The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey revealed that Americans report having fewer close friendships, they talk to their friends less often and rely less on friends for personal support.
In isolation, this survey seems anecdotal, however, I’ve already highlighted Springtide’s 2020 report which reveals that Generation Z is the loneliest generation. The further we dissect the American Perspectives Survey it seems that the solution to many of the most difficult challenges currently facing every generation of Americans would be solved with discipleship relationships.
Three Reasons Americans State They are Losing Friends:
- Americans are marrying later in life and are more geographically mobile. These two trends are strongly associated with increased rates of self-reported social isolation and feelings of loneliness. (This aligns with Springtide, Barna, and Pew Research surveys)
- American parents are spending twice as much time with their children compared to previous generations, crowding out other types of relationships, including friendships. (Helicopter parenting harms relationships even in adulthood!)
- Americans are working longer hours and traveling more for work. This often reduces opportunities for social connections outside of work settings.
This paragraph from The American Perspectives Survey stood out to me:
In fact, perhaps reflecting its central place in the hierarchy of American social life, Americans are now more likely to make friends at work than any other way—including at school, in their neighborhood, at their place of worship, or even through existing friends.
The Springtide survey revealed that Gen Z values discipleship. 85% of surveyed students who have two to four adult mentors and 91% of those who have five or more adult mentors reported their life has meaning and purpose. The more mentors someone has, the more meaning they believe their life has. When we tie these two surveys together it seems to reveal that the loneliest generation in America is one of many isolated groups. Further, we all seem to desire the same thing. Friendship!
Consider Our Influences
Forbes and Gallup both recently featured articles about what Gen Z values about their working environment and one key element is that they want to work for companies that align with their personal values. It makes sense that when surrounded by people who align with their personal values Gen Z would form friendships at work. Especially since this is the place they are spending the majority of their time.
However, we need to consider who our influences are, even if we’re surrounding ourselves with people we have a lot in common with. For example, Jainism is an ancient philosophy and ethical teaching that originated in India. The main principle is ahimsa – the avoidance, where possible, of physical or mental harm to any living being. This aligns very well with Christianity which calls for loving our neighbor as an essential part of our calling. However, Jainism is a religion without a belief in a creator god whereas a central belief of Christianity God as our Creator and Savior.
It’s impossible to practice both Jainism and Christianity as religions even if the values align. And this is where courageous discipleship becomes vital. The voice that points someone to God first is a significant role.
A Relational Mentor Can Be a Vital Relationship
Relational mentoring asks people to spend time investing in personal relationships. It’s an equal investment of time. Ideally, both parties will commit to transparent, honest, and respectful conversations with a specific set of goals. The mentor’s goal should be to walk alongside the mentee and encourage them as they work to achieve their personal or professional goals. They may do this by introducing resources, offering advice, or simply being a cheerleader and listening ear.
With other relationships, especially as a trust builds, a mentor may be more intentional about encouraging growth in specific ways. Perhaps this will come with asking questions that encourage deeper thought. Possibly this will involve some sort of a study focused around the mentee’s ultimate goals.
If Not You Then Who?
As we’ve outlined today, Americans have recently acknowledged they are lonely, they are losing friends, and they value voices other than family members. Generation Z seeks out influential adult voices, however, they also equally value the voices of those who hold the same values as they do. As Generation Z continues to exit the Church at a rapid pace it’s going to be left to discipleship relationships to draw people back to Jesus.
Interested in Learning More About Discipleship?
As Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), we’re all called to “make disciples of all nations” wherever we live. God invites us to partner with him and live on mission every day, even in the mundane moments of life. We do this when we love people as Jesus taught the disciples to do, without stipulations.
Embracing Holy Interruptions: How Jesus Used Mundane Moments to Love People Deeply is a six-week Bible study that teaches people how to develop a disciple-making movement.
This is not a step-by-step instruction manual.
Jesus modeled using mundane moments to love people, build tension, and point them to God in a way that caused many of them to step from a curiosity about God to a fully surrendered faith. We can adapt his methods and learn from the examples in the Gospels today. This study aims to help people keep their eyes on Jesus and improve their inductive Bible reading skills while also learning to love their neighbors to the best of their ability.
This 6-week study is available in both print and Kindle formats.