3 Signs the Loneliness Epidemic Is Invading Your Church
By Alison Zeller
God said it from the very beginning: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18 ESV).
But, like with many other things in our fallen world, God’s Word has been forgotten. Loneliness prevails - so much so that many social experts are now calling it an epidemic. Mother Theresa called loneliness the leprosy of the modern world and a 2016 study agrees. Researchers found that 72 percent of American adults report feeling a sense of loneliness and more than 30 percent report having these feelings at least once a week.
It gets worse. In 2006, the General Social Survey found that “the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades.” When the study participants were asked how many confidants they have, the most common answer was zero.
Has the loneliness epidemic made its way into your church? Watch for these three warning signs.
- Your church members are in flux.
The average American moves more than 11 times in a lifetime. That means each individual is facing 11 new churches, new neighborhoods, new schools, new shopping areas, and new jobs. Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to find friends and establish a social network over and over again.
In addition, research shows that almost half of Americans have changed denominations or religions at least once in their lives. It’s safe to assume that many individuals are church-hopping within their denominations, as well.
- Your worshippers are addicted to smartphones.
Yes, the very thing that is supposed to be connecting us is making us desperately lonely. In many instances, the friends, followers, and likes of social media are an illusion. Scientists say that social media does amp up our dopamine, a feel-good hormone, but real relationships and face-to-face conversations create even greater increases in dopamine - the kind that can combat loneliness.
Sadly, even if it’s not social media, many individuals simply cannot put down their phones. That is also problematic and it can cause disruption in relationships. The Scientific Americanreported on a study, stating, “simply having a phone nearby, without even checking it, can be detrimental to our attempts at interpersonal connection,” especially when it comes to meaningful conversations.
Obviously, smartphones have made it easier to interact with worshippers outside of Sunday mornings, but churches that fail to establish person-to-person connections could be contributing to the loneliness epidemic.
- Status, wealth, and self-reliance rule.
This is the way of the world and it’s starting to seep into the church, too. When you ask fellow worshippers how they’ve been lately, many will respond with, “Busy!” Even young children and retirees are running from place to place all week. Men and women focused on their careers work long hours and are often out of town on business trips. We forget that we are a family of God, meant for supporting and building up one another, and instead we look inward for fulfillment. This way of life doesn’t leave much time for connecting or building relationships.
As Christians, we should see the loneliness epidemic as a call for action. There are most certainly lonely individuals in your church. They may even be sitting right next to you in worship. They need help, but the Church is failing them right now. Barna reports: “In spite of a growing epidemic of loneliness, just one in 10 [study participants] report going to church because they are looking for community.”
What can we do? How can your church build a community that reaches out to the lonely and stands firm in the love of our Savior? One word: engagement.
As one author puts it, “When a member finds a volunteer role or opportunity that he/she enjoys and fits his/her passions, they also begin to establish relationships with others that evolve into friendships. These relationships bring community, accountability, and connectedness. . . . Engagement leads to relationships which leads to community.”
We know it’s not as simple as it sounds, so here are a few Expand Your Impact articles to help your church start to build engagement and eliminate loneliness.
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