Here’s a hard and uncomfortable truth. We Christians very often face loneliness and rejection in churches.
In 1985 when I got saved at the age of 27, I thought that my life was going to be so different in terms of having a church family. I thought “Finally! This is it! I’m going to feel full acceptance. I’m going to be invited everywhere. I’m going be part of everything and I’m always going to completely loved!” And for a while I was. I immediately signed up for every ministry I could volunteer in. I had that new believer enthusiasm and I was on fire! It helped that I was young, single, lived alone, had tons of energy and had my evenings and weekends free. I was popular and in everything.
One of those ministries was a young adult group called “Barnabas” and we ministered to widows, divorcees, single moms, the elderly and the sick. We were all in our 20s, single and an even mix of men and women. We always hung out together. But then inevitably couples would start to pair off. Before you know it, there was a wedding every other month. Out of about 30 people there were only a handful of us singles left. I was suddenly were left out of the action. It was “couples” night or they were always hanging out and I not invited. The situation had changed and I was no longer part of the “in-crowd”. And this was way before social media, which would have added another layer of pain and isolation. Then almost like a domino effect, the dynamics changed with other groups I was involved in too. Little cliques began to form, allegiances changed and I was on the “outs”. It was a kick in the gut.
But then a single mom with 2 kids started to chat with me and I got to know her. I joined a home group and met new people and we began to hang out. I met another quiet person though a volunteer activity. I confess, honestly and embarrassingly, that during my popular phase I probably wouldn’t have even noticed them. I was humbled and I learned to notice more people outside of those popular orbits. My loneliness was actually a gift from God that taught me a valuable lesson about to see the worth of ALL people. Side note: these chosen few have been my best friends for 35 years.
Flash forward to 2019 and I just recently had the exact conversation with 4 separate people about the same issue. Suddenly, they are no longer invited to go out. They see the “in-crowd” form cliques and doing totally amazing things together on social media…things that they are not invited to. “But wait, isn’t church the place you are supposed to feel always connected and loved? If this is the place we preach an ‘all inclusive Gospel’ why do we feel excluded or even snubbed once we become Christians?” You could hear the pain and frustration.
"Why do we feel excluded or even snubbed once we become Christians?” You could hear the pain and frustration."
Ok, here’s the thing…the church is a messy place because we are messy people. We bring our history, pain, shame and expectations into God’s kingdom. We want so desperately to be accepted that we start to compare ourselves to other believers. We see all those happy groups of on Facebook that we are not part of and it destroys us. We can’t MAKE people include us so what’s the answer?
Apparently this is a BIG issue in churches and after my own experiences and reading the Bible, tons of great articles and blogs this one thing is true: it happened in the early church and it happens now. The writer Tara Sing offers these suggestions in her excellent article called “Four Truths to Combat Loneliness at Church”:
- Love Your Neighbor: “Be loved by your neighbour” is not a quote from Jesus. I’m not told to worry about feeling included, but to get on with including others. I’m not told to feel loved, but to get busy loving others. It’s not about whether I have friends, but about who I am being a friend to.
- Check the Facts: Emotions can easily take over our ability to think rationally. Keeping a diary of times I’ve been loved and cared for has really helped me. Am I taking opportunities to connect with people (going out for lunch after church, attending church events, belonging to a growth group, arriving early and leaving late so I can speak to others, etc.)?
- It’s Hard Work: Ephesians says “bear with one another in love”—because there are times we seriously need to! I am in a family of saved sinners. There will be times when I am left out or hurt by others at church, so I need to prepare myself to forgive and show grace in the same way Christ does. I will also hurt others—when I do I need to be humble and seek forgiveness.
- You Are Not Alone: Everyone feels lonely—even the person I assume doesn’t. There is no such thing as an ‘in-crowd’, because no-one realizes they’re in it. The people we assume are fine and have it all together socially sometimes don’t. Everyone feels lonely or disconnected or insecure occasionally. It’s not just me. It’s not just you. It’s all of us.
"Regardless of how I feel at church, I am adopted, chosen, redeemed and hand-picked by God to belong to his family"
She concludes with: “The most important facts I need to remember come from the Bible. Regardless of how I feel at church, I am adopted, chosen, redeemed and hand-picked by God to belong to his family (Eph 1). I am washed clean from every sin by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1). No matter how included or excluded I feel, nothing can separate me from God’s love (Rom 8), because Christ purchased me (1 Cor 6) and I belong to him (Col 1). No truth is greater than these.”
Even if we are hurting, let’s see this as a gift from God to grow and be transformed more into Christ. NOTE: if social media causes you to lose sleep, get off it! Then take that step in faith and be a friend to someone you see is alone or shy at
church. They are hidden treasures. Let’s initiate those “uncommon relationships” even if it’s hard. Let us as individuals at
Wellspring be inclusive and see what the Lord can do in and through us!
Written by Laura Millian,
Well Kids Volunteer at Wellspring Church