How are we in the church combating loneliness?

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 10.46.39 AMPeople are lonely. A Barna report found 20% of people self identify as lonely. In another study, 11% felt lonely often.

Researchers indicate there is no objective criterion for measuring loneliness. Rather it is a subjective feeling regarding either (1) a lack in number of desirable relationships or (2) a lack in intimacy within those relationships. This means, for example, that three friendships of considerable depth could lead one person to feel lonely and another not. It’s subjective.

It’s also hard to discern if others are struggling because loneliness if felt within. Yet one study above says 37% of us senses a close friend or family member is very lonely.

There are consequences to loneliness. Feeling this way consistently can negatively affect physical and mental health. Examples listed were obesity, elevated blood pressure, disrupted sleep, and even premature death.

FlyFishingIsolation is not all bad news. I read in one place where it was advocated that we all become introverts. This author believed a certain amount of introspection was necessary for creativity, self-awareness, and rejuvenation.

I can agree with this author that the problem is not just “being alone.” So the solution is not just getting people around others.

My question to you is how do we, in the church, combat loneliness in a healthy manner?

Here are a few approaches being suggested beyond church walls:

  • I came across this article titled, “Fighting loneliness with cuddle parties.” It’s a place intended for individuals who crave non-sexual human connection to “meet new people, to enjoy amazing conversations, to touch, to be touched, to have fun…all in a setting structured to be a safe place for exploration and enjoyment.” I don’t agree at all with this solution. But I think it reveals people’s desire for connection through touch.
  • Others would advocate a more cognitive approach. Such people believe stopping destructive self talk is the primary step to combating loneliness.
  • Pet lovers may already be yelling at the screen, “Buy a dog!” I think this could be a part of the solution but it’s unlikely the entire solution.

My question to you is how do we, in the church, combat loneliness in a healthy manner? How do we combat it in ourselves? How do we help others combat it in their own lives?

John Milton said, “Loneliness was the first thing God’s eye named ‘not good.’”

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 10.47.47 AMMother Theresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor.”

So how can we, the church, make a difference in this area? How can we combat loneliness together?

I’m looking for any concrete, practical ways to help the lonely in our midst. What do you think?

Posted on by Cor in Sex and Relationships

6 Responses to How are we in the church combating loneliness?

  1. Nancy

    One way (which seems like a lost art!) is to make it a practice to invite people into your home for a meal. Mix up marrieds and singles. As you learn about each other and what makes us unique…try to find what our mutual purposes could be, and engage! Open heart – open home…. :-)

    • Cor

      Love that, Nancy.

  2. Emily

    Speaking as someone who has walked into a church and felt completely alone, but has also walked into a (different) church and felt completely surrounded by loving, supportive and caring people, I’ve found the answer is everything from church-leadership to church-goers to the lonely person.

    Church-leadership – Driving the vision of the importance of community and getting involved, announcing opportunities for involvement from the pulpit, encouraging the people of the church to be community to each other (people they know and don’t know).

    Church-goers – Meet the person sitting next to you on Sunday morning and find out if and how they are involved. If they are involved, great. If not, offer ways they can get involved (small groups/bible studies/life groups, upcoming events, coffee and treats after the service etc). *Side note: you don’t have to be the answer to every lonely person’s loneliness — invite them to get involved and they will find community. The weight doesn’t have to be taken on by any one person* Invite the people around you (people in your small group, people you meet on Sunday morning, co-workers or neighbors etc) to events. Remember peoples’ names and say hi to them next time you see them. (I’m stopping, but of course the list could go on…)

    Lonely person – Take people up on their invites. When the pastor, a friend, or the person sitting next to you on Sunday morning suggests getting into a small group/bible study/life group, try it. Ask God for courage and go to that church event that was announced or suggested to you – even if you don’t know anyone going into it (I’m an introvert – I know it’s terrifying, but you can do it!). People can hand you a plethora of opportunities, but the act of building relationships has to start with your choice to let people in and build relationships. Pray for an unexplainable amount of courage and step out in faith!

    • Cor

      I love the part about not being THE answer to everyone’s aloneness or loneliness. It’s human nature to want to solve problems. But this isn’t like flipping a switch. It takes time. And, most likely, many people to come alongside.

  3. Georgia

    It may not work as well in a larger church, but in my church with an average attendance of 150 it works well to keep an eye out for visitors and make an effort to greet them. If several people notice them on several Sundays, they’ve met at least four new and friendly people over the month. It takes time though – those of us who do this are usually the last to leave. We’ve also done a lunch after church to get people, even if they know each other, to sit down and hear details of the daily grind. They have a reason to catch that person the next week to follow up on the conversation.

    Prayer also brings people together, and not necessarily the famous ‘prayer chain’ that seems to turn into a gossip session or a game of telephone by the time details and names have been changed by mis-hearing information. I had a chance to be in a community where about 50 of us lived within a few blocks of each other, and several times each week all who could would meet for prayer. Sometimes it was one or two, sometimes 15, but we could all pray for community members who needed it, we knew each others’ hardships and praises, and we could lift each other up in prayer even if we weren’t all in the room. It also spurred us to check in throughout the week with those who were having a rough time. It’s such a blessing to ask for prayer, know it’s on someone else’s mind, and have them ask how you’re doing until you’re able to report back that God has answered those prayers, and return the prayer support. Realistically, in most churches it might look more like a ladies’ and men’s prayer meeting weekly or twice weekly, most likely with different groups for different times, and create a prayer partner system where two or three people are matched up to pray for each other and their prayer concerns for a certain amount of time, say a month or semester, etc. Those who really click will stay involved together, the others will have an end date, after which they can take another try at finding a good prayer partner they mesh with. My youth group mixes it up every week with 3-5 kids per group and prays for concerns while they learn to support each other and become a family in and outside of church.

    This takes effort and intentionality from individuals, as well as strong leadership from ministry staff/volunteers. It’s also a matter of teaching the next generation and creating a new ‘normal’ I think. I’ve had more than one high school girl complain about not leaving church until fifteen minutes or more after the service because she doesn’t know anyone and is bored. I had to explain that we’re a community and because I care about the people here, I’m going to take the time to ask about their lives in person. If we can set the standard now, high school students will accept it as normal when they’re in leadership.

    • Cor

      Your last paragraph is so money. The idea that one would wait around after service is foreign to many. I think teaching this new “normal” could be huge!

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