There is something in the human race that needs and seeks connectivity with a community. That desire originated in creation. God said, “Let US make man in OUR IMAGE and OUR LIKENESS” (Genesis 1:26-28). The US and OUR were the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who had been living in perfect family/community forever. Man was designed with THEIR image and likeness, part of which is family/community. The only thing in the Garden of Eden that God said “it is not good” was “for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).
Facebook To The Rescue
Isn’t it interesting that in the 80’s the seeker-friendly movement helped churches run more like corporations in order to attract people. Now corporations like Facebook are seeking to operate like churches.
On June 22, 2017, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, spoke at the inaugural Communities Summit in Chicago. He spoke of Facebook’s goal to bring greater connectivity to people that they once found in groups like churches and little league teams. He identified the decline of community, connectivity, and support in groups like churches. His goal is to use Facebook to fill in the gaps. He made some very good points that should challenge God’s people in both their identity and mission.
Some of his points were as follows, “It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.”
Zuckerberg suggests that Facebook can help fill those gaps using it’s networking power to organize, “We started a project to see if we could get better at suggesting groups that will be meaningful to you. We started building artificial intelligence to do this. And it works. In the first 6 months, we helped 50% more people join meaningful communities.” Some took his message as an attempt to replace churches or other organizations, but for sure he is seeing the gap in churches and is ready with Facebook to continue to improve in filling it.
Enigma in social media and connectedness
A lot of researchers are troubled by an enigma that is accompanying the rise of social media (which tends to challenge Zuckerberg’s ideas). It seems that while we are more socially connected online with sites like Facebok, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit at the same time we are more socially isolated. As a matter of fact, online connectedness without physical connectedness can tend to increase feelings of aloneness. Research over the past 5+ years seems to confirm this.
Google the phrase Facebook isolation and 83,100,000 results will appear. Google Facebook depression and you will get 91,900,000 hits. These feelings of aloneness and isolation have corresponding effects on depression and suicide. Aaron Kheriaty director of the Medical Ethics Program at Cal-Irvine writes in First Things (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/08/dying-of-despair), “the suicide crisis in America has reached epidemic proportions. Rates are growing coast to coast, in rural and urban areas, among the poor and the rich, the young and the old. What in the world is going on, and what do we do about it?”
While many factors are listed as causes of depression and suicide such as social fragmentation and an overall decrease in religious involvement, Kheriatly boils the problem down to despair. Kheriaty also notes from research that, “prayer, religious faith, participation in a religious community, and practices like cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, and other virtues can reduce the risk of depression [and], lower the risk of suicide… One study of 89,000 people showed that those ‘who attend any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide’ than those who don’t.” It highlights the component of real, not just online connectedness with faith communities.
Important revelation and reaffirmation of the call on the church
God can heal depression and mental illness and it may need medical or psychological assistance. The aloneness and isolation that often contributes to it can be helped by God’s people living in His design for real community.
These trends and revelations show us something important for the church. God can heal depression and mental illness and it may need medical or psychological assistance. The aloneness and isolation that often contributes to it can be helped by God’s people living in His design for real community. As we do we show the world a light that is found in Christ and among His people. Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth… (14) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; (15) nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Aloneness is curable in Jesus and His house! Ps 68:6 “God makes a home for the lonely in His house.”
Aloneness is curable! God confirmed the need to cure aloneness, and He showed us how to do it at creation. The only thing in His creation order that He said was “not good” was “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). God then moved to begin the process to cure it, the creation of His family.
Jesus echoed this by revealing His design and cure for aloneness in His church. Mark 10:29-30 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, (30) but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.
Jesus obviously knew what the Psalmist said about God’s house centuries earlier. Psalms 68:5-6 A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. (6) God makes a home for the lonely.
God’s people need to stand up (on their everyday mission trips), wave their arms, and say “over here, come here, join us, Jesus has a family you can be part of!” The cure for aloneness is in Jesus and among His people! Like Andrew we need to bring people to Jesus (Jn 1:41-43), who will lift their despair, “come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and you will find rest in your soul” (Mt 11:28), and to His family were aloneness is healed (Ps 68:6).
The church’s call
We can’t fulfill this call by simply going to church. Instead, we must be the church every day and everywhere we are. When Jesus says, “Come follow me,” He isn’t calling us to start a class or offer a program but to follow Him and open our hearts to others.Aloneness is curable in Jesus and His house! Click To Tweet
Practical ways to help call people out of loneliness through Jesus.
- Welcome everyone you meet. Jesus welcomed strangers and marginalized people (Luke 19:1-10). In the same way that Zacchaeus was a “son of Abraham” and worthy of Jesus’ time, the marginalized and lonely people that you interact with are loved by God and worthy of your time too. Extend a kind word to everyone you meet, but also seek ways to share your time, energy and life with them.
- Engage people.We are not just inviting people to programs or services (Rom 12:13-20). It is a personal connection we offer.
- Consider ways to share meals/hospitality. In the whole gospel of Luke, Jesus is either at a meal, going to a meal, or just finishing a meal. In Biblical culture, meals were the main means of interacting and showing hospitality.
- Pay attention. Jesus told the disciples as they were busy serving Him, “lift up your eyes and look on the fields they are white with harvest” (Jn 4:35). An uplifting word or kind action may begin a process of God to change a life. We have to look at people in order to see them.
Online connections can help but they cannot replace the real thing.
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