Two years ago, the UK appointed a “Minister of Loneliness” as part of their National Health Service to tackle a rising epidemic of loneliness. Doctors could refer patients to community workers who connect people with social gatherings such as cooking classes, walking clubs, and art groups. It’s called “social prescribing” and was done in response to research showing the strong correlation between loneliness and poor health.
In the US, a recent study found that 61% of working adults self-identify as lonely. Yet, when you look just at the portion of the population that is active on social media, that number rockets up to 72%. Those with the heaviest use on social media are the loneliest. That’s an alarming statistic and has significant implications for ministry.The church holds a unique position by having a powerful tool in the fight against loneliness: small groups. Click To Tweet
Is the Church contributing to loneliness?
The church holds a unique position by having a powerful tool in the fight against loneliness: small groups. Most churches want to get people connected into small groups. But how do churches go about doing this? Often they point to an app. Essentially, the church is saying, “Are you lonely? Do you want authentic relationships? Go online.” When a church uses apps and social media as a primary strategy for assimilation, it is not only ineffective but it perpetuates the very connection between loneliness and social media.
If loneliness is the problem, why try to cure it through an impersonal methodology? As the studies show, our use of social media doesn’t help us feel more connected. Rather, it seems to make things worse. In the church, we need to rethink how we help people get connected and make acquaintances.If loneliness is the problem, why try to cure it through an impersonal methodology? We need to rethink how we help people get connected and make acquaintances. Click To Tweet
Small changes can battle loneliness
I’m not saying we don’t have our small group info online or don’t have apps to connect people to it. I am saying we shouldn’t rely on that as our first-line strategy. The assimilation process needs to project the personal connections that small groups offer.
Here are 2 small changes the church can make in their assimilation process to address the loneliness epidemic:
1. Sandwich online interaction with personal connections
In the old days, we used to print small group information on pamphlets. However, we never expected people to pick up the brochure and join a group solely based on that piece of paper with no human interaction. Rather, we talked with our newcomers, asked them what they were looking for in a small group, and fostered introductions to people already involved. Personal connections were key. They still are. And with a simple “sandwich” strategy, personal connections are still possible in this digital age.Your primary strategy for assimilation must be personal connection Click To Tweet
Your primary strategy for assimilation must be personal connection and your welcome team is a great place to start. Train and organize official greeters and roving welcomers to look for new people, teach them active listening skills, and encourage them to introduce newcomers to people who have similar backgrounds. Also, equip these official and incognito welcomers by providing them with up-to-date information on the best places to point people who are looking to connect.
Then sure, set up your app, flood your social media with great opportunities for connection, and certainly utilize those online sign-ups for planning purposes and analytics. Now you have names, addresses, emails, and even phone numbers of those looking to connect. Use them!
Follow-up with another personal connection. Respond to all sign-ups by having a staff member or the lay leader of that small group, bible study, or event send a personalized “we look forward to seeing you” note.
2. Back to breaking bread
As I’ve moved twice in the last few years, I’ve attended a lot of new churches as a visitor. Just recently one church offered lunch after the service. I thought, “That’s a good idea. They get newcomers to stay for lunch and then have a chance to begin having conversations and forming relationships. Sprinkle in some small group leaders or apprentices, and you’re halfway there.” And it didn’t hurt that they had the lunch catered by a restaurant locally famous for its salads and zucchini bread.
Eating together is a time-tested method of fostering personal connections. It can be as simple as providing a good lunch or bringing back that church favorite, the potluck. For churches on a tighter budget, check out one of my previous blog entries on a brunch connection strategy.
Be intentional as you combat loneliness
With the stats pointing to an epidemic of loneliness, effective strategies to encourage and build personal connections will meet a deep need. What you will find is that training a few to model healthy interpersonal communication will be catchy. With intentionality, your church experience can be transformed into a place where people feel seen, heard, welcome and connected.
I’m sure there are lots of creative ideas on how to make personal connections a hallmark of the church today. Basically, anything that makes the next step easier and more personal than “go to the app” is a step in the right direction. We would love to hear how you battle the loneliness epidemic in your church!With the stats pointing to an epidemic of loneliness, effective strategies to encourage and build personal connections will meet a deep need. Click To Tweet
Barnabas Study! Over the next six weeks of Lent, our blog posts will consist of devotionals surrounding one of my favorite biblical personages. Barnabas was marked with humility, wisdom, and encouragement. A fantastic meditation for the Lenten season! Join us as we look at the impact Barnabas made with practical application so that we too can make a difference like Barnabas!
Finding the Flow- Small groups become stale and lifeless unless they foster a safe place to allow members to wrestle with questions. This practical guide will help your small group leaders create a space where people know and are known by others, and to open people up to encounter God more deeply.
Finding the Flow Small Group Leader Training- This downloadable package contains everything you need to run small group facilitator training.