How Many Hours Does It Take To Make A Friend?

I was recently texted an article from the Southwest Airlines inflight magazine with the headline, “How Many Hours Does It Take to Make a Friend?” Immediately, my mind went to a letter written by our founder, Jim Rayburn, in 1952.

“For example, take our ‘contact work.’ By that we mean the hours and hours that our leaders find it necessary to spend with the kids, meeting them where they are, going along with them, living with them.”

While Jim Rayburn couldn’t put a specific number on the hours that are spent by our volunteer leaders, earning the right to be heard, science is trying to.

“The Journal of Science and Personal Relationships” recently published a study by K.U. Professor Jeffrey Hall, which reveals:

  • It takes 50 cumulative hours of hanging out (contact work) to go from “acquaintance” to “friend.”

  • It takes 90 hours to go from “friend” to “good friend.”

  • It takes 200 cumulative hours to become someone's “best friend.”

“We have to put that time in,” Hall said. “You can’t snap your fingers and make a friend. Maintaining close relationships is the most important work we do in our lives — most people on their deathbeds agree.”

That should not come as a surprise to any Young Life leader, and it indeed would not be a surprise to Rayburn.

In today’s world, it is important to note that these hours refer to “face-to-face” time. Social media and texting simply won’t do. None of those technologies will ever replace showing up at the school or a Friday night game.

Let me put this in a Young Life context:

  • 50 hours — Sounds like a weekend camp to me.

  • 90 hours — That’s a great semester of contact work at lunches, games and just hanging out with kids.

  • 200 hours — Add a 20-hour bus ride to seven days of summer camp, plus follow up, and that’s what you will get.

If you are a leader struggling to get to that next level of friendship with your kids, you might consider what Hall calls a “context shift.”

“What seems to be the case is that doing something I call a ‘context shift’ matters; this means that you want to spend time with somebody outside the place you met them,” Hall said.

What Young Life calls “Level 1 Contact Work” (just showing up/being seen) and Level 2 Contact Work (conversing with a kid) has to experience that context shift to move to Level 3 (doing something together). Without that critical shift, leaders are left with superficial relationships with kids that have little or no impact.

If you are a volunteer and feel you are stuck at “Level 1,” just showing up at the school or a game for an hour or two every week, ask your team leader to help you make that “context shift” with kids. Pray that God would help you see new opportunities ahead of you to deepen those relationships.

Maybe we didn’t need the “The Journal of Science and Personal Relationships” to tell us these things, but it’s helpful to see the science to back up what Rayburn knew. Those hours and hours of contact work you are putting in are not a waste of time. The Lord is using them!

“ … (M)any well-meaning Christians have felt that we are wasting time. Yet it is this time spent with the youngster, before and after his confession of Christ, that has made Young Life something far more than the ordinary youth movement. Not only do we win a hearing among the most difficult and hardest to reach, but after reaching them we stay with them, as a true missionary should. The winning and establishing of a soul for Jesus Christ cannot be done on a hit-and-run basis. The Lord Jesus Himself is our example in this.”

Keep logging those hours, volunteers. Science backs you up. But better yet, Jesus backs you up as well!


Written by Brian Summerall (