How Many Friends Do You Really Need?

We all need people in our lives. We don’t just need associates or acquaintances; we need friends. Even the most introverted introvert needs friends. We were created to live in relationship with others—certainly with God but also with other real live human beings.

There have been multiple studies on this, and I have written about it before. [See related posts below.]

I ran across another study recently on the health benefits of friends. Without good friends, we can experience loneliness, and loneliness is as harmful to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

But how many friends do I need? One friend can make all the difference, but this is someone who is more than a co-worker, acquaintance, or casual friend. We each need at least one person who is important to us. So if one good friend is good for us, then more friends are even better, right?

It depends.

According to Facebook, I have 1600 “friends.” These are not necessarily the type of friends that directly benefit me. Some of these individuals I have never met. Maybe we’ve built on online connection through a mutual friend, but a lot of them know me through my ministry—but I don’t know them. Others are  friends and acquaintances from 30, 40, 50 years ago but we’ve never kept up.

According to Robin Dunbar, we can know about 1500 names and be acquainted with 500 of them. But we can only maintain friendships—some type of connection—with about 150.  How many of these are good friends? The number drops to 50. But the number of close friends drops to five.

And it’s those five close friends that really benefit us.

“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:9-12).

Over my life, that circle of five has changed with the different seasons of my life. But I don’t think I’ve ever been without a small circle of friends that I could call on for anything and, in turn, they could call on me. And every one of those connections started because of church. We shared a common purpose, a common worldview, and a common Lord. Not a bad place to start with any friendship.

If you’re lonely, got to church. Get involved in a Sunday School class, small group, or some type of Bible study with a small group of people. It’s not just for the value of Bible study; it’s for doing Bible study together. Building community together. Sitting in a worship service is good, but you need the ministry and encouragement that comes from interacting with others—and a Bible study group offers that.

And for the rest of you? Be the one to reach out to the lonely … to that quiet person in your group … to that one who tends to stand on the sidelines. They need you. They need to see the love of Christ in you. They need your friendship.

And you need theirs.

“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

Related posts:

Healthy Friendships = Healthy Living

Loneliness: The Silent Killer in the Pew

Seeing Loneliness as an Opportunity