An epidemic of loneliness

There is an epidemic of loneliness in our culture. In Bowling Alone social scientist Robert Putman writes:

Something important happened to the social bonds and civil engagements in America over the last third of the twentieth century. Before exploring why, let's summarize what we have learned. cover

During the first two-thirds of the century Americans took a more and more active role in the social and political life of their communities-in churches and card tables and dinner tables. Year by year we gave more generously to charity, we pitched in more often on community projects, and (insofar as we can still find reliable evidence) we behaved in an increasingly trustworthy way toward one another. Then, mysteriously and more less simultaneously, we began to do all these things less often. (Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone.)

The result is an epidemic of loneliness. Notice some of the following graphs.

Participation in organizations.

Participation in clubs.

Informal socializing.

Membership in the PTA

Card playing.

Bowling leagues.

The results are devastating. People who are not in a group are twice as likely to die in the next year as those who are in a group. People who have strong social connections, but poor health habits (eating, exercise, smoking, etc.) are just as healthy as those with good health habits but weak social connections. As John Ortberg says it, "Better to eat Twinkies with friends than to eat broccoli alone."

One study injected 270 people with a virus that causes the common cold. Those with strong social connections did not get as sick, did not stay sick as long, and produced less mucus than the less connected group. Again, to quote John Ortberg, "This goes to prove that lonely people are snottier than the rest."

Robert Putnam describes this change as a loss of social capital. The result is an epidemic of loneliness and the depression that accompanies it. Marin Seligman. writes:

Depression is now ten times as prevalent as it was in 1960, and it strikes at a much younger age. The mean age of a person's first episode of depression forty years ago was 29.5, while today it is 14.5. cover

The result is an opportunity for the gospel. The result is an explanation for why the "Invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month" works. People are lonely. If we love them in common, ordinary, pedestrian ways like having them into our homes and feeding them our coffee cake, they will warm to the message of God's love.

Let me invite you to plan three parties in the next three months and invite every member and every prospect. Four good choices are:

  • Christmas party (White elephant gifts are fun)
  • New Years Party (it is really depressing to spend New Years by yourself)
  • Super Bowl (I think it is a good idea to cancel your Sunday night service and have Sunday School parties.
  • Valentines Day party
  • Systematically and consistently invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. See if you don't thoroughly assimilate at least one couple or two individuals. If we can thoroughly assimilate two people per class per quarter, we can turn the world upside down. We can do it by inviting every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. We can do it because there is an epidemic of loneliness in our culture.