Jennie Allen: Find your People
In a “connected” world, do you feel more disconnected than ever? Author Jennie Allen knows the sweeping power of isolation. She’ll help you find your people.
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In a “connected” world, do you feel more disconnected than ever? Author Jennie Allen knows the sweeping power of isolation. She’ll help you find your people.
Jennie Allen: Find your People
Dave: I will never forget standing in the front of the church, officiating your sister’s funeral. I was standing in front, looking to the back. You probably don’t even remember this moment—you remember what happened—but I see the back door of this church open; and in walks—what?—seven couples of our best friends from Detroit.
Ann: To watch those friends walk in, man, I still get emotional about it; because it meant everything, like, “Oh! They are here.” There is something about having a friend be there with you in your darkest time that means so much, because you feel like you can’t even stand up on your own.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: We were made for community. We’re going to talk about that today with Jennie Allen. She just came into Orlando, Florida; she’s been on FamilyLife Today. Jennie, welcome back.
Jennie: Thanks for having me, guys!
Ann: For 35 years, I worked with Detroit Lions’ wives—so their wives/their girlfriends—we’ve done several of your books. The thing that I love about you is how you take us closer to Jesus. Here is what the women say—and I think a lot of women say this—“She is just like me! She’s gone through what I’ve gone through, but she has a focus on Jesus that has gotten her through so much.” That is what I feel like you have discipled so many women over the years, and that has meant so much to me and so much to all of us.
Jennie: Well, it doesn’t go very far unless there are women, like you, leading in their places, and helping people get these resources. I am so grateful.
Dave: Well, you are married to a former quarterback.
Jennie: I am! [Laughter]
Dave: There you go!
Jennie: My friends call him QB1. [Laughter]
Dave: I thought that was me.
Ann: That was you, Dave.
Jennie: He is just fantastic, and he is in multiple businesses. Then my kids are—two are finishing at A&M right now—one is 22; one is 20. The 20-year-old just fell in love with an older guy, and they are getting married soon;—
Jennie: —so I’m heading into that season. Then my younger two—I’ve still got a middle schooler and a 16-year-old, who is a sophomore—life is not boring. [Laughter]
Ann: And you started the IF conference.
Ann: For those of our listeners. who don’t know what that is, explain that a little bit.
Jennie: This was a dream—to bring women together and to, hopefully, just further discipleship—was the goal. We, rather than bringing women into stadiums, we brought them into their homes. We made the conference—that usually sells out very quickly—we made it available to everyone and they host it in their churches and their homes. For two days, women across the world, come together and learn about Jesus, and read the Word together, and hopefully change and grow together.
Dave: Well, let’s talk about together. I mean, your latest book, Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World. Where did this come from? What’s the vision behind it?
Jennie: Well, I was in Uganda, and I was driving past—it was actually a moment first—where I was driving past these two women, who were beautiful. They had buckets on their heads, and they were walking down to get their water for the day, and they were having a ball together; they were laughing and cutting up. Then I end up in one of the villages, which I’ve done many times, and I just started noticing the rhythms of their lives and how communal they were. I was jealous.
My son is from Rwanda/my youngest son; so we go to his country a lot. One of the pastors there actually told me once/he said, “Jennie, I feel sorry for you all. We are living in each other’s lives, day in and day out.”
Like y’all—I come here [America]—and it’s so lonely and so isolated. I began to be curious of: “Are we just stuck in this individualistic culture called America?”—and specifically, all over the West, really—you see a very hyper: “I can pull myself up by my bootstraps,” “I can make it happen.” If someone does, we’re so proud of them: “That was amazing!”—they are the hero. I just saw this twisted, backwards culture of what we’re supporting and what we are even encouraging our kids to do.
Ann: Is that what bothered you?
Jennie: It made me sad; yes.
Jennie: I wanted something different. I wanted us to live more like the people of Uganda and Rwanda. That began a journey, where I actually interviewed people from all over the world. I researched the history of civilization, as well as what the Bible has to say about it, and found a lot of troubling things.
Ann: Yes, what was that?
Ann: Like when you research our history in America, what was troubling?
Jennie: You know, we are the loneliest generation that has ever lived on earth; and nobody is arguing it. Twenty percent of the world no longer lives in village-like communities; that began with the Industrial Revolution. When you look, prior to that,
100 percent of people—unless you literally were alone somewhere, which you wouldn’t survive long—lived in a village-type existence. That was anywhere—ranged anywhere from 50 to 150 people—then there would be a new village that broke off; because they would need a school, and they would need different resources. This is how people lived throughout all of time.
