you can’t possibly have that many friends

What is it about Facebook that both legitimizes and yet trivializes our real-life interactions? “I’m sorry, do I know you?” “Well, we’re friends on Facebook…” Doh! I have lost track of how many times I will say to my new Facebook friend, “Hello, Friend!” the next time I see them in real life, which may be all the time already. Once you’re Friends, merely being friends is no longer enough. (To be insultingly clear, in this post “Friends” capitalized will refer to Facebook connections only.) Further proof: no relationship is ever valid until it’s Facebook Official. It’s fun to tease someone who’s been married for years about finally tying the knot online.

This all begs a few questions. How many friends is too many? How many is enough? What exactly is a friend, anyway?

As of this post, I have 1,403 Friends. That leaves me room for 3,597 more before Facebook tells me to unfriend some folks in order to add any more. I’m not a celebrity or a brand spokesman. Here’s the kicker, though. I’ve actually met and/or interacted in some way with an overwhelming majority of them (you, actually – chances are you’re reading this because you saw it on my Facebook page to begin with). Out of 1,403 Friends, there are only 83 I have never been in the same room with. The largest categories of Friends I have never met at all are Christian recording artists (30) or folks involved in ministry (24). Some are networking connections, some are family members of other Friends. Five are not people but rather personal profiles being used by organizations or groups – technically not allowed, but I have some connection to the group anyway. Three have died, and their profiles have become tribute pages. I’ve even got three other “Andrew Burdens,” none of whom live in the U.S. Could I really be the only one there is?

How in the world have I accumulated so many Friends? Several Friend-collection streams come to mind. The one I probably had the loosest standard for “have interacted with” would be classmates from high school. When I was in school, I didn’t have many close friends, but I had this odd ability to transcend social groups and talk to whoever I felt like. I don’t think it endeared me to many back in the day, but there are a number of Friends I interact with now that I barely spoke with in high school. It’s never too late.

There is something about Christian fellowship that transcends normal friendship and acquaintance in a way that Facebook cannot touch.

As I glanced at those 1,403 names – as quickly as I could – most of the Friends I have specific memories of come from one of three broad groups: those who participated with me in Campus Crusade or Christian Challenge (formerly called Baptist Student Union) at K-State, former students and professional colleagues from both full-time teaching and subbing, and finally the huge number of current and former middle school and high school students, along with many of their family members, I’ve had the joy of working with in 19 years of youth ministry. Primarily serving in three megachurches (or nearly so; by strict definition, 1,200 in weekly worship makes the cut) has given me the chance to rub a lot of shoulders. Even though I didn’t have long midnight talks with everyone, there is something about Christian fellowship that transcends normal friendship and acquaintance in a way that Facebook cannot touch. The thing is that Facebook facilitates ongoing connection that once was almost impossible.

So how many is too many? For myself, I really can’t say. If I had to cull through, it would probably be easiest to unfriend those folks from high school I literally never spoke to. But even that would be difficult as I hold a special place for my home town homies. I’ve mentioned Dunbar’s Number before. Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford, holds that humans cannot successfully maintain more than about 150 close ongoing relationships. His research is largely based on studying primates.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

I’m not sure I agree that one can’t go above this number. It may be true for some, but as a member of a very large family, under the headship of Christ, I have a lot of siblings! I can’t say that I would loan money to many of them. In fact, I wouldn’t even loan much to my blood relatives, nor would I borrow from them. I’m a good Dave Ramsey disciple in that way – don’t want to make Thanksgiving dinner taste funny. But if I was found to be the only match for an organ transplant (like, say, liver or kidney), there are a lot of brothers and sisters I would go under the knife for. When I told that to my group of 5th grade boys at VBX last week, the light bulb really seemed to fire up for a couple as they grappled with what it means to be the family of God. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

What do you think? How many is too many?

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About andrew burden

andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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