Skip to content

Inclusivity and Intimacy: A Tension in Christian Community


On the one hand, most of us long for deeper friendships. And this takes time to make that happen. On the other hand, we also feel the pull to welcome in new people just as someone did for us… which also takes time. We walk around with both a yearning for more and a tinge of guilt for being maxed out. And we end up feeling like we can’t do either as well as we wish.

I doubt we can schedule our way out of this tension between going deeper with the friends we have and welcoming more people into our community. Yet, I wonder what would happen if we accepted that the tension exists and then asked ourselves some questions to help us navigate this reality in a healthy way.

We are limited creatures. We only have so much time in a day, only so much attention to give, only so much emotional energy. Unlike God, we cannot be friends with everyone. We can be friendly, but we can’t have the quality of friendship we would like with all the people in our lives. By necessity, we have to limit the number of close friendships we have in order to have the regularity and intimacy necessary for a friendship to feel “close.”

Yet, the impulse to narrow our circle of friends also brings its own dangers.

One danger is to find too much of our identity in what friend group we are a part of or even in how elite or exclusive that friend group is (see C.S. Lewis’ wonderful essay, “The Inner Ring”). Another danger is that this exclusivity can lead to stagnation. Only having friendships with people we are deeply familiar with can cause us to share the same blind spots and prevent new ways of being challenged and stretched through people who are different or outside of our usual friend group.

A final threat is that becoming too exclusive in our friendships can take us off mission from what God is doing in the world. Being hospitable and welcoming to new people is hard when our community is set. It’s hard to take the church’s mission forward to reach more and more people when we close the door to anyone new.

Making your friend group smaller is necessary for depth and intimacy, yet, as friends, we must help each other to be on God’s mission to help others to believe and to belong.

Many small group leaders express that tension: “How can we add new people or send off members if part of the purpose is to go deep with people?”

Justin Whitmel Earley describes the challenge in his book Made for People:

“None of this is easy. Knowing the difference between doing the work of deepening friendships and doing the harm of exclusion takes wisdom and maturity. It’s an art, not a science.”

How can you navigate this tension between inclusivity and intimacy? Here are four questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I cultivating intentional friendships?

We need to make sure we are working towards the kinds of friendships where they know what’s going on with us and we know what’s going on with them. This is likely 2-4 people who are helping you go in the direction in life you want to go.

  1. Am I scheduling time to be intentional with my friends?

With limited time, we need to prioritize quality connection with this smaller group of friends. Rather than just spending large quantities of time superficially connecting, you can be intentional to make sure you are getting the most important kind of connection—which is the purpose of your smaller, more intimate friend group.

  1. Am I taking advantage of the spaces I have to welcome new people?

Even when we are in spaces where we can meet new people, it’s often easier to hang with the same group of friends.

Back when I was doing college ministry, we had a summer meeting at a coffeehouse each week where newer or less-connected people would come. One night, I looked around after the meeting to see our staff team standing around talking to each other. It’s not that I didn’t want our staff team to connect deeply—we had time set aside each week for our staff team to connect—but this was not that time. At our staff meeting the next day, we had to talk about making sure we were prioritizing welcoming new people at our weekly meetings.

  1. Am I leaving margin in my life to be hospitable or scheduling ways to meet new people?

In the early years of The Crossing, when we were a young church plant, we had conversations about not scheduling too many church activities for people. If our members spent all their free time at church, they couldn’t cultivate new relationships and invite new people to church.

Maybe you’ve filled your life up with activities involving your close friends and have no time to meet new people. Maybe you need to free some space up so that you can invite that neighbor over for dinner or grab coffee with the person you just met at church who is new to town. Or maybe, you need to sign up to serve in a way that forces you to interact with someone new, such as being a greeter, being a table discussion leader for a men’s or women’s study, or serving in Crossing Kids.

Asking yourself these questions can help deepen your friendships while still striving for the breadth of the mission God has placed you here for.

While we may never erase that tension, we can try to be intentional to hold onto both. And, we can trust that, though God doesn’t promise unlimited time or unlimited capacity, he does promise to use our limited weakness to make an impact greater than we get to see in this life.

For further reading, check out Made For People by Justin Whitmel Earley or Find Your People by Jennie Allen.

Looking for ways to deepen and grow friendships in your community? Check out Placed for a Purpose, a weekly podcast exploring how to develop relationships in the neighborhood where God has placed you.

Tune in on your favorite podcast platform.

Apple | Spotify | Crossing Website