Will You Be My BFF? Why The Friendship Factor Isn’t Enough For Church Assimilation.

There is a concept called the ‘Friendship Factor.’ The Friendship Factor says that some 70-90% of people who join a church join primarily for the reason of friendship. The power of friendship and kinship tends to be a primary reason or opportunity for assimilation of people into the church body. I appreciate and think it is a wonderful strength to allow ministry to happen through the natural ‘oikos’ or family. Furthermore, assimilation does happen as friendships are made and established and people are incorporated into serving in the church body. However, is this what ultimately unites the church… friendships and family? Or is there something more profound that unites the church than simply a blood relationship or common interests?

The downfall to the Friendship Factor of Assimilation is that this way of integrating people into the church does not go far enough, or it might simply be the wrong way of assimilating to begin with. For example, if people are assimilated into a church on the basis of the Friendship Factor, then the assimilation is only as good as the relationships are. Furthermore, church unity is then hinged upon friendships and family. From personal experience I have seen how assimilation into a church can happen on the basis of the Friendship Factor but dis-assimilation can also easily occur when those same friendships destroy assimilation and end up in people leaving the church on the basis of personalities. I have also seen in where a new individual tries to connect to a church body only to fail because he/she does not have the right family ties or the right interests to conjure up a fruitful friendship that would connect him/her to the church body.

Thank God that assimilation can happen in a very different way. Praise God that what binds us together as a church body is something eternal and non-perishing. An eternal assimilation happens as ‘our’ unique personal stories are assimilated into a grand and divine story; God’s story of redemption in Jesus. God’s story doesn’t become a part of our story; rather we are assimilated into the grand meta-narrative of God’s redemption. As members of the church we join together ‘into’ the bride of Christ; as common sinners with a common bridegroom, Christ. We grow into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Our assimilation into the church does not come through a blood line but comes through faith in the promised words of scripture. The Word does not change and is an objective standard and a rich source for all to be incorporated into. Think about the foundation of being assimilated into Christ! It isn’t that friendships and family are not important, rather, the body is joined together in an eternal perspective that runs much deeper than common interests and family ties. This kind of assimilation provides a much greater foundation for the church body and grants the church with the ability to weather the storms of personality struggles and inter-personal conflicts to a much greater degree than simple Friendship Assimilation because there is unity and assimilation in Spirit and Truth. Therefore, Friendship Assimilation can be put into proper context and thought of as a way of connecting people to a much richer assimilation, the grand story of God’s redemption in Christ.

Thank God that our assimilation is in Christ and not BFF!

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


Will You Be My BFF? Why The Friendship Factor Isn’t Enough For Church Assimilation. — 3 Comments

  1. The traditional small town and the traditional city neighborhood are an endangered species. Most people live anonymously in big cities or are cocooned in boring, bland, suburban sprawl-towns. Where else can a sense of community be found (or recreated) but inside a church. The Friendship Factor of Assimilation is unofficially and vigorously promoted by the leadership of non-denominational and seeker-driven churches. They want to recreate Mayberry with the walls of their church buildings or rented strip mall spaces. Based on the increasing membership numbers and the explosion in the number of corresponding congregations across the country, such seeker-churches would be considered successful by advocates of the Church Growth Movement within the LCMS.

    Many Lutheran churches have observed the successes of the mega-churches and have used consultants such as TCN and Willow Creek to copy the mega-church styles in archictecture, in worship, etc. The problem with an LCMS congregation engaging in copying is that the non-denominational church down the street will always have a bigger and better praise band, a nicer jumbo screen, a much larger stage, superior lighting, and tastier coffee. As LCMS congregations attempt to copy everything that is offered by the seeker-churches, laymen become conditioned into thinking that doctrinal differences do not matter. Fellowship becomes all that matters. The competition for fickle church shoppers turns into a game of one-upmanship, in which the non-LCMS church always wins.

    In seeker-driven and emergent churches, the Friendship Factor of Assimilation, aka “fellowship” is far more important than sound doctrine. Deeply personal questions such as “How did you feel when someone in your past has wronged you?” or “How can I do a good deed for my neighbor?” take precedence over theology. Discussions of politically incorrect stances on deep theological issues are avoided at all costs. It is no accident that the publications promoted by Willow Creek and by Saddleback emphasize life coaching and self-help at the expense of deep theology. Law! Law! Law! The focus is a Theology of Glory instead of a Theology of the Cross. Why are so many LCMS congregations imitators of a theology that is incompatible with confessional Lutheran doctrine?

    How can Lutheran congregations encourage a sense of community without abandoning Lutheran theology in the process. How can they market themselves as safe havens from the incessant law pounding and shallow works-based theology of the non-denominational seeker-churches. Increasing numbers of people are tired of the kind of churches that are routinely critiqued by Chris Rosborough. They are looking for something deeper. Hey Lutheran pastors: How do you plan on marketing the Book of Concord? How can the theology contained in ancient texts be applied to life issues in the 21st century?

  2. @Lumpenkönig #1
    Hey Lutheran pastors: How do you plan on marketing the Book of Concord? How can the theology contained in ancient texts be applied to life issues in the 21st century?

    Let’s forget about “marketing” and all those “consumer” concepts!

    Preach the Word, administer the Sacraments; teach the Bible and the BOC in Adult class (SS wouldn’t hurt either but you’ll have to have teaching sessions for your SS teachers, not at all a bad idea!)
    Be what the sign out front says you are!

    Those whom the Spirit moves will come, whether by friendship, or because you publish sermons, Scripture and BOC selections on your web page. Once in awhile they’ll even tell you that they heard your church’s name on Issues Etc (if it is on Issues Etc). 🙂

  3. Seen on a church sign: Don’t give up! Even Moses was a basket case.


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