“Loneliness in America.” Try googling that phrase. You will only need to read the headlines to know that loneliness and social isolation are considered by many experts to be an “epidemic” in America and a looming health crisis. Dig deeper, and it will be eye-opening. People can disagree about how serious the crisis is, but a former surgeon general has written that “Loneliness is a growing health epidemic.”
During the month of January, I preached a series of sermons titled, FOUR KEYS TO JOY. We discussed the challenges we are facing in contemporary America, and I reviewed the social science research of the last twenty years that documents much of the angst we are experiencing. Specifically, we talked about spiritual emptiness, loneliness/social isolation, the lack of meaning and purpose, and the fraying of communities that hold us together and keep us healthy. In the final sermon, we addressed the crucial role of the church in addressing all these issues.
Last week the Pew Research Center released its latest report on “Religion’s Relationship to Happiness, Civic Engagement, and Health Around the World.” This well researched report contained a paragraph that summarizes their work: “This analysis finds that in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, regular participation in a religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement (specifically, voting in elections and joining community groups or other voluntary organizations). This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being. But the analysis finds comparatively little evidence that religious affiliation, by itself, is associated with a greater likelihood of personal happiness or civic involvement.”
The timing of this report is auspicious. As one staff member said to me, “It’s like they were live streaming our services.” This is a wakeup call for those of us involved in religious communities. Religious affiliation or belief in God does not have much impact on one’s sense of well-being and joy, but religious engagement is a powerful predictor of personal satisfaction, optimism, and emotional health. Every church in America, regardless of theology or denomination, should be redoubling its efforts to reach, engage, and involve the millions of people whose lives are more and more isolated and empty.
A friend of mine has a great response to those who say, “I believe in religion. I just don’t believe in organized religion.” His calm retort is, “There’s no other kind.” To that, I say AMEN.
No matter where you are in your life or spiritual journey, I encourage you to check out some of our Sunday morning classes. We know from the research, you’ll be glad you did.