Solutions for the Loneliness Epidemic in Churches
Share This article
THE SACRED US
The lovely phrase “the sacred us,” is what Justin Kendrick uses to describe “the transcendent community knit together by the Spirit of Jesus and more deeply bound to one another than natural family or best friends. It’s that thing we all know is painfully missing in so many of our churches and in so many of our lives.” He goes on to say why it matters so vitally. “The truth is that you weren’t made just for you. You were made for us. But us comes with some significant challenges.”
Justin knows firsthand what it means to work at building a sense of community. Twenty years ago, when he and his wife, Chrisy, were newlyweds just out of college, they bought a two-family house and invited another couple to live with them. A few months later, their best friends bought a multi-family house a block away, where nine people lived. While keeping needed boundaries for privacy, they all shared meals a couple times a week, helped one another, and learned together how to parent as kids came along.
After a third and fourth family followed suit, their community became dozens. In time, more families moved to their area and embraced the concept until they had twelve houses full of people in a four-block radius. From this group, they started the first Vox (Latin for voice) Church on the doorstep of Yale University, in New Haven, CT. Along with the obvious advantages of fellowship, fun, and help of many kinds, Justin admits this “Acts Two” lifestyle is also deeply challenging, as people get a close look at one another with all their faults and sins. Though hard, he says it’s been well worth it.
Instead of transcendent community, Justin says there exists in American society, and the church, a rugged individualism, that simply isn’t biblical. Some believers, he adds, may not see the need for community at all, as they focus on a personal relationship with Jesus. “Can we have even have a personal relationship with God if it’s intentionally severed and isolated from interdependent relationships with others? If Christianity is simply about a personal relationship with Jesus, then why participate in church at all?”
Justin goes on to say that this individuality has led to isolation. “Our isolation has led to loneliness. And our loneliness has led to a profound emptiness.” He cites some statistics which back that up. “Before the twentieth century, only five percent of households were made up of a single individual. Today, more than one in four Americans live by themselves.”
A 2020 U.S. Report, Loneliness and the Workplace, indicated that the majority of Americans today feel that no one in their lives really knows them well, and sixty-one percent of adults battle loneliness on a regular basis.
PROXIMITY PROVIDES OPPPORTUNITY
From his experiences with a close community of like-minded people, Justin has learned what promotes community and what does not. In our tech-driven world of “virtual” everything, he maintains that nothing replaces being face-to-face with others. “Something powerful and irreplicable is exchanged when we share the same space. Being physically present with another person cannot be substituted with a digital device or a warm and thoughtful letter,” he says. “Being present means being available physically and emotionally. We’re all thankful for Zoom, and it has its place, but virtual meetings are fundamentally inferior to physical interaction.”
“People need to be physically close. Relationships need to be regular. You need a consistent place to gather, and you need time to gather. The truth is that you have the space for biblical community in your life. The question is whether you will use it.”
Another benefit of proximity, Justin says, is that we are pushed to grow. “Regular interaction makes it far more difficult to hide the ugly parts of your life … if your marriage is a mess – or if your prayer life is non-existent – proximity will flush you out of hiding. God will use the nearness of others to force you to deal with the secrets in your heart, and even though it will be painful at first, it will be joyful in the end.”
VULNERABILITY CREATES CONNECTION
Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Justin reminds us that mankind has been dealing not only with guilt, but soul-damaging shame. He says we all attempt to hide it with myriad fig leaves, but they keep us from being real. “The same restrictions that shield your heart from being deeply hurt also stop your heart from being deep loved. You can’t be both emotionally safe and fully alive at the same time,” he warns. The remedy? Vulnerability. “Relationships will always remain an inch deep until someone is willing to be vulnerable. And with vulnerability you can build the deepest, most satisfying relationships in the world.”
How can we learn to be vulnerable? Justin says there’s just one way: “You have to practice. Every time you step out and honestly share something about yourself that could be potentially damaging to your image, you recalibrate the scales of your heart. You add a little more weight to your identity in Christ, and you take a little power away from your insecurity.”
In addition to sharing life with close friends in the neighborhood, Justin has practiced what he preaches by meeting with an older pastor every month for the last nine years. “In our meetings, I invite him into the deepest, darkest corners of my thoughts. Sometimes it feels so awkward, but the promise of Scripture has proven true: ‘Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’”
Realizing that some people will misuse vulnerability to get sympathy or attention, Justin adds this advice: “You don’t have to share every detail with every person. But you do need to share the important details with a few, and you must learn to guard against editing out the specifics that make you feel embarrassed.”
The benefits of vulnerability are worth whatever discomfort or pain accompanies it, he says. “When you are willing to let others in, God makes your heart bigger. And every time you widen your heart, God deepens your joy. If you risk vulnerability, you will begin to sense a deeper connection with God and others, and a new community will start to form. Hearts will interlock. Compassion will grow. Love will become real. Something sacred will be born out of your brokenness. Vulnerability creates connection.”
Share This article