by Mona Fuerstenau
Senator Ben Sasse, at the 2019 Q Ideas conference in Nashville, talked about what he calls a national epidemic of loneliness due to a disconnect from community of place, from community of work place, from friendship.
He describes a connection disconnect, if you will, because of the transient nature of life in America and the digital world, now exacerbated by COVID-19. In a digital world, we don’t have to be where we are. We can skim the surface. We can be free from people and things, we can move on, we have permission to disengage.
The epidemic of loneliness and isolation is resulting in increased mental health issues, suicide, feelings of desperation, lack of control or choice, and feeling invisible in our loneliness.
The Church can become a place of belonging for everyone. As much as a person feels invisible in their loneliness, the church has a place for them. Your Church can be a place where each person finds they are indispensable to the body of Christ.
It’s all about belonging. Dr. Erik Carter of Vanderbilt University researched this idea of belonging, and he found ten dimensions that people described: Present. Invited. Welcomed. Known. Accepted. Supported. Cared for. Befriended. Needed. Loved.
May I suggest ways that three of these dimensions can communicate belonging to those who are lonely.
Welcomed: It’s not enough that the signs or the mugs or the bulletins say “All are welcome.” Each person is approached with a “we are so glad you are here” attitude. Introduce them to others. Invite them to share about themselves. Connect them to someone.
Accepted: We are all God’s children. Each is a part of the Body of Christ. Our differences are created by the Creator. We have unconditional positive regard for each person. We’ve been waiting for YOU. You are just what we need!
Needed: Recognize each person’s worth. Identify their gifts early on. Ask them to take on a role. Let them know they are missed when absent. Authentically communicate that we are incomplete without you. We have gaps and holes in our community that only you can fill.
Belonging: No special programs are needed, you already know how to do these things. No training required. Maybe some guidance on intentionality. These are universal needs. It’s about genuine, authentic relationships.
So, what stops us? To be authentic is to be vulnerable with others—and that may make us fearful. It might be messy, and that makes us uncomfortable. It takes time. Our reminder as we seek to become a place of belonging is 1 Corinthians 12:18: “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”