It feels strange to say this. But I think the church can be one of the loneliest places of all.
Now I believe, to be human, is to feel to some extent, alone at times. We all experience change, loss, feelings of misplacement. Somewhere along the way, we will be intentionally or unintentionally left out, misunderstood, looked over. This is just life, unfortunately.
But I can’t help but think, when we walk into church, into the body of Christ, we hope to find something more and something different. I think in a way, we want to commune with God as well as be in real community with others.
But this isn’t always easy.
How is it that we can feel especially lonely in our churches, right there in the midst of other believers, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Christ? In a place that is supposed to be the closest glimpse of heaven this side of eternity? Why is it that some of us, even after signing up for countless Bible studies and fellowship outings and serving alongside each other in a plethora of ministries, can still feel pretty much alone?
It’s true that some of our churches suffer from unhealthy cliques (and this is completely sad), but it’s also true that many do try their best to be inclusive and unified.
Yet, loneliness is still a problem affecting more people than we realize, from the newcomer to the pastor, the introverted to the extroverted, the young, the empty nester, sick or well, whether we are married or single.
I am starting to see that loneliness in the church is much more than feeling left out on occasion… or a lot. Ironically, we can actually be very much included, but still feel disconnected.
Something is silently and deeply afflicting us, our relationships, our fellowship.
Maybe you feel it too?
We all have this intrinsic God-given desire to be loved, yet we are battling, more than ever, this ever increasing fear of being known.
I think it’s immensely hard to be transparent these days. Never before have we been so connected yet so disconnected, so visible yet so able to hide. Communicating has never been so instant, convenient, but filtered. We can have our 895 “friends” on Facebook with whom we share snippets of our lives, but have a hard time letting down our walls to even one person. Honestly, I think our generation is becoming one of growing anonymity, contrived “Pinterest” personas, and isolation. We can edit ourselves all we want – we can choose what we want people to see of us. This is handy, but it can cause us to be more distracted, self-conscious, and possibly more alone than ever before.
And I think all of this has quietly seeped its way right into our churches.
It’s true that some people really do live with genuine transparency. They live with this humility that is hard to find. But I have not yet mastered the secret. It is still so unnatural to be vulnerable! In fact, I often find myself settling for being liked and accepted over being known and truly loved.
I often find myself settling for being liked and accepted over being known and truly loved.
Because letting people in, means we could be totally rejected.
But I realize, when we are obsessed with how we think we “should” look in order to be accepted, we can never have real community. We can never be the body of Christ that encourages and builds each other up (1 Thessolonians 5:11).
And when we let fear of man, insecurity, or even bitterness take over us, we will always feel alone, even if we never miss a single Sunday service or take part in every outreach ministry event until we collapse.
We will do church just fine, but we can never be the church.
I mentioned in my last post, that my family is part of a new church plant in a new state with a new community of friends … and while I feel out of my element some days, I can honestly say, I wouldn’t want to be on any other road. We have been stretched some but blessed greatly. I am learning that meaningful friendships do not fall from the sky and magically into my life. We have to do the hard, humbling work of letting people in, not just on our “good days,” but into our less than Pinterest perfect lives. This is the only sure way to foster real connection.
I aptly read somewhere that this means “we have to go first,” meaning sometimes, we have to be first to share our hearts. We have to be first to break the polite silence and initiate deeper conversation and be ready to really listen. In appropriate spaces with appropriate people, we have to be first to confess our (eek) deeper sins and inner wars. But I know it’s not easy to risk what we fear the most – rejection.
Of course, the goal isn’t to become the queen of TMI (too much information). Honesty is of utmost importance – yes – but so is edification, speaking with grace (Ephesians 4:29), and being mindful of gossip. When I am not prayerful, I tend to say things I regret and totally lose perspective. A thing I must remember too is that it doesn’t mean everyone will love me just because I was so bravely honest. I may get blank looks and zero reciprocity. I may feel lame. There may be judgment and a sinking feeling of even more loneliness. Or at the least, very, very awkward silence. I have to accept, not everyone is ready or interested in a deeper relationship with me (ouch). But be still my heart… we move on and we don’t give up.
