Loneliness, Belonging, and the Surprise of How Church Fills That Need (More Research)

I grew up in Minnesota. I still read my Minneapolis paper every day (thank you internet) because I’m a sports fan. And somehow I still found this story. (It wasn’t in the sports section.)
Minnesota institute explores what is replacing religion for young adults

Why are Minnesotans more brilliant? I don’t really believe that because I couldn’t wait to move out of there. But Springtide Research Institute based out of Winona, Minnesota, (which is small town!) noticed that many researchers are studying why young adults are leaving the church but no one has studied what they are replacing it with.

I already have my guess. It’s this religion of Enoughness.

The surveys are out right now to 13- to 25-year olds of all religious backgrounds.

Josh Packard, the CEO of Springtide Research Institute already has a hypotheses.

“Sports teams. Athletic groups. Clubs. I don’t think we’re going to uncover some hidden thing. But I think we’ll find that nobody is filling that gap [that religious institutions once filled] very well. That’s why we have that sense of isolation among young people.” 

Nobody is filling that gap. Which is why we have that sense of isolation.

I know this to be true from working with teenagers for 40+ years now.

There are all sorts of stats and numbers out there about the increase of anxiety and the increase of loneliness in the younger generations. The pandemic only made this worse. Everyone is writing, blogging, vlogging, pontificating about it. Here is just one set of numbers from a global perspective from the Barna Group.

Just one in three 18–35-year-old respondents say they often feel deeply cared for by those around them (33%) or that someone believes in them (32%). Meanwhile, nearly one in four (23%) acknowledges encountering feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Sigh. My heart is broken. Maybe this is why I still feel so called to youth ministry. I want our teens and young adults to know a personal Jesus and to know they are deeply cared for and that at least one person believes in them.

From the one who calls to the lonely,

The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant.
My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies. Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all!

Psalm 25:14-17

That is such a beautiful verse. And feels like it is written for today.

This religion of Enoughness puts us as the savior of our lives. Puts us as the answer to the scarcity that we feel so we strive and strive and strive to be enough. Which is never enough so we shame ourselves. Shame survives by convincing you that you are alone.

People have never been lonelier than they are now.

Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all!

Psalm 25:16-17

We need a Savior. We need Jesus. We need a church family to belong to that speaks about Jesus. (Instead of the replacements–club, sports, Instagram followers–that never fill that Enoughness.)

According to the same Barna research, respondents who belong to a religious tradition, seem to have stronger feelings of being in relationship with others. Respondents who identify with Christianity (19%) or other faiths (22%) are less inclined than their counterparts without a faith (31%) to say they feel isolated.  https://www.barna.com/research/global-connection-isolation/

What is the difference between being in a community of “nice” people versus a community of “real” people? 

You can find nice people in your social circles. You can find nice people at church. You can find real people at church. You can find real people in your social circles.

At this time in your life, which one do you need?  Why?

What about the possibility of a community that reads Psalm 25 together? Or read the Psalms together? Who collectively together say My life hurts, I’m lost, and I need the hope of something and I’m choosing Jesus. This is the gift of people.

An experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness but it does offer a ministry of presence. These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness, that we are not alone in our struggle for Enoughness, and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time. With the authority of Scripture to verify this. With a Savior who says you began enough and I am your redeemer. Here is where you belong.

There is something very special about that. There is also something vulnerable about that.

Some will choose their known loneliness over the unknown vulnerability. Some will choose the vulnerability and find their soul connecting to the Savior which then leads to love. Love for yourself (so hard!) and love for the rest of us who struggle. Love is simple and complicated. Your world needs love. Love will break your heart. Meanwhile you are loved and known by a Savior–who is not you.

Find that vulnerable ministry of presence in a church family. You belong.

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A small book about being the people that hurting people need.

“This is the book that I wish I had had for people in my life that have suffered and needed me to be that compassionate friend. This is the book that I wish others in my life had read before they dismissed my pain, or compared it to theirs, or stumbled horribly through trying to lessen my pain because it was actually really about THEM not feeling comfortable with it.”

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