Can’t find a date, a place to belong, or even a friend in and around church life. Here are 5 ways to make meaningful connections and avoid becoming a lonely Christian.
Many Christians live their lives guided by a series of views on what they’re “supposed to” be or not “supposed to” be. In fact, “supposed to” is one of the biggest phrases we throw around in our life of faith. It’s because the Christian life by nature shows us what our ideal and fully fulfilled and redeemed potential could be, as well as things that get in the way.
One of those big “supposed to” phrases is that “I’m not supposed to feel lonely”. You’ve got God, you’ve got a faith community, you’ve got your Bible, you’ve got all these things that you thought were supposed to eradicate loneliness forever. And yet here you might be – a lonely Christian, wondering if things are ever going to be different.
For many, this is their reality. Stats from ARDA show that although church attendance has a measured impact on reducing loneliness, about 35% of churchgoers still report feeling like a lonely Christian. They feel like they’ve been single longer than they can remember, they feel like they don’t belong even though their church keeps telling them they have a place where they can belong, and they can’t even count on one hand the number of true friends they have in this world.
As someone who has experienced loneliness as a Christian myself, I know how hard it can be. And in recent weeks I have been reminded of how big a struggle this is, for Christians of all ages – teenagers, young adults, the “older” young adults who still want to feel like they’re young, the adult adults, and the seniors. It can affect men and women, Pentecostals, Baptists, Lutherans, Protestants, Anglicans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Salvoes, and beyond – it can affect us all.
I have been involved in running church small groups since I was a teenager, helped in kids church, in ushering/hosting, in preaching, in leading leaders, in worship leading, in spiritual oversight, in connections and welcome teams, and done so in interdenominational organisations as well as larger churches. I interface with dozens to hundreds of people a week and talk to as many people as I can and completed post-grad Bible College a few years ago to supplement my involvements.
And whatever church I’m in or visiting with whatever age group or ministry I’m involved in – the feelings can be the same, and people regularly come forward with this feeling.
But I’d like to submit to you today that it doesn’t have to stay this way. You don’t have to remain a lonely Christian – that you can indeed find the friendship and the fellowship and the fulfillment that you know you’re “supposed to” have. Here are 5 ways to accomplish that.
#1: Don’t write off every guy (or every girl) at your church… especially out loud
Okay I’ve gotta say this is by far one of the most destructive and surprisingly widespread phenomena I’ve seen and experienced across multiple churches.
Now I realise that marriage doesn’t guarantee you won’t be lonely. It’s a very, very lonely feeling to feel alone while married or partnered. Probably check out some of my posts on marriage for more targeted thoughts on that.
However, it’s actually the reality of Scripture that marriage is one of God’s designs and answers to loneliness.
It was God who told Adam it wasn’t good for him to be alone – Adam didn’t work this out himself. The writing of Paul while highlighting advantages in singleness also frequently praises the power and support in marriage. Two are better than one, the people of Israel were frequently encouraged to move towards it, and Paul even highlights that its far better to marry than to “burn with passion” – in other words, if you’ve got the desire, you should endeavour to see it fulfilled in the right way. Solomon and the Shulamite have more non-PG ways to encourage you towards it as well.
Much to the chagrin of the Super Spiritual out there, marriage is still a huge part of God’s answer for that part of the human heart that just can’t quite find a resolution elsewhere. I’ve met very, very few people who genuinely have “the gift of singleness” – the proof is in the level of satisfaction around it.
I’ve been a member for extended years of two very large Pentecostal churches and have had people visiting from the Salvation Army or a Baptist church or another type around the corner and saying, “Wow, there’s so many good single people here!”. The same thing would happen when members of said church or my current one would attend other churches and say, “Wow, there’s so many good single people here!”.
And yet, there is a significant percentage of single people at said churches who refuse to believe that to be true. In fact when I’ve heard the comment made about how many good guys or girls there are around at my current or previous church, the response is frequently “Where are they?”.
