John asks: Why do so many people feel lonely, even at church, and can this change?
Hi John. Loneliness can happen anywhere. These feelings of despair are common, even when I am with many other people. Loneliness is not a location either, as if travel and relocation may effectively alter my aloneness.
There is a fun game that children can play. Each child pretends to be in their own safe, protective bubble. While music is being played, they roam about the room as if their world is their own–they are safe and free to express themselves without fear of ridicule or rejection. They are encouraged to feel alone, but not lonely.
Perhaps this is what loneliness is: Creating an “alone bubble” of deliberate isolation that I am afraid to burst or to step out of. I intend not to live exposed, at risk in a harsh, often critical world where I do not measure up. If I have been previously hurt, my bubble is that much more important to me. Unlike aloneness, loneliness can have that element of fear.
I hope everyone will take a stab at this question and include their solution in the comment section. Please do. An introduction and 10 of my thoughts are here:
THE MORE BROKEN AND DYSFUNCTIONAL THE FAMILY UNIT – THE MORE SIGNIFICANT THE CHURCH FAMILY BECOMES
What better place for the marginalized, forgotten, addicted, hungry, abandoned and abused? The local church is where God provides surrogacy. He uses the many who are called, “the body of Christ” to bring teaching, healing, accountability and responsibility. In effect, He grows His children up in a family! He provides for His own.
Within His family: Everyone has a role to play.
Fulfilling this role assigns the significance we all long for.
“God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25 He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26 If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy.
Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.” (I Cor. 12:24-27)
“Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.” Psalm 27:10
1-Community and Connection at a deep level rarely happen in a collective, public gathering intent on worship… any more than a boy and girl can have a date and really get to know one another being together at the movies. Some places are better than others for developing close, personal contact.
The evolution of “church” becoming an hour to three of concert pop music (non or low participation) and didactic preaching/lecturing/pep-rally/motivational speech—
MINUS an hour or two of bible study groups where openness, sharing and participation is included,
MINUS home bible study groups;
This has brought us to this place where people are even more prone to loneliness and feelings of isolation and disenfranchisement.
NOT EVERYONE WANTS COMMUNITY AND CONNECTION. Practically no one wants to have the glad handshake and obligatory hello time. Many people come expecting to be anonymous. Some just want to be “left alone”, but how can the church know who is who—which is which? It is not always the local church at fault for low engagement and connectedness. Lonely people can be good at pushing others away and remaining aloof for fear of rejection.
For a variety of reasons, (sexual abuse, financial deceit, beliefs) Millennials mistrust churches overall.
We do well to remember that every church is made up of people who remain sinful and selfish at some level. You and I are the same.
12 God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. 13 Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. 14 Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.” Colossians 3:12-14
Determine to grow together and serve together, thus minimizing the carnal and secular nature we all battle. While you will never find the perfect church, do not settle for one that is obviously dysfunctional and or un-sound in doctrine.
According to a Barna Group 2015 study, 18 to 39 year old people, when visiting a church, are comfortable to this degree:
–The only piece of information a sizeable majority of Millennials is comfortable sharing with a church is their first name (82%).
–Only half are willing to give their last names (53%).
–Just one-third are comfortable sharing their email address (33%).
–That means two out of three young-adult visitors do not want churches to have that information.
–Only one in five Millennials are comfortable handing over their physical address (19%), and even fewer their phone number (12%).
–A mere 6% are willing to grant access on social media, such as friending on Facebook or following on Twitter or Instagram.
–About one in six Millennials would rather not share anything (15%).
–Among non-Christian young adults, it’s more than one in four (28%).
DEPRESSION IS UP—PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT IS DOWN.
A steady decline in meaningful, non-electronic interaction is noted as one distinctive. According to a 2017 report prepared for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, several factors show the decline in our interaction with each other.
► Monthly church attendance fell from the early 1970s to the present, with 50% to 57% attending in the past compared with 42% to 44% now.
► In 1974, a third of Americans spent time socially with their neighbors several times a week. Now, only 19% do.
► We’re also spending less time schmoozing with our co-workers, going from an average of 2.5 hours a week in the mid-1970s to just under an hour in 2012.
