Battling loneliness in our churches
Sometimes we can be completely surrounded by people but still feel totally alone, and even those who seem to have tons of friends can feel really isolated. So how do we help those in our churches who might be struggling with loneliness?
- Keep an eye out for people who are going through a tough time. Maybe they have recently been bereaved, have suffered a relationship breakdown or are struggling with mental illness. Whatever the situation, even a small gesture such as a warm smile, hug or regular checking-in can help people feel more valued and less alone.
- Welcome new people warmly. It can take a lot of courage to go to a new church, particularly for those who turn up alone or have recently moved to the area. Make sure you greet people and find out a bit about them, helping them to feel at home right away. If appropriate, ask if they would like to go for coffee or to come to your home for a meal so you can get to know them better.
- Include the elderly. The chances are, some of the older people in your congregation live alone and have a lot more time on their hands than their younger counterparts. This can lead to loneliness if they don’t have friends and relatives close by. Make your church services as inclusive as possible for older people, who may feel sidelined at times, and arrange enjoyable events they can easily join in, taking into account any physical limitations they may have.
- Think about singles. Sometimes the Church can be very focused on families, and that’s great. But what about those who aren’t part of a couple or family unit? What about the divorced and the widowed? It’s really important that single people don’t feel left out or as though they have somehow failed to meet the ‘ideal’ standard. Involve singles in activities and invite them to take on responsibilities within the church where appropriate. Let them know they are loved and needed. If you have single parents in your church, find out if they need any practical help and support, as parenting alone can be a difficult and lonely business.
- Don’t forget the ‘untouchables’. Sometimes in churches we treat certain people differently because of the way they look or behave. Examples may include the very poor, addicts, former prisoners, those who are covered in tattoos, refugees, those with special needs, or transgender people. Whatever the person’s background or lifestyle, Jesus loves them just as much as you! Reach out and extend a hand of friendship. Be understanding and inclusive, inviting those who might consider themselves to be outsiders in from the fringes.
While the above groups may be particularly vulnerable to loneliness, anyone can experience it at any time. Keep checking in with those in your sphere and be hospitable. Even if people seem reluctant to get involved, keep inviting them to things so they know that you care and want to get to know them better. Show them the love of Jesus and try to replicate the early Church, where everyone lived in community and looked out for one another. If you are feeling lonely yourself, try to confide in someone you trust and pray that God will help you to see that you are not alone. Remember that he is always right there with you.
Psalm 68:5-6 says: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…”