This week's Time magazine has an interesting article on the epidemic of loneliness among Americans, preceded by and now exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
I'm convinced, though, that loneliness marks the church, too—which is quite odd, given that Christianity is a relationally-driven faith. Here's why I think loneliness hits believers, too, followed by simple suggestions for dealing with it:
1. We've promoted an individualistic, consumer-oriented faith in North America. Almost foreign to us is the church that has all things in common and shares life together (Acts 2:41-46, 4:32). Church is more about "me" than it is about "us."
Suggestion: Teach and reteach the community nature of church, using both the Scriptures and the stories of global Christians.
2. Frankly, many churches just aren't friendly to outsiders. We think we're friendly, but that's only because we're friendly to people we already know. Ask guests, though (or church "spies" we use in church consulting), and you'll often find differently.
Suggestion: Until we can convince regulars to reach out to attenders they don't recognize, enlist specific greeters given that task.
3. We're generally good at covering up our loneliness. After all, church is supposed to be a place where everyone's happy and everybody smiles. Most of us can play that game long enough on Sunday morning to hide our loneliness.
Suggestion: Talk honestly about Christianity and loneliness, and give listeners permission to be genuine with somebody—even by providing access to Christian counselors for the loneliest among us.
4. We allow attenders to come and just sit in church. That is, we've (unintentionally, I think) permitted folks to attend, sit and soak in, but never really give back to the work of the church. They stay isolated and alone because we have no other expectation of them.
Suggestion: From the moment folks join our churches, raise the bar of expectations. Expect involvement that includes participating in small groups and serving in some capacity.
5. We build churches around families and forget those who don't always fit the picture. Without negating this focus on families, I'm thinking particularly of singles, divorcees, widows and widowers. Sometimes, members whose spouse doesn't attend wind up in this same group.
Suggestion: Intentionally keep these groups in mind as we plan. The church must learn to be a family to all.
6. We tend to distance ourselves from others when we're living in sin. Many members still attend (at least for a while) even when they're captured in the devil's trap. They just don't want anyone else to know their reality, so they progressively pull away into loneliness.
Suggestion: Help make the church a safe place to be honest about sin. Build godly accountability into relationships and small groups.
7. We've done a poor job of discipling members to love God and others. I've written of this lack of discipleship before, but here's another symptom of it. Undiscipled churches don't often build God-centered relationships—and folks remain lonely.
Suggestion: Start somewhere. Disciple at least somebody.
What other reasons for loneliness would you add to this list?
Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is team leader for theological education strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
For the original article, visit chucklawless.com.
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