Actually you might be on to something. I know from teaching beginning guitarist (and from my own personal experience) that learning to contort your fingers and hands into the correct position to instantly finger a given chord is very difficult. Nothing in the natural everyday world provides any advance training for those type hand formations and movements - they are completely foreign and unnatural.
Because it is so difficult to contort into the strange positions needed to play a chord and requires a great deal of dedication and intentional practice resulting in massive amounts of frustration, MOST aspiring guitar students give up their dream before they can play their first song!
But eventually an aspiring guitarist should learn to play chords because almost all guitar music is based on or around chord formations. Obviously rhythm guitar (which is easier for most students to master than lead guitar or classical fingerstyle) is almost all chord based. Learn to play three chords and you can strum your way through literally thousands of songs.
Even when a guitar student advances to playing lead guitar, knowing the scales that are centered around basic chord shapes will help them find the notes they need easier than just randomly attempting to memorize where every note is on all 20 plus frets on all 6 strings.
But - (and here is where your idea has merit) a great way to learn to play chords - might in fact be to play arpeggios based on the chords. By playing the chord tones as individual notes, it would not be mandatory to get your fingers to simultaneously land on each string at the correct fret (as would be required if you were strumming the chords).
So if your friends can play arpeggios while placing their fingers in the correct position for an underlying chord one string at a time - instead of having to try to land all the fingers in the exact right place all at once, then they might actually be more inspired to continue playing. Eventually they will get closer to being able to get all their fingers in the right place at once.
They would not even have to play a true arpeggio, but rather just some melodic sounding picking of individual notes out of a chord one string at a time so that it sounds musical and pleasing to the ear.
So I would say, that as long as your friends learn how to form the chords, if they want to learn to play the chords by placing their fingers one at a time while playing individual chord tones in a melodic sounding way (that resembles an arpeggio) then they need not listen to "conventional wisdom". They may have a better chance of developing the requisite passion for guitar that inspires them to put in the needed hard work IF - they start by doing what gives them more immediate gratification and positive reinforcement.
So you might actually be leading them down the path of least resistance at first, but that path could very well lead to them becoming a capable guitarist.