► Families are also becoming smaller, and the percentage of children raised by a single parent or no parent has doubled, from 15% to 31%. Source: USA Today May 3, 2017
2-Our rapid pace, ever changing culture yearns for and needs boundaries, fixed liturgies that remain stable, and contact-fullness with leadership. The more and faster the change—the more intense the anxiety. The more rooted and grounded to scripture, the less angst. Our bible speaks to this:
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-10
3-Our spiritual character yearns for “other-worldly” without the sleight-of-hand. The phony prosperity gospel hucksters are taking advantage of lonely and desperate people. The world is now inside the church with Jesus words added for justification and “retail feel-good”. One must search for a simple and real church body amidst the carnival like atmosphere in Evangelicalism today. (check our PCA–Presbyterian Church of America)
4-Our pulpits must keep integrity of the scriptures paramount. Insecurity and feelings of disconnect are greatly minimized with expository teaching and preaching of the Word. Also, away with the one-way lecture. Though not at the level of a small bible study class, encourage participation in the worship gathering during the sermon.
5-Abandon the words, “Contemporary, Traditional and Blended”, for the divisiveness they promote. (3 churches in one)
Simply be honest people, honest to the times in which we live, defined by the scriptures we live by. Insist that multi-generational experience is the norm. Show honor to your elders (Titus) “In honor, prefer one another”.
Please remember, as you toss out hymnbooks and songs that have defined our older Saints, you make their loneliness and despair that much more painful by selfishly dishonoring them and their significance to the church–then and now. You also rob the present generations of depth, character and rich theology. A caring, biblical church will not do this for any reason.
“My friends, when you meet to worship, you must do everything (music too) for the good of everyone there.” I Cor. 14:26
6-Insist that all leadership be vetted (especially musicians) to the standards given for deacon-servants and or Elders.
7-There is no such thing as “Worship Style”. When we say worship style, what we mean is,
“We’re gonna put on quite a show for you folks out there. Hope you like it!!
Let style give reflection to hair, shoes, make-up, furnishings and transportation. In your church, send home the performers who have been asked to “create an atmosphere” along with those who asked them to do it. Bring them back when worship is no longer about music or personality or talent or audience and stage.
Contrived, phony and cheap production in churches marks the day and this alone is very depressing. Yes, style attracts those who want this manufactured “experience” as a substitute for real, but it also repels those who know the difference. If the church you visit is an entertainment center, keep looking, unless you want to become and remain ankle deep in your faith and fellowship.
The purpose of corporate worship is to meet with God,
His Word and His people in such a way that the mind is equipped,
the will is committed, and the desire is kindled
to the doing of God’s will more and more.
In essence, daily becoming more like Jesus Christ in life and living–word and deed.
8-While in the local church, make small groups a priority. (Sunday School, bible study, etc.)
No more groups than there are qualified, well-vetted teachers for.
Create and sustain topic and or age-related study groups. This is where the community and feelings of belonging and security develop–not so much the worship collective. Pastoral care from all members of the class, one to another is powerful. If you are a lonely person seeking to find connectedness, then the small group is a must.
9-Look for smaller churches (under 400 in attendance) where the pastoral staff is still pastoral, caring and never swallowed up in the daily administrations of the local church. Larger churches must have CEO types whose chief aim is to grow bigger and to keep up with the biggest. Visit for a minimum of 6 weeks and give them a chance to show their true colors. Vet the church just as you would a plumber, painter or electrician.
10-Denominations are not what they used to be—a company brand loyalty. Not many people want or need that today in their work, play or choice of faith. Churches very often hide their denominational association for fear that someone will not visit if they knew. Denominations cannot tell you “What WE Believe” because not everyone in that denomination necessarily believes all of the doctrinal points.
YOU CANNOT TELL WHAT A CHURCH DENOMINATION BELIEVES ANY MORE BY THEIR BRAND/TAG.
Evangelicals, for example, are now anything from neo-Pentecostal to 1970 look-alike, to Reformed Orthodoxy.
When the local church is the healthy bride she is meant to be, loneliness can be a thing of rarity.
Study your bible and know what to look for. Here is a suitable place to begin.