Ironically, the research done in our generation is fascinating; because it absolutely matches that mentality. About 150 people is our capacity to be able to keep up with and know what is happening in their lives—to know if somebody has cancer/to care about; you know, take them a casserole or something—that’s about what we have the capacity to care about. Then, if you move on down the circles of people, you’ve got the capacity for three to five close friends that know your daily in-and-out life. Then you have a capacity for a little bit more, to be in and out of your life, on a weekly basis.
You look at the research, and it all supports what has been true of humanity for all of time. Yet, we find ourselves/many of us, in places where we live in a neighborhood, where we have fences; and we don’t even know our neighbors. We live in a world where we go and commute to work, and our work friends aren’t our home friends. Our church friends aren’t our neighbor friends, and it’s all divided into these silos; and we are very isolated. We kind of wonder what is broken, because we haven’t known another way.
What I wanted to do was really tell the story of another way, of: “This is how humanity has always lived. It has been fruitful and helpful, and they’ve prospered in these villages.” That cannot be my reality—at the same time of working on this project, I moved to a metroplex; I moved to Dallas, Texas—we had to figure it out there, but I was thinking about all of these things.
One thing that took us to Dallas was we had family there. We really started to make choices, based on people, rather than cool cities, or jobs, or weather—you know, whatever reason people tend to move these days—I wanted to choose family. It was closer to my family; and we were in town with his.
Dave: Now, what did you find when you went to Scripture?—same thing?
Jennie: Well, the first thing I do on every project is I pull every Scripture out of the Bible on that subject. We begin with mountains of Scripture, usually, on a topic. Of course, I went to seminary—I’ve got a theological framework before I begin anything on any subject—but that’s where I start.
It was interesting because, when we pulled it all, there wasn’t as much as I thought. Then I had to step back and think, theologically, about it and go, “Wait. The whole book is written about people—
Ann: —“about families.”
Jennie: —“to groups of people.” The whole story—when I began to theologically see that grid—which is how I wrote the Bible study: the theological arc of community throughout Scripture—there really is no verse that’s written outside of the context of community. It was all written to people groups. In the Old Testament, you see it written to Israel; you see it written to nations. Nations, at that point, were, of course, a lot smaller in groups of people. Then you see, in the New Testament, to the local churches; many of the letters were written to local churches.
When I began to view it like that, there really wasn’t any of the Bible that wasn’t about it, so that’s why I took a really theological high-level picture. You look at Genesis—let’s start there—you see a communal God, who even uses the plural in those Scriptures of creation. He says, “Let Us create man in Our image”; He reveals His trinitarian form. In that moment, God—in case anyone doesn’t know; I’m using big words—that God is three and God is one: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. He reveals His trinitarian form in Genesis as He is creating a man.
Then the first thing He says about the man—
Ann: —"It is not good for man to be alone.”
Jennie: We always talk about it—I’m sure on this show, especially in the context of marriage—but He just meant you can’t be alone; it’s not good.
Ann: “It’s not good.”
Jennie: “It’s not good.” It’s never good—and it’s not just men—it’s men and women/mankind—we are communal beings. It says that we were created in His image as He is revealing His Trinitarian form, so you know that He is a communal God. In His very presence and essence, He is communal. Therefore, when He builds a man in His image; He builds Him communal. It’s not something that we crave; it’s not something that we feel sad when we are missing; it’s part of who we are.
My friend—who is a Christian, and a psychiatrist, and neuro researcher—he says, “We come into the world, looking for someone looking for us, and we never stop looking for that.” An infant is born, looking for someone looking for them. We all see that in a baby’s eyes. You can see it from birth that they are looking for someone looking for them.
I think it is important for people to realize that, theologically, that we are communal. Because I think otherwise, we’ll try to slap a supper club on it, or a Bible study, and think that is enough; but yet, we were really meant to live, day in and day out, with people.
Ann: What does that look like for you?
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Jennie Allen on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear her response in just a minute.
In such a connected world, life can feel isolating; right? Well, what do we do about it? Well, Jennie Allen was on a mission to search for that same answer and wrote all her insights in a new book called Find Your People. When you give today at FamilyLife, we’ll send you a copy of Jennie’s book as our thanks. Your gift helps others pursue the relationships that matter most. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Jennie Allen and what living in community looks like for her family in a large city like Dallas.
