The problem of loneliness in the church comes from both inside her walls and outside of them. We will start, of course, with what happens inside her walls because there's no point in trying to address the culture at large if we can't get our own community right.
The trouble inside most churches is that they are wildly unsafe environments for intimacy and authentic connection.
That seems strange to say of a place that is supposed to known for embracing the sinner, for welcoming the sick, for visiting the prisoner, and whose Chief Leader spent His time with persons of ill-repute. And the truth is our churches are hit and miss on whether or not we actually look like this, whether or not we have persons from all walks of life within our midst.
But regardless of who is in our churches, it's who is in our churches that is our biggest problem. We have among us, most importantly, gossips. And second to them, busybodies. And next to them, busy bodies.
We have a real problem with persons in our churches who can't wait to share everyone else's business. They can't wait to talk about what's going on in your life and make it very public information. Often, we see this under the guise of the "prayer request." Which is, sadly, too often church code for, "Here's the gossip."
I will never forget the moment a few years ago when someone in my congregation started posting our family prayer requests on her social media page - publicly. Any time a trauma showed up among us, there it was, plastered on her wall for all to see. With names named. Imagine, if you will, confiding in your community your most heavy burdens, the things you would be ashamed to share with anyone else, and then having someone else put your name on it and publish it like that.
Yet, that's what we're doing all the time. Churches quickly become incredibly small places when there's gossip to be heard. All it takes is one person who can't keep your business to themselves or actually, can't let your business be your business, and it doesn't take long before you know your story is not safe.
Then, you get the busybodies coming in - the persons who heard the whisper and feel entitled now to know more of it, and they have a thousand questions for you because they want all of the juicy details. Not because they want to pray for you better or more often or even at all, but just because their nature is that they want to know. They're just prying.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have a bunch of persons in our churches who are simply too busy to be bothered by your needs. They have their own stuff going on, their own commitments, and even when you know - or perhaps you are told - that they would be a great resource for whatever you're going through, they don't have time for you.
No wonder so many persons feel lonely inside our churches. They are not safe places to create soul-deep connections. You show up, and either everyone is blabbing your stuff, prying into it, or can't find the time for you - why would you even want to get close to any of these persons? Why would you want to bring your life to church with you? Why would you ever say anything besides "Hey. Good to see you?"
When it's not safe to share your life with your church, then you go on Sunday and worship next to these persons, but not with them. You're side-by-side, but not together. You're surrounded by other human beings, but you're painfully lonely.
We can do better, church. We must do better.