In OneHope’s Global Youth Culture report, we found that nearly one in four U.S. teens say they do not have close friends who know them well. We know that God created us for community and that it’s important for people of all ages to have close friends. So, when roughly 25% of teenagers claim they don’t have these kinds of close relationships, we have to ask ourselves why and consider the negative ramifications of loneliness and isolation.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us turned to online interactions to build and sustain community. Although social media provides many outlets to build relationships, it cannot replace face to face interaction. Students need trusting friendships where they can love sacrificially and communicate openly. True friends know each other personally and deeply. They know one another’s struggles, strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and desires. They know what sets their soul on fire and they know when the other is having a bad day. This kind of friendship is what all people, especially teens, crave. They long to be known by a person, and most would rather have one or two good, trusting friendships than thousands of followers who don’t know what they’re truly going through.
So, how can youth leaders begin to address these challenges?
Friendship was designed by God and there are many examples throughout the Bible that demonstrate what a godly friendship should look like. One of the most prominent examples is the friendship of Jonathon and David. Their friendship began after David defeated Goliath: “As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head…After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 17:57, 18:1). Jonathon and David were from different backgrounds. Jonathon grew up in a palace and David grew up in the pastures, but they were both warriors, they both had faith in God, and they both relied on each other. Even when great odds were stacked against their friendship, they knew they still needed one another to succeed.
These are the kind of friendships we were created for – but what should youth leaders do when students come to us frustrated that they can’t seem to find these friendships?
- We can pray that God will bless them with these relationships.
- We can continue to cultivate community in our churches and schools to help connect students with each other. (Check out our recent blog “Cultivating Genuine Community” to learn more about this).
- We can remind them to be a friend to others. Too often, students will wait for others to reach out to them, but we can remind them that they can take the first step in initiating friendships.
- We can encourage them that even if they feel like they don’t currently have these kinds of friendships, they can have this type of friendship with Jesus in every season of life. Jesus laid his life down for us and calls us “friend,” so we can encourage students to come to him at all times.
Navigating friendships can be difficult both online and in-person (for teens and adults), but we can encourage our students that good friendships are possible with prayer, boldness, patience, and effort.
- Social media is not a replacement, but a supplement. Remind your students to use social media for good and for cultivating the relationships they have already created.
- Teach on the importance of godly friendships and how it can help us throughout our lives.
- Check out our Feed.Bible #REALME series to teach students how they can follow Jesus on and offline and what it looks like to have true connections with others.
- Connect students who are looking for friends with each other.
- Explain the dangers of loneliness and isolation to students and how they need face to face connections. For more information on this, check out Global Youth Culture.
- The Feed Team would love to connect with you as you seek to make changes in your youth ministry. Reach out to us at [email protected] to find out how we can partner with and support you in your ministry.