n a world shaped by diverse faiths and beliefs, we’re presented with a unique opportunity to fulfill the gospel mandate of spreading hope globally. Extensive research spanning more than 200 countries revealed that while 85.5 percent of the world’s population embraces religious beliefs, only 31.6 percent identify as Christians.1 This striking disparity underscores the significance of our mission (given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18–20). The question that naturally arises is, how can we effectively reach the vast majority of people across the globe with the message of hope? The answer lies in the simple yet profound act of befriending them.

Amid the perceived differences and barriers that diverse faiths and beliefs present, encouraging data offers valuable insights into addressing this challenge. A research study conducted across 24 countries involving 56,000 individuals from various continents and major religions revealed some heartening insights:

  1. The majority of people, 68 percent, are consistently open to engaging with individuals of different faiths or philosophical viewpoints.
  2. An additional 23 percent maintain a neutral stance, indicating their willingness to engage.
  3. Only 1 in 10 people expressed reluctance to connect with those with different beliefs.

This data reveals that making friends from different religions is possible, and many people are open to it.

Though religion often reflects an individual’s worldview, values, and principles, it’s vital to acknowledge the common thread that runs through faiths—a commitment to love, empathy, and kindness. These shared values provide a foundation for individuals to forge friendships that transcend religious boundaries.

Such friendships were the DNA of the New Testament church. The disciples, deeply influenced by their master, Jesus, understood that the most effective means of conveying the revelations entrusted to them was through genuine, heartfelt connections with people. Friendship and fellowship were integral to Jesus’ ministry in this world. He consistently spent time with people, visited their homes, and shared meals with them (Matthew 9:9–17; Luke 7:36–50). Over time, this approach was embraced by His disciples (Galatians 2:12) and later became the blueprint for the entire Christian movement.

In Acts 2, we discover that these early followers of Christ formed a community devoted to genuine fellowship and the shared experience of life. They lived out their faith through close-knit friendships and interactions. Their example reminds us that friendship has always been the most potent conduit for sharing the gospel with the world.

Yet, two millennia removed from those early days, people are challenged by cultural disintegration and social distrust, creating significant barriers to forming meaningful friendships. All too often, individuals remain strangers in their own communities, disengaged from one another. However, as witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8), we’re called out of our comfort zones and into the lives of people around us.

Here are some practical suggestions to help you overcome obstacles, develop trust, and reach out to people in your local community:

Love without hidden agendas. Authenticity is key in friendships. Treat people as individuals, not projects. In a world often marked by divisions and prejudices, the concept of loving without an agenda serves as a powerful reminder of our shared humanity and values, paving the way for them to see Jesus in you.

Embrace natural opportunities. Our society is full of social distrust. We’re easily suspicious of people who “aren’t supposed” to be talking to us. Therefore, it’s prudent to seek connections within our existing circles, such as our workplaces, neighborhoods, or common-interest events. Engaging with people in familiar settings lowers their cultural defenses, making them more willing to talk.

Serve people. Serving others is a fundamental Christian principle. By extending kindness and meeting their needs, you give them a chance to reciprocate, facilitating the growth of acquaintances into meaningful friendships. There’s no shortage of needs around us, and Jesus’ example of serving others is our guiding light.

Look for repeat exposures. Pay attention to those individuals you encounter regularly, such as your hairdresser, grocer, or neighbor. These are prime candidates for nurturing meaningful friendships. With a touch of intention, we can readily foster deeper connections with those we interact with routinely.

These simple strategies offer a few avenues to transform acquaintances into cherished friendships. However, the cornerstone of this journey lies in prayer. Begin each day with a prayer for divine appointments, trusting that God will guide you to those whose hearts He has prepared. Remember, God often works in people’s lives long before we cross paths with them. Through prayer and willingness to befriend those whom God places on your path, you can foster authentic connections with the potential to impact lives for eternity.