds, "We've found it. The silver bullet is creating an environment where friendships can flourish."
The Gallup researcher says there are several practical ways in which this kind of relationship building can happen. "One is by having a system where people in the church can get to know one another," he notes. For instance, he adds, "My congregation has monthly fellowship dinners."
Another way to foster friendships in a church, Lindsey points out, is by focusing on those people who are new to the congregation. He says some of the most successful congregations are "those churches that really reach out to the newcomers and help them to connect with people so that they can share something -- whether it be sharing an activity, like scrapbooking, together or helping them to work on a car they want to refurbish."
Church leaders who want to encourage growth create an atmosphere where church members can share those "simple, mundane things that people are really interested in," Lindsey says. "That's really an environment where people can then share a little bit more of their lives."
While these principles for church growth were affirmed by the Gallup survey, Lindsey points out that they are entirely biblical concepts. In numerous passages in the New Testament alone, he notes, the Apostle Paul talks about believers being delighted not only to share in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the "communion of the Holy Spirit" but in each others' lives as well.
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