And then, 20 years ago, we returned to the Bible Belt and moved into a small town, knowing no one.
I have struggled with guilt over the tremendous loneliness I have experienced over these past 20 years, though I guess I finally accepted it as part of life around 6 or 7 years ago. However, just lately I have heard of 3 instances that just about cover the gamut of experiences and all my guilt has finally left me. I finally truly see that I am not the problem; rather our modern church/culture is.
The 3 instances:
A 30’ish married couple with young children who have been part of a church for over a year in a new community they moved into. Lonely. Are wanting to move somewhere where they might have friends. Great people. Not weird or strange or shallow. Fun loving and interesting fellow believers. Lonely.
A 24 year old son on the edges of our culture who has never even pretended to attend church or have a serious relationship with our Lord since getting out of school and out on his own. Just admitted to not having a single friend (though he “socializes” a lot). But he sees the shallowness of his social life and realizes how lonely he is.
A very sweet 80 year old woman who has been widowed many years and been a part of an established church for probably over 20 years, going about doing good. Not self-righteous or pious or full of pity. But lonely.
And so I realize truly I am not alone. And how sad it is. And cry out, “Church, where are you???!!!) It is certainly not what is out there now.
I am interested to see what Mr. Viola and his friend have to say as to what the church truly should be. I understand that first we must lift up our Lord and that our goal is a relationship with Him — not friendships. I am on board with this. Yet He walked this earth and died for us — for others. Can we do less?
Editor’s Note: I remember reading of an exercise a researcher did. He visited many churches over the course of a year paying close attention to whether he was noticed or not. More often than not, he got out without anyone having ever spoken to him. Today, that is not the case. We have plenty of people designated to interact with anyone and everyone who comes through the doors of the church building. Sadly, though, the continuing testimony that I hear is either “I don’t feel welcome,” or “I’m lonely.”
10 thoughts on “The Socialization of Loneliness”
The welcoming committee at the door begins and ends at the door, sadly. We are not commited to being involved in each other’s lives. We are not even interested much of the time. Sad commentary on the “love” we show each other. —‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”
Hmmmm …. good thoughts for pondering.
I think you’re on to something here.
I thought this was interesting. For myself as well I feel what you are talking about. I was born and lived in another country for the first 10 or so years of my life; looking back (though of course I don’t remember much), I believe my family was well-adjusted in the church there. And then we moved to the Bible belt and things spiraled downwards in terms of church and community life. I was part of this one church for much of middle and high school and did many of the activities available (youth group, choir, etc), yet I’ve never felt as lonely as I did there (much more than I ever did in the ‘world’). Now, years later I have moved away from the Bible belt and found a church with a healthier sense of community. However, now I struggle with how to reconcile all those years which seemed to have done more harm than good; even with my current community I find it hard to truly engage and believe much of it is from the loneliness I experienced in church growing up.
Nikki, I am sorry you are still finding it hard to engage and must agree that there is a good chance it is rooted in that loneliness you felt.
One thing I have learned to help me overcome my own hurts and fears of what might happen if I am will to reach out and be real is my understanding of what Jesus meant when He said I must lose my “life” (self — all that is dear to me) to find life. I try to think of the other person as Jesus and then act and relate to him or her as I would if he were, indeed, Jesus. It makes a huge difference. And then I leave the consequences in His faithful hands, knowing that I can trust Him to bring about what my life needs.
I do feel this is as much about our culture as it is about the church. When folks work far from their homes there is a detachment from the community. There is no sense of common goals or interests. Our homes become small islands and when our family is broken or away, it is brutally lonely. This carries into the church culture.
Attempts the church has made to overcome this cultural reality have fallen short. Small groups don’t do it, church services don’t do it, large events sure don’t do it. .
The only thing that comes close is when we get out of comfortable environments and get close together in a place that requires faith. Whether it’s a missions trip, retreat or time of group fasting and prayer, there is a way to break through. Alan Hirsch calls it “Communitas”.
You can read more about Communitas at http://goodground.blogspot.com/
I agree that the church today has not done much to make people feel welcome and a part of and not just a spectator. I have not been to a formal church service in years, and though I long for fellowship I am afraid of what I will find.