Jennie: It’s been a change/a shift. When we moved to Dallas—and this was a value, and I was thinking about these things—we began by moving somewhere where we could see our family, where we were blocks away. Last week, I stopped by my mother-in-law’s house to see her/what she had planted that day.
We wanted to be somewhere where we could run into our friends and neighbors. Then I began to pray for five friends within five miles. I really believed that I was going to build my own little village. What’s cool is we have. Our small group has been together five years; we are very committed to each other. We are doing life in a very transparent way; we are helping each other raise our kids. All of our kids know each other and are great friends. Was this the perfect small group? Was this the end all/be all small group?—we didn’t know. But they were approximate to us, and we knew we would be raising our kids together; so I began to make choices, where proximity was a value.
I began to make choices, where I would—the hardest one I had to make—was just to be more vulnerable. As a leader, and someone who is in the public eye, it’s a hard thing to choose to do. I just had to risk, and I had been hurt before.
Ann: Well, I was going to say, as a woman, I have talked to so many women, as you have, who say: “Oh, I’m not doing that. Women are mean,” “Girls are mean.”
Dave: News flash: So are guys—just throwing that out.
Ann: I’m saying women will start with that: “I don’t have any friends, because women are mean,” and “I’ve been burned, so I’m not going to be there.”
For you to go back there, and say, “God, I’m going to pray for five friends within five miles,”—
Ann: —women are probably thinking, “I want that. But I have prayed that; I haven’t found it,”—and you’re walking through with us like how that happened.
Jennie: Well, one thing I did in the book was I held everybody’s hand; because I have gotten a million messages about how hard this is for people.
Ann: What do you mean you held their hand?
Jennie: I told them exactly what to do; I’m like, “This is how you make a friend...” I mean, I give them language. It’s funny; some people are like: “These are the hardest projects I’ve ever had in a book.” [Laughter] It’s because of that vulnerability piece; it’s because it is awkward to make friends.
Many people have the friends, but they haven’t gone deep with the friends. That’s my vision for the book—it’s not just for someone who is lonely—it’s for people, who have friends; and maybe, they are not as deep and connected as they wish they were.
Ann: —or they don’t know you. They know your surface stuff—they know about your kids and the schools—but they don’t know your fears; they don’t know your vulnerabilities. That’s what you are saying: to find those friends, who will go deep with you.
Jennie: Yes, and all of us have been hurt. I mean, this subject was so difficult to write about; because we’ve all hurt people—and we’ve all been hurt—if you’ve ever been close to anyone; right? People are the best parts of life, and people are the hardest parts of life. In some ways, it’s a cute, little, yellow, fun cover; in other ways, you open the book, and it is war. [Laughter] It’s like this is a tender thing, and we have to fight for it; and it’s not easy.
Ann: Because the enemy, Satan—
Jennie: That’s right.
Dave: —wants us alone.
Ann: —for us to be friends; so he’ll do anything to divide us too.
Jennie: Yes, we’ve got a cultural issue, that I’ve already mentioned; we’ve got a relational issue: we’ve been hurt.
Then, of course, the biggest thing is there is an enemy, who hates it. If we were made in God’s image to live communally—and if we ever experience that in the form that the Bible calls us to—then, yes, he wants to destroy it. There was a whole part of the book about just not quitting people when it gets hard, because our enemy isn’t flesh and blood. Ephesians says/it says we are battling dark cosmic forces. We don’t talk about that a lot, but that’s happening. It helped me have perspective that we are at war, and the tensions we face in that war are going to want to, and try to, destroy our relationships.
Dave: —and pull us apart; exactly.
Jennie: We are seeing that everywhere.
Dave: So how did you find the—
Ann: Yes, the five.
Dave: —book title: Find Your People. I know, when we moved to Detroit years ago, knew nobody—going there to be the Lions’ chaplain, and then we ended up starting a church—but I knew then—this is 30-plus years ago—“I need guys.
Dave: “I’ve got to have guys.”
It’s sort of funny; I found a couple of groups. I got in one, and I thought, “Okay, these are my guys.” There were probably too many guys, but I’m in this group. I remember one day coming in there—you were talking about being vulnerable—I said, “Guys, I’ve got to share something. I struggled with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I’ve just got to say that.”
Here is the reaction I can’t believe: I mean, they just looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world.
Jennie: Oh, so sad!
