For some time now, I’ve been hearing a common sentiment expressed by Christians and even church leaders concerning the need to overcome the poor relational state among many Christians. People are tired of feeling more like distant cousins or disconnected coworkers than actual brothers and sisters in Christ. Many are searching for more authentic community among believers. At the same time, it becomes apparent that the existing institutions—church buildings and pastoral leadership—are not serving as wellsprings of such connection as they once may have.

This trend is noticeable not only among many believers but in research studies as well. The Barna Group recently shared about its research with some sobering and telling statistics. Here are some key findings: (1) Less than one-third of practicing Christians have close friendships with other Christians, while 84% claim to have this (though it seems what many define as “close friendship” is rather superficial). (2) Sixty-three percent of born again Christians prefer the company of friends or coworkers over Christians when they want to relax or unwind (presumably at least in part due to the relational friction and lack of real connectedness often found within churches).

So,then, what can we do? How can we move past words into actual practice, cultivating true connection with others in the Body of Christ, genuinely treating each other like family? Following are some practical suggestions.

Acknowledge the Tension

The first step toward correcting a problem is admitting there is one. And because so many have failed to grasp the existence and gravity of this disconnect, many of these suggestions will not even get a fair trial in practice. We must be willing to question current structures and personal strategies, see the status quo as less than ideal, and believe that God has something better in mind. That begins with acknowledgement.

Humbly Embrace Vulnerability

Another part of this journey, at its core, is walking in humility. Humbling ourselves and opening our hearts, we enter into an honest assessment of both our own failings and the reality we’re observing around us. Because we see this as a relational and not just an organizational problem, it means working in earnest to recognize and address the personal biases and shortcomings that play a role here.

Vulnerability is crucial; it opens up the possibility for deepening relationships and experiencing the kind of family connection so desperately longed for. Sharing of our hurts, struggles, and weaknesses can lead to incredible strength and lasting connections. As in any familial relationship, the healthy functioning of the group depends on each member’s willingness to be a part of the whole, taking off the mask and letting others see us as we are, and as we are being transformed.

Focus on Personal Discipleship

We all know a plethora of facts about Jesus and the Bible, but being grounded in the presence, power, and Word of God enables us to walk out and share the love and life of Christ authentically with others. In other words, real and lasting transformation comes through personal discipleship. If we want to engage more healthily with each other, let’s take the time to ensure we’re in right relationship with God.

Cultivate Mutual Encouragement

Alongside personal discipleship, let’s nurture the act of mutually uplifting one another in Christ. Relinquishing a bit of our egos and self-centeredness, we can devote ourselves to encouraging the faith and growth of our brothers and sisters. Paul’s New Testament letters serve as examples of this: He was primarily interested in the spiritual growth and well-being of those he communicated with, even if he might receive some slack back in return. Encouragement, even in the context of distant text messages and social media, is a powerful way to create closeness in the faith.

Emphasize Healthy Discourse and Conflict Resolution

No loving family gets along perfectly all the time. When conflict does rise in our Christian circles, we must seek to engage in healthy conflict resolution. This involves removing our masks, addressing issues head on, and practicing forgiveness as soon as we are able, even seeking the counsel of respected and trusted others in the process.

As Ephesians 4 reminds us, we must diligently seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This includes finding ways to better listen and understand differing perspectives without demanding submission to our own. Fostering truly open dialogues on important matters, exploring Scripture, seeking intercession, and submitting to the wisdom, guidance, and even rebuke of God’s people can help us safeguard our fellowship.

Foster an Intentional Faith

Probably the most important change we could make as individuals and communities in pursuit of more familial fellowship is becoming intentional in our faith. By intentional, I mean deliberate, thoughtful, and action-oriented discipleship, where we pursue God with focus and passion. It requires looking beyond our personal comfort to live out our faith in those around us. In this way, we honor Christ not as a causal preference or an essential addition to our lives, but as the foundation of who we are and how we interact with those within and without the Body of Christ.

A Final Note on Churches

Though it is beyond the scope of this article to address all the challenges and changes our religious institutions need to undertake, I should acknowledge that there is great importance in reforming what has become known as the “institutional church.” Reforming leadership and church structures would be a valuable and necessary endeavor in this journey. But none of the improvements in our organizations and leadership can succeed without a corresponding change in the hearts and minds of Christians. This is why it remains critical for us individually to examine our behavior and motivations.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, I believe that the relational transformation among Christians that we yearn for requires spiritual growth, divine intervention, and an ongoing commitment from us, in the form of humility, vulnerability, and mutual encouragement. Thruogh these actions, we can begin the restoration of our family bonds, not only within the walls of our churches but in the way we engage with society at large. May God use us as instruments of His grace, pointing others toward Him and his love, as we experience and make evident that love within the Christian family.