The other day in the comments on The Rule of 150, we were talking about fostering relationships outside of the Christian-cloister. Alan Knox got it right with his question:

I am interesting in building relationships in the opposite direction. I’ve recognized for some time that I live in a “Christian bubble�, and I desire to build relationships with those outside of the Christian community. I can see how I was “knit in� and I’m hoping the Spirit is able to do some “knitting out�. My family is praying about opportunities to interact with our neighbors and community. One of the things that we’ve determined is that any relationships cannot be built on false hobbies, likes, etc. Any suggestions?

This completely gets the point. It may have been a choir-loft conversation, but such are most helpful in learning what’s worked for others — or at least what others are trying. Ideas are good, and the more the merrier. I don’t have any particular inside track on this, as I am not nearly as good at it as are many others I know. I have a few avenues, but others have more experience and insight. Nonetheless, I responded at some length… enough so that I figured it might be good to elevate my comment to a post of its own so it doesn’t get lost in the fray.

Good question Alan — and one for which I don’t have the answer of course. Sonja (and others) might have some ideas to share from her efforts in this direction too… would be worth collecting. It occurs to me that Frost & Hirsch’s TTSOTC had some examples, as do other books, and this is the kind of thing that can really only be spread by example.

As a how-to / idea-list, I would suggest:

  1. Stop thinking that relationships outside the faith community need to result in “witnessing” opportunities;
  2. Cut back on church activities to make room… way back, if necessary;
  3. Don’t fabricate interests and hobbies (well-observed, Alan);
  4. Opt for non-christian versions of programs (Scouts & Guides vs. AWANA and Boys’ Brigade);
  5. Pay attention to what’s important to your community (from school board to land use applications);
  6. Use the library;
  7. Read bulletin boards;
  8. Sit for a while in the coffee shops;
  9. Attend events of interest;
  10. Join a business networking group;
  11. Find an interest-group (from book clubs to…??);
  12. Take a class;
  13. Enroll your kids in a class; and
  14. Review nos. 1 and 2 again (harder for some of us than you’d think).

The biggest single thing is to just get out and be with people, and see what “sticks” as an interest for you or your kids. If it doesn’t generate “friendships” right away, don’t sweat it — just keep on with it. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that some period of de/re-sensitization is needed to change how we relate to churchfolk vs. worldfolk. Our city publishes a “Leisure Guide” a few times a year announcing classes that can be taken for between $10 and $50 from 2-8 weeks, normally evenings at local schools. Our kids each did one last year (gymnastics & Hip-Hop dancing), and right now my wife is thinking about a Chinese cooking class (I selfishly hope she goes for it!). I suspect that every town or city has things like this, if you just know where to look.

Our family joined the local museum and hangs out there from time to time (the kids love it — go figure!) and they have special exhibits and programs on occasion. It was quite a few years ago that we had a personal breakthrough… we skipped church on Sunday morning, went out and bought a kite, and took it to the park as a family to fly it. We aren’t part of an institutional church anymore, but at the time, this was *huge* for us. I think over years of being involved in church activities, to some extent we can even forget what hobbies and activities used to interest us, even ignore the things we used to read and enjoy. (Not that some things don’t need to be left behind.)

The biggest thing, especially at first I think, is just to get out and be among people who aren’t absorbed with the same subcultural ideals. Let it grow from there. Last year one of our daughters joined Brownies; our friends took theirs to AWANA. I’m not trying to be down on those Christian programs, but the idea of outreach doesn’t always hold water like we wish it would, and that’s one of the things we’re shifting through this exercise. Our kids are in a Christian school, but we have friends whose kids specifically aren’t, just for this reason.

Would love for others to add their thoughts, experiences, and observations on this subject.

Sonja also responded, saying:

Here are some specific things I’ve done and noted.

Alan is correct. Friendships have to be just friendships. If you have a goal in mind, people can sniff that out. And (if you think about it) who wants to be on the receiving end of that sort of relationship. That’s icky. “Here … I’ll be your friend, but there are strings attached. I want you to change your world view. It’s for your own good. Really. You’ll thank me for it.� That’s a really arrogant, supercilious attitude to have in any relationship … and, pretty much, people can detect it if we’re thinking it. (Yes, I realize I’ve overstated it somewhat)

Some things that I’ve done is discover what I’m/we’re passionate about and get involved in that both on-line and IRL. I’ve been a member of a local quilting guild for about 8 years now and keep up my relationships there despite the pressure to stay in the bubble. My husband is into photography and has developed (pun intended) relationships through on-line communities and is branching out IRL through our daughter’s hockey games. Our daughter joined a girl’s hockey team this year and that has really blown the doors open. We’ve even blown off church (gasp) to go to her games.

The other things I’m interested in are re-establishing old friendships that fell away. This is somewhat more difficult, because the ties have been strained and issues have to be overcome. But some of those friendships are really worth it and time spent with those people feels like a long cold drink of water. I have old (non-Christian) friends because I didn’t come to Christ until I was 29, so I have that old community to draw upon.

All of that said, however, I sometimes feel as though I’m walking a tightrope and the balance is really difficult to maintain. But that is something I’m working through…

Hope nobody minds my re-publishing their comments ;^) But it’s worth noting, probably as a ‘cardinal rule’ something repeated in each of the three quotes above. Friendship must be for its own sake, with no ulterior motive. I think that’s how Jesus did it, and it’s why he didn’t seem flustered if someone got healed and went away before he could finish passing out the tracts. Tomorrow I’ll finish this thought more controversially in a followup post.

Still, I’m very interested in anyone else’s experiences in this or similar attempts to build bridges. Really, it’s the story of missional.