Dave: I said, “None of you guys? I’m not saying you struggled this week. Have any of you ever struggled?” “Never!” “Not one time in my life!”
Jennie: That is such a lie! I’m sorry; that is a lie.
Dave: That’s what I thought. All I know is I walked out of that room, thinking, “Okay; they are probably not being truthful.” Here is the other thing I thought: “These aren’t my people.”
Jennie: That’s right.
Dave: I found them [eventually];—
Dave: —and I’ve celebrated, now, them.
Was your struggle/I mean, how did you find your people?
Jennie: What a great story; I love that you just shared that.
Dave: Great story?
Jennie: Well, horrible story. [Laughter] But what a great example of what’s actually happening out there; right? So many people listening, are going, “Listen, I’ve tried this.” What you didn’t do is say: “I’m going to stop here.” You just said, “Nope, these aren’t them.” That’s okay.
I think we’ve got to be selective. You saw Jesus be very selective about who He spent time with—and choosy, I would say—He didn’t just let the masses come all the time. He certainly chose people to have dinner with and spend time with—and He preached to the masses—but who was in His inner circle, He was selective about.
I would say there are three things that, in my life, I feel like have worked well to bring these people into my life. To look for—number one, humility—that means you can resolve conflict, because there will be conflict; right?
Jennie: Number two is availability: you need people who need friends. If you are trying to break into a group, who has been together for years, that is probably going to be exhausting.
Now, one of those people might be your friend, because you really click with them; but you don’t need to be in that group. Maybe, it will work out; but it’s okay if your friends aren’t all in one group. You can have different friends that you spend different time with; and they come together for your birthday, or whatever, and they get to know each other; but it doesn’t have to be. My circles are bigger than those five small group people now, but they all know each other; but they are not all best friends. That’s okay.
Then, so availability; they need to be available. You need to be able to see them more than—for sure, more than once a month—I would say, more than once a week, you should be able to see them. I know that blows people’s minds; they are like: “I don’t have time for this.” I’d like to address that after this.
So availability, humility, and then transparency. If you say something—and the way I tell people to test this is to start by sharing something a little bit vulnerable—that was a great one [Dave] because you were testing them: “Can I share this here?” Share something a little bit vulnerable—not something you’ll walk away completely wounded if they throw shame back your way—but share something a little bit vulnerable and then see how it goes.
If you really believe that potential is there—another thing I will say is: “Use your words,”—if you’ve spent significant time with people, and you’re being vulnerable, say: “Guys, I need you to listen,” or “I need you to give me advice,” or “I need you to nod and read Romans 1 over me: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I need you to share back.’”
One thing we don’t do in friendship is we don’t use our words. We don’t/we walk away from a friendship before we say, “Hey, this is what I need in this friendship…”
Ann: I have a really—it’s my best friend—but when we started becoming friends, she moved into our area. Dave and her husband were friends and starting to get to know each other.
Dave: He was in my group.
Ann: Yes, we both had little kids/babies. It was a struggle, so we’d just get together once a month. There was a point, where we had this: “Define this relationship,” talk, which I think is what you are talking about. She said, “Why do you hardly ever call me?” I said, “Are you kidding? I have no life. I can’t even call my mom, let alone my friend.” Then I said, “What do you want from our relationship?” I had never asked another woman that question. She said, “Well, let me be specific. I want you to call me every day and say, “Are you surviving?” I’m like, “Every day?!” [Laughter]
So then we start talking about: “Well, could we make it three days a week?” or “…five days a week?” Then we started getting into—just like you would with a male/female relationship—“What would this look like? What could it look like?” It was amazing, and I had never done that with somebody; because before, I think what I had done is I disappoint them.
Ann: I’d feel a tension, and then I would pull away—
Ann: —like, “Oh, I’ve disappointed her again; I’m not a good friend,”—but this friend was saying, “No, I think you can do that. Let’s do that. Why aren’t you saying that?”
Jennie: So I’m like you, and I have a friend like your friend. She—
Jennie: —her name is Lindsey. I talk about her a lot in the book because she is—I call her my intrusive friend—she gets so mad at me; because she’s like: “That sounds negative.” I’m like, “It is.” Some days, I feel that way. [Laughter]
Ann: And she’ll speak truth/like she’ll let you know.
Jennie: No, I love it. She tells me—and she has come over regularly; she drops in—she changed the way I view friendship. She’s in the book so much, because I call her my relationship coach. She is just this passionate zealot for friendship, and she is really good at it.