Because it’s worth it, and the kind of fellowship we have when we are transparent is priceless.
When it comes down to it, without vulnerability in our relationships, we cannot possibly love each other as Christ loves us. It’s in the risking, in the giving, in taking time to love others more than ourselves, in being bravely real about what we struggle with and willing to walk the messy road with others… that we can ever have real community.
I often think… Jesus, He hung there on the cross, naked, bleeding, mocked – for what purpose?
To remind us how much the Father wants to be reconciled with the broken, with us. To remind us that love is transparent and oh so sacrificial.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
This might just be the ultimate assurance to the lonely heart.
I think this is key – when we trust that God’s love is with us always, when we seek to be fulfilled by Him alone, we suddenly know how to love and be loved deeply.
This is community.
Loneliness may never go away completely – and maybe it’s not supposed to this side of forever. We are flawed humans, and we will never connect perfectly.
But I can’t help but think, we can take small but brave steps towards letting each other in, so we can learn to do the beautiful work of truly building each other up towards love and good deeds.
31 thoughts on “Loneliness in the Church”
I’m finding it impossible to make good friends at Church, for the same reasons. I used to have no problem making friends at Church when I was growing up, I could just walk up to someone, say Hi, and we would be instant friends. Now it feels like there is an “invisible barrier” between me and everyone else. No matter how hard I try I can’t seem to make a connection.
I am really sorry to hear this. I do feel for you. I know you are not alone in this struggle. People are much more guarded, I believe. Keep seeking Christ as you are, and I pray that He will be your greatest comfort…. and also that He will bring along some true kindred spirits your way because we all need people to walk beside us on this journey!
We will never know unless we take that first important step of reaching out, right?
I couldn’t agree more. That first step can be very difficult, but I think this is what we are called to as the body of Christ. And even more important than sharing our stories is being willing to listen to others… and share in their burdens as well. Thank you for stopping by!
This is really, really good. I love the point you make about how Jesus modelled vulnerability at the risk of rejection. Often we are so self-focused, but loving others involves being real and delving deeper.
The older I get, the more I realize that it will be a lifelong lesson to learn to love as Christ does. I think of what God really asks of us… to love Him and to love others as ourselves. So simple yet so challenging! You are right, often we are so self-focused and just afraid of being real. But Christ’s example is very clearly about a sacrificial love that risks rejection.
Thank you for stopping by here, and thank you for the re:blog. 🙂
a congregation that does not seek community is, by New Testament standards, not a church, but an institution based on social traditions. The church is where two or more are gathered in His name. One cannot gather in His name, with His priorities, and not become community. Programs and the church as a business are not in Jesus’ New Testament plans for the church…programs create segregation and the “body” as described in 1 Corinthians does not have segregation.
Yes this is painfully true. There is an ever increasing sense of autonomy and independence … but biblically, we are to need each other. We are to not give up on gathering together in His name. We are to worship together. We are to bear each other’s burdens. All of this requires that we actually know each other and have community with one another. Our worship of God cannot be separated from our love of others. Thanks for your input!
This is VERY well written! Thank you for expressing my heart on this subject so well! I’ve been wanting to write about this for so long but just didn’t know how to share it. We moved 2 years ago and I recently told my husband I hate “cliques” disguised as “small groups” as if we could not “cross fellowship” when the reality is Christ unified us. I’ve had to keep my heart from bitterness and judgment and hurt for not being “welcomed” in some groups because I’m the new girl.
I’m a person that is transparent and make myself vulnerable and it tends to scare people at first but after awhile some end up sharing too.—it takes time.
These past two years God has been teaching me though we have fellowship and commUNITY in Christ, and it shouldn’t matter how long we’ve “known” each other, it stakes time due to all of our insecurities and past experiences. I must be patient with people as they “test” my authenticity.
I did make a few friendships immediately because they too were willing to be transparent and we could go to God’s throne together to confess and pray. Others have barely now opened up after almost 2 years…and now we are moving again 🙂 I think we are also dealing with spiritual warfare, for a “house divided cannot stand”; satan would like to get a foothold of rendering us useless to edify the brethren. In fact, I believe the struggle to capture strong unity in the Church is part of a consequence of the fall…we must bravely be transparent and vulnerable, and forgive others when they reject us. We must “bear with one another in love.”
