Loneliness is the sorrowful feeling being disconnected from others when a connection is felt to be needed. Or to use a standard definition, loneliness occurs when the quantity and quality of connections we have is less than we want. It is commonly accompanied by despair and anger.

Sometimes our loneliness makes sense. Perhaps a close friend passed away or you moved and don’t know anyone yet. But other times, loneliness is confusing. For example, sometimes people don’t understand why they feel lonely, even though they belong to a friendly church community. “People know me and I know them. They care about me and I have meaningful ways to contribute. So why do I feel alone?”

There are various reasons you might feel lonely. One of them may be that even though you have a broad network of friends, you lack a few close friends. Psychologists connect this to two kinds of loneliness: social and emotional.

Social loneliness refers to longing for an absent social network, whereas emotional loneliness refers to longing for an absent intimate, close, and emotional attachment (Weiss, 1973).1

When we feel lonely despite being part of a healthy community, it is often because we are experiencing “emotional loneliness”. We are connected to a broader social network, but lack the handful of intimate relationships that we also need.

The need for intimate relationships is not new, nor are the challenges for gaining them. To form, sustain, and grow close friendships, it’s always required lots of tenacity over lots of time. Now add to that technology-driven culture shifts (example) that have made community building difficult, along with the loss of role models and helpful cultural norms, and making close friends is even harder today.

Combining the results of both studies, [professor Jeffery Hall] estimated it takes between 40 and 60 hours to form a casual friendship, 80-100 hours to transition to being a friend and more than 200 hours together to become good friends.2

If you use your time wisely, that’s about 1,280 church coffee breaks, on the low end.

But despite the challenges, having close friends is still important. People with healthy, close friendships live longer, are wealthier, get sick less, and have better mental health. As Augustine taught, friendship is essential for life and many others would testify to this: David and Jonathan, Basil and Gregory, Chrysostom and Olympias, John Cassian and Germanus, John Calvin and William Farel, Olympia Fulvia Morata and Lavinia della Rovere, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein. Here’s what Ambrose has to say:

Preserve, then, my sons, that friendship ye have begun with your brethren, for nothing in the world is more beautiful than that. It is indeed a comfort in this life to have one to whom thou canst open thy heart, with whom thou canst share confidences, and to whom thou canst entrust the secrets of thy heart. It is a comfort to have a trusty man by thy side, who will rejoice with thee in prosperity, sympathize in troubles, encourage in persecution. What good friends those Hebrew children were whom the flames of the fiery furnace did not separate from their love of each other! Of them we have already spoken. Holy David says well: “Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant, inseparable in their life, in death they were not divided.”3

So what can you do if you want to foster more close friendships in your life? Here are some suggestions to get your stated. And check out the reading recommendations below for even more ideas.

Begin with prayer. Ask God to help you see what he’s already doing. Pray for a heart that is open and non-judgmental. Pray for growing skills and abilities in hospitality. Learn to welcome others as Christ has welcomed you. (Romans 15:7).

Set your expectations. Don’t look for one person to be everything in your life. Don’t expect close friendships to happen fast. Don’t expect everything to work the first time you try. Establishing close friendships is like planting trees. You need to prepare the ground, diligently care, and then some time later enjoy the shade and fruit. Fortunately, you don’t need years to find a close friend.

Spend time with groups of people. Is there a church picnic? Go. A bible study? Go. A team to serve on? Sign up. These are great places to get to know new people. But don’t stop there! As you make these initial connections, arrange things outside of these events to go deeper. See if a couple of people want to grab ice cream after the Bible study. Arrange a weekend hike with some folks on your new team. Or invite a handful of people to your house for lunch after church. Doing things in small groups like this is easier than asking for one-on-one time with people you don’t yet know well.

Read. Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World is a book about the various kinds of communities we need in life, including a small circle of intimate friends. This is the book I recommend most people read for thinking about friendship in general and for getting lots more of practical tips on how to build community. A nice supplement to this book is The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. Its focus is on offering Christian friendship to those that don’t yet know Jesus.

Forums of Five. At Covenant, we help our members overcome these challenges with a program called Forums of Five. Forums of Five are small groups in our church that help foster close friendships between our members. Each group consists of either five men or five women who build friendships with each other as peers. Forums start with a fun Day Away and then meet each month for a year to share life’s ups and downs and support each other through prayer. If you have a program like this available to you, sign up.

  1. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.11… ↩︎

  2. phys.org/news/2018…). ↩︎

  3. www.ccel.org/ccel/scha… ↩︎