Ann: That’s Michelle.
Jennie: And she fights for you. When I say, “Oh, I’m fine,” she’s like, “No, you’re not; you’re lying. What’s wrong?” I never really had someone fight that hard for me, where they didn’t give up.
What had happened in the past was—because I wasn’t vulnerable; and because it was hard for me, because I had been wounded—actually, if I look back at myself in my 20s, I was super vulnerable. It was being a pastor’s wife—
Ann: Me too.
Jennie: —that kind of took that from me. I needed somebody to train it back out of me, and to flex that muscle again, and to remember how to do that, and to remember that I’m safe—not always—but certainly, with this group that has proven safe. She taught me how, and she pulled me out.
I think people are listening right now/they are like, “I have no one like that.” What I talk about in the book is: “If you become that, you will have it.” That is what I have seen be true in my life. If I initiate—when you asked, “How do you actually make those people or find those people?”—it was the most awkward. I move into Dallas. I certainly know people in the DFW area, but not many people who were blocks or in those five miles; so I had to start from scratch somewhat. I had to make phone calls, and I reached out on Facebook® to my old college counselor, who I knew lived in the neighborhood, and said, “Can we go to coffee?” We hadn’t seen each other in 20 years.
That’s how I got that small group—
Jennie: —took a risky, awkward step—it was/I mean, can you imagine? She is like, “This poor desperate girl,”—you know—“This poor desperate girl.”
Ann: “She’s needy.”
Jennie: “She is really reaching here.”
But we had the best coffee; and then she said, “You know what? We’re about to join a small group. Would you all want to join?” I said, “I don’t know if we are ready for that.” She stayed on me; and a few months later, that was actually the group we joined. We’re still together. I think it does just take looking for any little potential that you could possibly imagine, and pursuing it, and taking initiative.
Dave: I think it’s really important what you just said—"pursuing it”—because I think, often, we become the victim.
Dave: And we say, “You know, I don’t really make friends. Nobody is reaching out to me”; and we sort of sit and wait. You’re saying,—
Dave: —“No, get out there. If you want it, go find it.
Ann: “Put yourself out there.”
Dave: “God will bring you the people.”
Jennie: I would say, right now, the reason it is a book, and not just a podcast or a pamphlet, is because a lot of people are tired right now; right? So much of what I did in the book was to create a vision and to say: “This is actually worth it.”
So for what you know is hard—it is hard—I’m not suggesting it’s otherwise. It’s awkward; it takes risk; it takes work; you could get hurt—all of that is true—I am just saying there is not really life apart from relationships.
Jennie: There’s not. That is life.
You will not look back—I’m sure, your sister’s funeral—if she was a believer/like and saw all the people there, that was the greatest investment in her life in that room; right? That was it. So you know that those are what make life worth living. You almost have to—I mean, I hate to do it; because I don’t want to be the bad guy—I like the yellow, happy cover; but the reality is we kind of have to just say: “Take it like vitamins.” Be like: “Maybe, I’m not in the mood. Maybe, I’d rather watch Netflix® in my robe tonight; but I’m going to call someone. I’m going to invite someone; I’m going to do this.”
As that happens, the stories are already coming in of how that has changed their life—just that phone call, just that text, just that coffee date—just that having/for one friend, it was having/she’s been sitting at her daughter’s gymnastics class for years with the same women; and they scroll their phones, and they say, “Hi,” and they small talk; but they scroll their phones. She’s like, “We’re sitting here for an hour a few times a week.” She turned to one of them and started asking deep questions. Then the next week, they came over for dinner, and they had a couple’s game night. They now have a relationship with someone she had been sitting beside for years.
I just say, “Look who is already around you. Notice, initiate, and see what happens.”
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jennie Allen on FamilyLife Today.
If you’ve been listening to FamilyLife Today, then you know how important it is to be a family on a mission. We believe that God calls us into community and to serve each other with the abundance of resources that He has blessed us with. As Ecclesiastes 4:9 says: “Two are better than one.”
Right now, there are two ways that you can partner with FamilyLife to impact lives for His kingdom. The first is: if you feel led to start a small group, we want to offer you a discount on all leader materials with the code, “25OFF.” Second, you can partner with us, financially, to make an impact in families as they grow closer in the relationships that matter most. You can find out more about both of these opportunities at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Jennie Allen about the importance of setting aside time for friendships outside of your marriage. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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