Lonely in Church?

Lonely in church

I grew up in a small church, the daughter of a pastor who had a shepherd’s heart and a wife with the gift of hospitality. My parents invested deeply in the lives of many people and our home was a place where others in the church were free to come and go. Our church family was part of our family. I remember thinking as a child that if I never married it wouldn’t matter, because I’d always have a church family.

Reality as a single adult has been different than I’d anticipated as a child. I’ve struggled to find my niche in almost every church I’ve attended. It’s been one of my greatest disappointments as an adult. As a child I hadn’t taken into account how not having a companion would cause me to feel lonely at many church events attended mostly by couples and families — more lonely than staying at home alone. There have been times I’ve been tempted to give up on church altogether. Never on the Lord, mind you, but on church attendance.

And yet I know that the church — not just one, but all believers in Jesus all over the world — is indeed the Family of God, of which I’m a part, and that my spiritual health depends on staying connected to that Family. I want to take heed to the encouragement in Hebrews to “be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 HCSB)

I believe there are three important elements to relating to the Family of God, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I may not find all three of them in the church I attend. If I do, that’s wonderful. But if I don’t, I need to find the missing elements in other places — a mix and match of sorts — rather than hopping from one church to another trying to find them all in one place.

Three Important Functions of the Family of God

1. Spiritual Nurture

Spiritual nurture

Whether as a baby Christian or a veteran of the faith, each of us needs spiritual nourishment regularly. In a church this may be from the sermon, a Sunday School class, a small group, or a Bible study. In an ideal world, we’d find this nourishment in all of them, every time we attend. In the broken world we live in, that’s not always reality. Rather than become resentful or blame others for not adequately feeding us spiritually, we need to take responsibility to find that nourishment. In our modern era this isn’t difficult, especially in countries where there is freedom of religion. From Christian radio to the internet, we can hear sermons, listen to worship songs, and participate in online Bible studies. Even locally outside of our church we can often find Bible studies that are open for anyone to attend.

2. Connectedness with Other Believers

This connectedness is for far more than accountability in showing up for church on Sunday morning. It’s for knowing each others’ hearts well enough to effectively challenge and encourage each other to keep following hard after God in every situation in our lives.

Connecting with others

For various reasons — not just being single — It’s been difficult for me to find this connectedness on a consistent basis in the churches I’ve been part of as an adult. But in that absence I’ve been incredibly blessed with a handful of friends outside of church who have met this need, and I for them, for several decades. Because they know my history inside and out, I don’t have to fill them in on background information when I call them for counsel or encouragement. They already have the backstory. They have helped me sort through the perplexities of life, guided me in gaining the right perspective, laughed and cried with me, and most of all kept me grounded in a close relationship with Jesus. I trust I do the same for them.

I also intend to keep trying to build connected relationships with those in my church.

Connectedness with others is more difficult to find than spiritual nurture, but I believe God is eager to help us meet this need if we ask Him. If it doesn’t come as soon as you’d like, trust He has a reason for the absence — perhaps so He can show Himself more real to you on a personal basis.

3. Opportunities to Serve Out of One’s God-given Gifts and Life Purpose

Serving with one's gifts

God has called each of us to serve using the gifts He’s given us. A reading of Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25 should sober all of us into realizing that investing them back into God’s Kingdom is not an option. Sometimes God calls us to do this within the church we are attending. Other times He calls us to do so beyond the congregation we worship with — perhaps because our church doesn’t have service opportunities to match our callings, or simply because God wants us to serve elsewhere. The Holy Spirit will lead us in this if we are willing to be used in His service wherever He calls us.

If any of these aspects are missing in your church, I encourage you to take action in finding them elsewhere. And remember, the lack of them isn’t something to blame on your pastor or your church. Consider that it’s all been orchestrated by God who sees the whole Family of God beyond the walls of our local church and knows where He most wants you to be nurtured, connected and to serve.

How is your relationship with the Family of God? Are you adequately experiencing all these functions as you relate to other believers, either within your church or outside it?