I’m learning true unity won’t happen in my strength and timing, but I’m looking forward to the day when we WILL be ONE as Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23!
Thank you so much for sharing your heart here. It took me a while to gather my thoughts on this topic too! I sat there with a blank screen in front of me for a few days! I can definitely appreciate your challenges as the new girl. I give you so much credit for your transparency and your willingness to put aside pride and bitterness and reach out to people… invite them into who you are. Yes it may not always be reciprocated but how great it is that you are willing to work at community and deeper fellowship. I think there is a battle out there. The enemy would like nothing better than to cause division and to make us feel not only disconnected from God but from our brothers and sisters in Christ! I pray all the best for you as you move again (augh). It is hard, but it’s also a great opportunity to keep growing in this area!!
Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt. I think this is pretty close to how the saying goes. I kinda do the opposite…it’s actually a very good way to figure out where people are on the uptight-fun continuum. Here’s hoping you’re kinda fun. 🙂
Oh yes, good quote … Abraham? Mark Twain? In any case it reminds me of Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise….” Definitely our words are not without consequence, for better or worse. I’m curious to know, where you have found most folks to be the “continuum” of yours. Can’t promise how “fun” I’ll be here but I’ll be honest! Thanks for the follow. 😊
I loved this Kim.
Transparency! That word is being watered down more and more…..But you are so right, we HAVE to get it back. I personally have found it hard to be transparent but I seek it anyway. I don’t like being vulnerable but I have seen the benefits of it. So it is a fight to be vulnerable, transparent and I think it will always be a fight. But I will ask the Holy Spirit to help me. This is such a needed post. Thanks Kim
I hear you! I personally find it hard to be transparent but I seek it anyway … those are the words that describe me too. It’s good to know I am not alone in this! Yes it will always be a fight because here in this life there is always the struggle with fear of man and acceptance. It’s hard to be humble but I know this is really the heart of Christ. I guess we just keep seeking Him first, knowing He will never forsake us, and all these things shall be added unto us!
So true Kim. You are not alone in this and thanks for bringing it to the light. The more transparent we become the more effective we become as the church. It starts with us now….
I think it deeply grieves the Lord to see that His church isn’t the safe place it ought to be. As believers, I think we have to attend church recognizing that it’s a building full of flawed people – we can’t look for our fulfillment from four walls or anyone that fills it, that has to come from Christ. But, as you say, we can be the change we want to see – the people who live our lives wide open and invite others to walk beside us. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can be the someone that invites that one hurting person in. Great post, Kim.
Thanks for adding some great thoughts here. I too think it grieves our Father to see that we are not always the church we ought to be … the light, the city on a hill, etc. So true that our priority is worship – and Christ alone is sufficient to fulfill us. We will never be fulfilled by anything less. But yes, we gather as a church in unity because this is God’s instruction for our good but most importantly, for His glory…that we encourage and build each other up. Though we will never be perfect …I have seen this kind of love in action, within the body of Christ, and I think it says so much to a hurting, questioning, darkened world. Thanks for commenting!
I’m so glad I stumbled on to this, I am struggling with the loneliness at church too. I keep thinking its because I am single and everyone else is coupled and that’s why I don’t feel like I belong. I am spoken to of course but I see all these other people who are really friends not just church friends on Sunday morning and I want that too. I have never had that in a church, but at least I have God
Great post and unfortunately so true. There are lots of underlying reasons we feel alone in church, some are actually spiritual in nature, but there are others. For me I have always said that brokenness is the best kept secret in churches today. We put on an act for the others because something uncomfortable happens when Christians appear to be struggling. Almost as if there’s something wrong with our faith. You said it yourself, “I often find myself settling for being liked and accepted over being known and truly loved” We just have a hard time relating that which causes us pain and people aren’t always real good at listening to it so we “settle” as you said. We want to be “accepted” so we trade off “being known.” It shouldn’t be that way…
Gene, I appreciate your insightful comment here … and I am so sorry for this late reply! I agree, there are a lot of underlying reasons for loneliness in the church. “Brokenness is the best kept secret in churches today.” This is more true than most people would like to admit. And yet, Christ Himself clearly came for the broken, the sinner, the least of these. But you are right, sometimes we can act as if the church is a place for people who have it together… when really it should be a sanctuary for those who don’t but who are aware of their need for grace..
