"If you feel alone, you are not alone in being lonely." Those are the opening words at fortune.com's blog post that highlighted the survey findings conducted by health insurer Cigna. The responses to the survey are unsettling.
We are becoming a lonely nation.
Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
- One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
- Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
- One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
- Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
- Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
- Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
- Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7). https://www.multivu.com/players/English/8294451-cigna-us-loneliness-survey
“We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.”
— Rick Warren
Young and Lonely
What I found most surprising was the number of young people between the ages of 18 – 22 who ranked the highest on the loneliness scale. They were much more lonely than older generations despite the prevalence of social media. Apparently virtual connections are no substitute for real human interaction.
What should the church do
As Christians the rise in loneliness provides us with an opportunity to reach out to people of all ages and minister to them through simple friendship. But let's make sure that our efforts in befriending people are sincere and genuine. Insincerity and ulterior motives rarely pass the smell test.
Let's begin by with some concrete actions that we can take when a guests visits Grace Community Church.
Before the service
- Each one of us needs to understand that Karina and Elyssa are not the only greeters. Yes the first greeting a guest get may be from them, but it should not be the only greeting they receive. As naturally as possible each one of us should seek out the first time guest and make them feel welcome. Making others feel welcome doesn't require advance training. Simply think about how you would like to be welcomed and do that!
- Show genuine interest in each and every one of our guest. Regardless of age or economic status all need to be treated with kindness. Don does an excellent job of making our guests feel at home. You may not have Don's gifts (I know I don't!) but each on of us can still do our part to make them feel welcomed.
- You may not have much time to talk with a first time guest before the service as many of them will not arrive until almost starting time – hey I do that too when I visit a church for the first time. Therefore make it a point to seek them out after the service and introduce yourself. The key to being friendly is taking a genuine interest in the other person. Here are some way you can do that.
- Ask them some general, non-threatening questions. Questions such as "Do you live in Berea or Richmond?" If they are a college student (or you think they are) ask them "Is this your first year at school?" and follow up with "How do you like it?" or "What major are your working towards?" If they appear to be husband and wife and they have children ask them "How old are your children?" By the way show interest in their children ask them what their names are and introduce yourself to them.
- Keep your questions general and non threatening. Ask them if they have any questions about the church. Or if they are new to the area ask them if they have any questions about the area.
- If they ask you where the nursery or restrooms are located please do not just point them down the hall take them there.
- Make sure that no one ever sits by themselves. This is a subject that I should have addressed in the past but it grieves me when I see a person who has had the courage to walk into a strange place for the first time and they sit there all alone. That only serves to magnify the stress they may already be experiencing. I understand that everyone likes to sit with their family and friends but your family and friends will understand the need to make others feel welcomed and wanted by offering to sit with them or inviting them to sit with you.
- Invite them to lunch. You're going to eat lunch anyway right? So why not invite them to have lunch with you? Don't think you have to take them out and blow your budget. If you can and want to do that then great. But if not don't sweat it. Invite them to your home and share a sandwich or something else simple with them. Don't worry about the house, or the dishes just focus on them and everything will be fine.
I understand how difficult all this can be. If meeting new people is intimidating to you then imagine how intimidating it was for them to visit our church. If they can get out of their comfort zone so can you! Just do it!