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Comments

  1. Kerri says

    Hello, firstly I ant to say how much I gleaned from this timely article. I feel encouraged that one does not have to strive to gain all three of these from one local church body but from the church in general. I am a good example. I’m totally blind and my local church is spiritually nourishing, I have friends online and off from whom e gain encouragement and I use my talents to serve online teaching Bible study. Thanks so much for this article.

  2. PatriciaF. says

    Hi–

    To answer your questions, I would have to say ‘NO’. I’ve not been part of a local church for over 25 years–after going through a very difficult experience with a small Messianic Jewish congregation. I was awfully naive about the tangled relationships going on within the group. And I found myself ‘on the outs’ with the leadership, and with one other member of their so-called ‘core group’. I left before the congregation imploded.

    The experience nearly changed my view of God, and almost wrecked what faith I had. In the initial days and weeks afterwards, I felt that God didn’t care much about how the leader of this group treated the members. Or worse: that He was on the leader’s side, instead of on the side of those who were hurt and/or damaged by the experience. It has taken me a long time to get away from that perspective.

    I tried a few local churches afterwards. I attended a number of Sunday services in a row. But I never made connections with the members. I am an introvert by nature and personality, so it was difficult to make new friends there.

    Now, with the Internet (and Facebook), I found a church in New York City (of all places!) where the Gospel is preached every week. I listen to the pastor’s sermon podcasts, and find them a great blessing. And I’ve connected with the pastor, his wife, and a number of the congregants via Facebook. Even if we never all meet in person, it is wonderful to find ways to share online.

    I do hope that, one day, God will allow me to visit this church, and to thank all those I’ve ‘met’ online. Until that day, I’ll continue to listen to the podcasts.

  3. Roger Michalski says

    This is something I have been struggling with for a long time. Good article. Helped me have a little hope for myself. Thank you so much. God bless.

  4. Beryl says

    I am connected to a local church. I serve the church by teaching the Bible to elementry age kids. I am lonely in my local church. I have some people I connect with. I don’t feel the family love. One older female in my church told me I needed a man. This comment made me angry and disappointed. I do not know where to go to get connected with others. I tried interacting with other singles groups from neighboring churches but have not found my niche. I hang out with my sister one day a week. Would really like to connect with someone in the church. I am the singles minstry leader at my church. I could not get other singles involved. My situation is that I’ve never been married, nor do I have children. I am 55 years old.
    Most of the singles in my church have been married and have children.

  5. Karen says

    Great article. Yes, it is really easy to feel left out in church as it seems that so much is geared to families with children. My husband and I had ministered in churches for almost all of our 32-year marriage. When he passed away suddenly in 2008, I continued ministering in the church we had attended together, but it never felt right. Eventually I had to leave and find a church that was a better fit for me. People of all ages and in all stages of life are welcome there. I still sit by myself every Sunday but it does not bother me as I learned to do alone when I was very young. I have made some friends and there is a nice group of people my age that meets once a month for lunch and fellowship. I also have friends outside of this church community. This church has provided the opportunity for me to continue ministering with the gifts that God gave me. Christian radio has meant a great deal to me over the past few years. You may have to look in different areas to find all three of the elements mentioned in the article, but it is possible to find all of them in some way.

  6. Margaret Mensah says

    Excellent article. I am encouraged and blessed by the three important points you made.

    I used to fear that as I grow older, I will feel lonely and there will be no one to care for me.

    This fear I now replaced with faith in my maker. Heb. 13:5-6., gives me lots of hope. It reads “…, because God has said, ” Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

    In the church, as you have mentioned that we should discover our God given talents and gifts so that we can use them to build up the body of Christ. So I use my gifts to visit other church members in their homes. I teach the Sunday bible class. In addition I share the word of God to any person I meet and also at the work place. As such, my days are so occupied that there is no time for loneliness.

    God has a special purpose for the singles . So I want to fully explore and fulfill God’s call upon my life. God has so much He wants the single to do for Him that He even encourages us to press on. Just listen to this in Isaiah “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour, because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. Isaiah 54:1.
    I am blessed as a single woman. Stay blessed and happy.

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