And it’s usually being said in front of very eligible single men and women.
And they hear you.
In other words, you’re broadcasting to everyone that you don’t think that anyone is good enough for you.
And maybe you feel that way. But I would encourage you to look again.
Many Christians frequently turn their attention and effort to other places such as online dating, clubs, or interfaith arrangements, and yet if the same effort was taken with the people you think you already know, you might be surprised to discover that the person with similar goals, dreams, and interests to you may have been growing around you this whole time.
I can’t count the number of times a guy or a girl who tell me “Matt, I want a guy/girl like X, Y, Z”. And then I’ll say, “what about those one/two/five/ten people who were sitting with us tonight who are X, Y, Z, and A?”. Soon to discover that they’ve been written off without a second thought.
I’m just saying. We get too familiar with people who may be absolutely stellar marriage partners. You don’t need to date everyone, but if the door is welded shut, ain’t nobody coming in or out. I wrote more about this in 10 Signs You’ve Found Marriage Material and Is There Really A Christian Man Drought?.
#2: Be an active participant in the community
One of my biggest frustrations as a Christian leader… actually, I think it is actually my biggest, is when a person says they want to get connected, they attend something once, they sit there passively watching, they leave bang on the official end time, they never come back or even try another group or ministry, and then complain six months later that they don’t feel connected and say “oh I used to go to something” or “that church is so hard to meet people at”.
But you didn’t really try. You watched. You waited. You wanted someone else to connect you without you having to do anything.
But that’s not how real connection works. It takes two. Try dancing with one person who won’t move. Try plugging in a powerpoint while the switch is turned off. Try being married to a brick wall.
And yes – try connecting with someone who is not committed to giving it their best to be a part of it.
True connection in any arena is not a passive experience. It requires continual and active participation in order to manifest.
In the book of Acts, Scripture tells us that the believers commit themselves to the fellowship and the breaking of bread. In other words, the early church was born out of people who didn’t just rock up when they felt like it. They committed to it. The author of Hebrews tells us that we shouldn’t neglect meeting together as some get in the habit of doing. Connection is a kingdom habit.
And there’s no greater example of this than Jesus. The person who had the most reason to stick to themselves instead modelled a life of regular church attendance, connection and communication with church leaders (even from the age of 12), surrounded himself with a connect group of 12 faithful people, and routinely entered into communities and was on a first name basis with many people across the region beyond that. Sure, he had seasons of loneliness or isolation, but they were limited to a weekend or a month tops. Isolation was present but was not his lifestyle – community was. He did life with people, and actively invited them and provided them opportunities to do the same with him.
You’re not more spiritual than Jesus – if he surrounded himself with people in modelling the ideal life, we need to as well.
So come out to the morning tea or the dinner. Go to the afterparty. Attend a small/life/connect group more than once and give it a good go. Have something to say. Open up. Take an interest in others. Use your spiritual gifts to make someone else’s life better. Help build the community you say you wish the church had. Put yourself out there!
And above all, come with a mind to contribute rather than just to consume. We need you!
I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of people personally who have said they want to get connected, and can attest to how much more easily this attitude enables connection to be.
#3: Make sure you’re also marriage or friend material
It’s really easy to make a list of things you want in a life partner, or in a friend. We all want to find best friend material or marriage material.
But it’s much harder to actually commit to being best friend material yourself. Or marriage material.
Some simple questions on this one – we know what you want from others, but how about what you’re able to bring?
How’s your followthrough? Are you true to your word? Is the fruit of the Spirit and of progress evident in your life? How’s your income? How are your spending habits and the stewardship of your finances? Are you one who speaks life, or are you only in it for yourself? Are you actually mature?
The late great Zig Ziglar said it so well – “If you go out looking for friends, you’re going to find they are very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere”. I’ve found it to be so true that the more we focus on our development, our contribution, what we’re really like (not just what we feel or think we’re like), it makes it much more appealing for people wanting to connect with us.
