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All the lonely people

As the British government creates a Ministry of Loneliness, opportunities abound for faithful churches to respond to people’s deepest needs


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All the lonely people
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As the U.S. government hurtles toward a possible government shutdown over disagreements about immigration and fiscal spending, the British government announced this week they would attack another perplexing problem: loneliness.

A 2017 study found more than 9 million people in Britain reported they often or always feel lonely. (That’s nearly 15 percent of the population of the United Kingdom, and it’s more than the entire population of London.)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s response: She appointed a minister of loneliness. The prime minister said the appointee would lead a government coalition to study loneliness and suggest strategies to combat it.

While the numbers aren’t terribly surprising, some of the specifics are heartbreaking: Government research found that 200,000 older people in Britain had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in a month.

There’s something deeply tragic about these statistics, and something deeply sad in looking to the government as first responders—especially when there’s already an obvious ministry of loneliness: the Christian church.

The church is the institution best equipped to enter into the lives of the lonely, and care for needs that extend to both body and soul.

Indeed, the church is the institution best equipped to enter into the lives of the lonely, and care for needs that extend to both body and soul.

Sadly, many Brits (and other Europeans) have abandoned the church in droves in recent decades. Nearly half of people in the United Kingdom said they had “no religion,” according to a survey by the National Centre for Social Research. Among those ages 18 to 25, the number was 71 percent.

The survey found 15 percent of the British population identified as Anglican, a drop of 50 percent over the last two decades. The Church of England reported in 2016 that only 1.4 percent of the population of England now attends services on a Sunday morning.

(It’s important to note that a church’s faithfulness to the Scriptures is key to its ability to offer faithful Christian ministry, and the Church of England has weakened mightily in this area. For example, the church has been taking steps toward affirming same-sex marriage—a debate set to continue this year.)

When it comes to evangelicals, Operation World estimates evangelicals comprise 2.5 percent of the population in Europe, though as WORLD senior editor Mindy Belz reported last year, immigrant populations are bringing new life to Protestant churches.

The bad news of loneliness and languishing among many in Britain brings a great opportunity for faithful Christian churches: What group is better suited to find ways to enter into the dying life of a heavily secularized culture?

The same is true in the United States. Though more Americans may attend church on Sundays, cultural decay is a saddening reality here as well, and it shows up in our own frightening statistics: The suicide rate in America has reached its highest level in 30 years. Meanwhile, the number of suicidal teenagers hospitalized has doubled in the last decade.

It seems like a terrible irony: In the most connected society in human history, we’re also perhaps among the loneliest.

That reality brings to mind a quote from the The Social Network—the film about the creation of Facebook. Justin Timberlake, playing Facebook co-founder Sean Parker, gleefully predicts: “We’ve lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!”

It was a nearly prophetic prediction, with sad consequences. While social media has been used for much good, it’s also consigned many people to living their lives online, even when they’re in public. (When I visited the Lincoln Memorial recently, crowds were lining up to take selfies with Lincoln’s towering statue. One man stood off to the side reading the Gettysburg Address.)

Now Sean Parker is among a handful of Silicon Valley voices worried that social media is breaking down our social interactions—and perhaps our brains. One disturbing stat among many: Last year, YouTube celebrated that people around the world were watching a billion hours of the site’s content every day.

For Christians, the opportunity is ripe: Look for ways to reach the isolated, and also be ready to receive them if they show up on Sunday. (And be aware they’re showing up among your own members.)

It can be as simple as hospitality: Do visitors get an invitation to lunch at someone’s house after church? Do any of the nursing homes near your congregation get attention from your members? How often do you simply talk to your neighbors?

Rosaria Butterfield—an author and speaker who has shared her story of repenting from unbelief and a life of homosexuality—told the Gospel Coalition that Christian hospitality was an important part of her conversion: “I fell in love with Jesus and His church because of the way Christians could stand, weep, walk, and be gracious with me.”

It makes sense, and it hearkens to a principle in the New Testament book of James: Pure and undefiled religion is to visit widows and orphans in their distress. It’s not just about writing a check or volunteering once a quarter. The command is much more thoroughgoing: Visit lonely people.

Visiting requires physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy, and it demands consistent involvement in the lives of others. It’s not easy, and it’s usually unseen by outsiders, but it’s a reflection of a Messiah who visited a lonely and sinful world to sacrifice himself for a family that would last forever.


Jamie Dean

Jamie is national editor of WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously worked for The Charlotte World. Jamie has covered politics, disasters, religion, and more for WORLD. She resides in Charlotte, N.C.

@deanworldmag

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