Advice on Making Friends after Leaving the Church

"No Agenda" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“No Agenda” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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When we leave the church, one of the hardest things to do is build new relationships.

Because you will probably lose most if not all of the friends you had.

I’ve been through it, learned a lot, and want to share some advice with you.

1. Change your expectations. I posted something on my social media platforms the other day that got a ton of reactions. Here it is: “I just responded to someone asking about how to find fellowship when leaving the church. I responded: “You will NEVER find the same quality of fellowship as you had in the church. That’s just a fact.” I wasn’t ascribing any value to my choice of the word “quality”. The quality can be poor or excellent. My point is that the quality of church fellowship is different than anything else. When we are in the church, we are handed a whole network of friends to love and groups to join. If you come from a more charismatic church or one that encouraged small groups, the level of intimacy you experienced there cannot be matched on such a large scale. In fact, I’ve come to conclude that it isn’t normal, natural, and is often unhealthy. When you enter the real world of social interaction and relationships, you will be hard pressed to replace the scale and level of intimacy you experienced in your church. It’s normal for most people to only have a few close friends, then a wider network of just friends, then an even wider network of acquaintances. This is normal, and great pleasure can be enjoyed with this normal model. For many of us, we are leaving behind an unnatural and often toxic intensity of intimacy that cannot and should not be matched in the real world.

2. Wean yourself off of unhealthy relationships. Do you remember feeling like you had to be totally open, honest, and vulnerable at all times in the church? You could harbor no secrets. You were in constant confessional mode. All your sins were brought into the light at the perpetual risk of being forgiven and reinstated or condemned and rejected. People: this is not normal. It is not healthy. The incredible pressure to conform to the expectations of the community created what felt like genuinely authentic friendships when in fact they were tenuous and risky, a truth you discovered when you left the church. In the real world with real friends, authenticity means being yourself and being real without the risk of rejection because conformity to groupthink isn’t a requirement. Or shouldn’t be. I’m talking about real relationships. Now, instead of being forced to love peoeple who are toxic and even abusive towards you, you can choose who to surround yourself with. Now, instead of being in relationships that are incessantly purpose-driven, you can find relationships that are relaxed with no explicit or hidden agenda. Be healthy. Be wise. Be self-caring. Be mature. Choose healthy relationships and end toxic ones.

3. Do the work. Do you know that most people in the real world only have a few people they can call friends? In fact, I know some people who have none! The church gives us the erroneous impression that it’s possible to be intimate with a hundred people. That’s not only unrealistic. It’s unhealthy! It takes serious work to build genuine friendships. Lisa and I find that if we don’t initiate, it will rarely happen. Most people are busy, or are insecure themselves in attempting to build friendships, or don’t even know how to do it. So, Lisa and I take matters into our own hands and contact people and make attempts to get together with them. If it feels like a relationship has potential, then we actively and persistently pursue it. We don’t take it personally when we don’t get called. Unless a certain person or couple never initiates ever, we will do our best to get together with them. But it takes intention, planning, tenacity, and work. There’s no other way around it. But it’s working for us. It’s not at all like the church where we were given people, places, and opportunities to meet at least weekly. Now we have to find the people, chose the place, then plan and create the opportunity. That takes effort.

Loneliness sucks. It makes for a sad life. If this is you, take my advice. Apply it.

I bet it will work.

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