Ooooo – very thought provoking – on several different levels! I think I needed to read this. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share this.
You’re welcome, Shawn! I am so glad that this post was timely for you. Thanks for reading… and I apologize for the super late response!
thanks so much for speaking to this oft silent topic. I appreciate your insight and courage to speak to this. You might be interested in my attempt to unpack loneliness in general: https://moreenigma.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/the-loneliest-moment-of-my-life/
Grace to you
Thank you Rusty! I will check out your post. Grace to you as well!
I loved reading your heart on this subject, Kim. Something that has been a struggle for my husband and I in these last few years of illness and not being able to attend church in the traditional setting. So many valuable and important thoughts you shared here!! Thank you for speaking truth and love.
Thank you Kami for reading and for sharing your thoughts. My heart goes out to you as you battle Lyme (ugh such a terrible illness!!). But God is truly shining through you and your words have been grace to others who are suffering. In a way, your honest words and heart for the hurting are doing so much to create the exact kind of community that I believe really matters.
Jesus is building His church..and it may not be in “traditional” way in which we have become accustomed. As I have gotten older I have found meaningful relationships outside of those walls where we indeed share the heart of Jesus. You have obviously written about something that has touched many. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading! Yes Jesus is building His church… it’s an exciting thing. It’s a beautiful thought … to imagine people truly wanting to “be” the church and not simply settling to “do” church with one another. 🙂
Well-written. In my case, I haven’t gone to church in years. There was always a gap between me and everyone else. Part of it is what you spoke so eloquently about — I didn’t make myself known to others, so how could they make themselves known to me?
But a large part of it was being afraid of speaking my true beliefs about God and Christ to those who made up the congregation. Especially when many of them (being young as I was at the time) did things that were simply not right as I saw it (bullying, favoritism and petty theft mostly). The way I saw God didn’t agree with the things I saw about the people around me and, worse, didn’t agree with the teachings of the preachers. (I grew up Pentecostal and hellfire and damnation and duty toward sinners were focused on far more than love and forgiveness.) As I got older and was exposed to more churches, the problems continued. The adults seemed formal and closed off. And, forgive me for saying it, altogether too righteous. I feel now that someone who genuinely feels Christian love for everyone would be humble and upfront about admitting that they too make mistakes. That even though their sins are forgiven and they know better than to purposefully hurt others, they aren’t perfect. Of course, since I never got to know them well-enough, there could have been many very nice people who truly were the way I thought a Christian ought to be. But I gave up my search for guidance when I realized I couldn’t get help from the church, not being the person I was, not believing the things I did.
Things have since changed. I have renewed my beliefs and experienced a new faith in God. But I doubt I’ll ever seek out a church again, because I developed these beliefs through a method most churches would despise — the use of cannabis. It’s ironic because I feel that for the first time in my life I’m capable of being the kind of Christian I always wanted to meet, but I can’t see how I would find people who would understand how I came to that point.
A community of those who love God and love others and want to help others find the same peace is a great idea, but I’m not sure how possible it is when there are so many people who feel pressured into claiming that they are Christian and know God for themselves when they don’t, even if some of them want to. I suppose that’s what faith in God truly is. The belief that, while you can’t feel his love for yourself, he does love everyone including you and that you should love them as well.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m condemning Christians. However you come to God is the right way so long as you learn about loving yourself and others. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable somewhere I would be judged.
Beautifully written wisdom on loneliness. I am working on a sermon on loneliness in the church and came across your blog post. You hit on and beautifully describe many great points for the church to be considering and working on how to reach out to the lonely.
Besides being vulnerable and transparent (both good suggestions) what are some practical actions that the church should do to become community?