A growing number of churches embrace new programs to serve others only when opportunities exist to engage people personally and form relationships. Whether the setting involves serving people locally or on mission trips to other lands, focus continues to tighten on personal interaction as the priority.

Pastor Dan Kinnas from Bethel Church in Zeeland, Michigan, says his church's mentoring program at a local school unifies their congregation: "Like a powerful sermon brought to life, " "each story of a changed life opens people up to the possibility that God will use them to reach others."

What difference does a relationship really make in a person's life?

The Search Institute, a prestigious child development research organization headquartered in Minnesota, believes that question plays a tremendous role in what kids need to succeed. In 1990, Search introduced the 40 Developmental Assets—a groundbreaking framework for youth development. This April, in considering the new "three Rs" of education in America—rigor, relevance, and relationships—Search announced a strategic focus on the third R. Apparently, the research community believes relationships really do matter, and now they intend to pursue why and how.

Hopefully, the wisdom of Dr. Seuss will prove true (as it typically does): "Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple."

Simple answers to why relationships matter so much: People long to feel they matter, and they long; to feel loved. And this happens best one-to-one.

In Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne shows the profound simplicity of how to share that feeling:

"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 'Pooh!' he whispered.
'Yes, Piglet?'
'Nothing,' said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. 'I just wanted to be sure of you.'"

Yes, you can feel sure that you will make a big difference in another person's life by just showing up and extending a hand of friendship. And maybe, just maybe, more than one life will be touched when this happens.

In his book Here and Now, author Henri Nouwen says, "Ministry is, first of all, receiving God's blessing from those to whom we minister. What is this blessing? It is a glimpse of the face of God … We can see God in the face of Jesus, and we can see the face of Jesus in all those who need our care."

Why do relationships matter? Oh, just because.

David Staal, senior editor for Building Church Leaders and a mentor to a Kindergarten boy, serves as the president of Kids Hope USA, a national non-profit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. David is the author of Lessons Kids Need to Learn (Zondervan, 2012) and lives in Grand Haven, MI, with his wife Becky, son Scott, and daughter Erin.

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