After all, greater love has no one than this – to lay down their life for their friend. Laying down our life is the mandate of the Christian faith, and we remain a lonely Christian indeed when we give no regard to what we’re bringing to the table.
Servant hearted, teachable people make great husbands, wives, and friends.
#4: Take your mask off
It’s hard for someone to really love you and connect with you when they don’t really know you.
When you present an image rather than your real self, don’t be surprised if the person on the inside feels unseen.
No one is asking you to be fake. They’re really not. Especially not God, and the members of a genuinely Bible-based church won’t be either.
When we pray and when we share with others, we need to be open about what’s really going on. We need to live and love with the lights on.
One of the criticisms Jesus had for the church leaders of his time were that they washed the outside of the cup and did nothing about the inside. Real community and real connection requires you to bring and devote yourself to the appearance and the contents.
I routinely sadly see people avoiding answering personal questions, abstaining from sharing about themselves, and even jumping from church to church or even group to group as soon as people start to get to know them, or pulling out the ol “don’t judge me“. It’s a defence mechanism to prevent people from ever getting to know the real you.
But without that level of sharing, you’ll know be known the way your heart wants to be.
The book of James calls for this kind of reality in church fellowship, and it’s entirely possible. Confession to one another, praying for each other in weakness, being open to accountability and allowing the fruit of our lives to speak for itself and reveal the truth. All of these disciplines build wholesome and whole fellowship, allowing you to be loved and seen for who you really are.
#5: Connect with people who are different than you
A lot of church ministries focus around homogenous groups – similar ages, similar walks of life (eg. families ministries), similar callings (eg. business groups), and also gender (eg. women’s/men’s ministries).
But, like parts of the body, some of our most meaningful connections will be with people who aren’t completely the same as us.
I’m a married man, a business leader, a home owner, a father, and on the earlier side of 40 (getting there though). But I don’t just need to spend time with married men, businesspeople, home owners, other parents or young people – I need everyone. I need meaningful connections with singles, with men and women, with students and retirees, with parents and those without children, with older and younger people alike.
But many unfortunately are only looking for, or willing to connect with, people who appear *exactly* the same as you are. And while it’s great to be in community with those who are in similar walks of life, we also can benefit greatly from those who look different on the outside. Besides, the only person who looks exactly like you are is exists in the mirror.
Some of my closest and most rewarding relationships are with people who aren’t working, or work in a blue collar industry unlike me, or study, or aren’t married, or are married, or have kids, or don’t, or are older than me, or are younger than me, or are women, or…
My point is, similar to my first one, we can’t just write people off from being worth connecting with. Who knows whether or not that small group leader, that group of people, that ministry or that person actually has far more in common with you than you realise when you get to know them properly, or maybe even be further ahead than you in different areas and carry the answers you’ve been needing your whole life.
Some of the greatest insights into faith and life I’ve ever gained have been from older men or older women who have already walked that path when I had “assumed” they wouldn’t have, from unemployed young students who have needed insight, from single parents who have learned the hard way and have another perspective I’ve needed or been blessed by. The things I would have missed out on had I only looked for people who look like what I think I look like.
Grace is the great equaliser, and isn’t that the bedrock of the Christian faith? That we are all sinners, saved by grace, anointed appointed called and chosen, with dreams and hopes and purpose, made with intentionality, all seeking love, acceptance, and to be who we were born to be? While the outside and the outworking may look different, on the inside we’re really all the same.
Now you may have noticed I didn’t really go after what churches could do better on this front. That’s because in my experience many churches have a lot of different options for a lot of different types of people and actually do a really good job at providing people opportunities to meet and connect. If you’re looking for some great stuff on what churches can do to meet people better, I love the work of Pastor Carey Nieuwhof who consistently pulls out excellent content, as well as Dr Henry Cloud’s work on Churches That Heal.
There can be other factors that contribute to feelings of loneliness as well that I’ve written about in other posts – have a look below for some of those in the related section.
How about you? Have you ever felt like a lonely Christian? How do you handle it?