I’m in my late twenties and have worked with young adults and students my entire working life. I’ve spent time thinking about who this generation is, the problems they’re facing, and how to reach them with the gospel. One of the biggest challenges I see is around our relationships and connectivity.

My peers are out working, studying, or doing a bit of both – in other words, we’re in environments that are overtly social. Add to this the fact that our social lives extend far beyond our immediate physical world – we live just as much in the digital space, following people on Instagram or TikTok who live halfway across the world. The opportunities for new friendships are vast, and there’s never been a generation with so many tools for maintaining friendships.

But with all these connections comes a shadow-side – overwhelm, as our WhatsApp overflows with unread messages and never-ending invites to new group chats. We’re marketed endless events, gyms and clubs to get involved in. Study after study describes my generation as lonely, without friends, overwhelmed and disconnected. Something seems to have gone very wrong.

So, what is going on? These are some of the challenges: 


1. Digital overwhelm

Speak to most people in their twenties and they will describe the love-hate relationship they have with their phone. It’s an incredible tool for connection, entertainment and organisation, but it also means that you’re contactable round the clock, there’s not a moment you’re bored, and it’s harder than ever to resist distraction. Many can’t keep up with the number of people, notifications and apps that demand their attention. Overwhelmed, we retreat and create distance in our friendships. 

2. Ex-best friends

It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk about their ex, someone they’re no longer dating. But my peers have also started using this term to refer to friends they no longer speak to – my ex-best friend’. In some ways, I think this does a good job in expressing how painful a friendship breakdown can be – it can be just as painful, or even more painful, than that of a romantic relationship. But there’s something concerning about the finality of the term – the end of a friendship is rarely as clear cut as this term encourages it to be. It also means that the path towards forgiveness and reconciliation is harder to find – it’s easier to end the friendship than to risk the healthy conflict needed to make it work. And so, friendship ends up being seen as disposable, temporary, and not worth fighting for.

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3. Individualism

In our culture today, friendship exists to benefit the individual. My generation is told to look inside to find our true selves, to not allow outsiders to define us. Friendship, then, is about finding likeminded people, who share common interests and views, who affirm who we are and agree with our opinions. Friendship is about feeling good, and getting what we want in life. But when we’re encouraged to only engage in friendships that benefit us in some way, or come with no resistance, my generation is at risk of becoming bound to our comfort zones. It also encourages tribalism, echo chambers and polarisation.

Is there a better story for friendship?

I don’t believe that my friends and my generation have to be lonely. The God story invites us into an understanding of friendship that is incredibly countercultural. It’s self-sacrificing, marked out by forgiveness and connections forged across different cultures, ages and opinions. Jesus models friendship that is brave and selfless, even laying His very life down for His friends.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Jesus was friends with a group of people, His disciples, that in many ways didn’t make sense. Why would Jesus choose this eclectic bunch of people to spend His time with? They slow Him down, make Him less efficient, don’t seem to quite understand Him, let Him down, even reject and deny Him. And yet, Jesus chooses friendship with others.

Jesus models friendship for us in which we don’t have to compete, hoard or compare. We can be friends with people that aren’t like us. We can see people as fellow image-bearers rather than objects and ask what we can give rather than what we can take. And we can forgive, and ask for forgiveness, time and time again.

Going against the grain of culture comes with resistance, and is not without pain. My generation is invited to walk a different way to the culture we’re immersed in. Are we as churches ready to stand with young adults and help them navigate what friendship looks like in a world that would encourage them to go about it very differently? Are we asking young adults about their friendships as part of their discipleship?

Amid overwhelm, disconnect and relational breakdown, we can help each other find peace, community and faithful friendship, together in Him.

"“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)"

Related pages:

Young adults are spiritually curious – just look at the ‘manifesting’ trend

Young adults are spiritually curious – just look at the ‘manifesting’ trend

Many young adults are ‘manifesting’ to try and control their future – but the God story offers a destiny beyond their wildest imaginations
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