If Dale Hill reads this I hope that you will get in touch with me. I used to go to Freedom Chapel, and lived in his house for a time with Tim Goshhorn, Dan Bostdorf, And Tom Frey. I still stay in touch with Bill Christian, and a little with John and Kathy Scarpato. I rarely get down to Bills’ for a meeting because I live in Sunbury, PA. now, but I had heard that Dale is near this area of mine. And I would really like to get together and fellowship with him and others. Because I am alone and have been for a long time, and haven’t found what I’m looking for in a fellowship, but desire to have that closeness with others in the faith.
So if you read this dale and I hope you remember me from Harrisburg, and would really love to hear from you. Bill has told me that you are up in the Sunbury area somewhere, so please get in touch if you can.
My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org, and phone number is: (570)- 286-4930. I also have unlimited long distance so if it is a pay call for you I could call you right back so that it doesn’t cost you much.
It is good to read some of these articles and I have bookmarked the page, Bill had sent me the site. Bill Christian is to me a fine example of a Christian in word and deed, and though he has been through a lot of struggles the past few years I’ve never seen him give up on God, and that God would see him through. He and Eva have been true friends to me, and have never turned me down for anything they could do to help me. He was the only one back in 2004 who came to visit me in prison like clock work every two weeks, for nearly a year, and between him and the prison Chaplin I had no one else to talk to because I was in isolation for over 6 Months, But I had read and studied the bible and prayed I think more then I ever had before. So jail was a blessing in disguise.
Well if you all fellowship near the Sunbury area I would Love to join in the teaching and fellowship. I AM STARVING FOR MANNA, AND FELLOWSHIP!! Anyone that reads this may call or respond by email, and if any know Dale Hill I would really love to talk to him on the phone or email.
Thank you all, and love, Richard
Coming from the standpoint of a Pastor’s wife for 34 years, I can tell you honestly that it’s not rocket science to make people feel welcomed. It only takes a little bit of organization. If you go to a church and don’t get greeted….JOIN IT and start greeting. It’s a calling, it’s the most vital ministry a church can have. Be part of the solution instead of remaining part of the problem. Remember, if you want to have friends, you must show yourself friendly.
In my former church, my husband and I took first time visitors home for lunch. This let them “see” us from the roots up. It also caught on as these visitors joined the church, and THEY started inviting visitors out to eat, or home to eat after the services.
Our current church has greeters at the front door, and inside the sanctuary circulating throughout the chairs. My husband and I also circulate throughout the sanctuary prior to the service, and stand at the main door after the service to thank people for coming and to encourage them to call if they need us.
Our bulletin lists our staff and the important phone numbers and email addresses of each staff person in case a visitor has a question.
Also, IF the visitor fills out a communication card with their vitals, the office sends them a letter signed by my husband, I call them within two days of their visit, and I follow up to call until the person either finds another church they like better, OR they take our Discovering Class and join our church and get involved in a ministry.
Our members also greet those around them and offer to escort newcomers to their Bible Fellowship (Sunday School) class the next week. We also have maps of the faciltiy with the BF classes color coated, which our members take from the visitor’s center counter and give to visitors so they can find their way around the facilty the next week.
I and our Bible Fellowship classes also call or email each member that we haven’t chatted with at church in a while, and check to see how they are doing.
See…it’s simple…so, join a church and start visiting.
Uhhh…I don’t who this person is, but this is an extremely narrowminded and shallow response to the pain of the people who have this problem. Seems like you need to come out of your self-glory long enough to feel the world.
“I and our Bible Fellowship classes also call or email each member that we haven’t chatted with at church in a while, and check to see how they are doing.” Chatting is what we are talking about. Chatting is not involvement. Chatting is social and proper. What people need today is Jesus looking into their eyes, saying I know you, I hear you. Not just a friendly face. “The welcoming committee at the door begins and ends at the door, sadly. We are not commited to being involved in each other’s lives.” I repeat… So what are we to do??? “try to think of the other person as Jesus and then act and relate to him or her as I would if he were, indeed, Jesus. It makes a huge difference. ” True. Also, “The only thing that comes close is when we get out of comfortable environments and get close together in a place that requires faith. Whether it’s a missions trip, retreat or time of group fasting and prayer, there is a way to break through. Alan Hirsch calls it “Communitas”.” I think we call this bonding…sharing a common goal and purpose. Much more in depth than just the greeter at the door. It does, however, require willingness on the part of the ‘lonely’ to participate. gracie