CV NEWS FEED // A new study offered insight into the epidemic of adult loneliness in the U.S. and what the Church can do to help.
Communio, a nonprofit that works with churches across the United States to strengthen marriages and family life, recently published a Nationwide Study on Faith and Relationships. The study, authored by J.P. De Gance, provides insight into the crisis of loneliness, which affects approximately half of all U.S. adults.
“Being considered lonely has been found to shorten life spans having the same public health effect as smoking 15 cigarettes per day,” De Gance wrote.
The study found that those who attend church, regardless of their relationship status, are less likely to be lonely. Only 22% of church goers in the survey reported that they were lonely.
However, among that 22%, the data revealed that “single church goers are over 3 times more likely to be considered lonely than their married church-going counterparts.”
“Just 15 percent of married people in church are considered lonely,” De Gance wrote. “More than 50 percent of all singles [attending church] are considered lonely with the higher loneliness reported not among widows, but among never-married men and women ages 30-39.”
The study found that reported rates of loneliness for single churchgoers who have never married increased from 47% in their 20s to 66% in their 30s.
“Perhaps the widespread feelings of loneliness among single people are part of what fuels critiques from some Christians that many churches make an idol out of marriage,” De Gance noted. “These statements, while well-intentioned, may also be born out of the experience that more and more Christians today are not currently married and may never become married despite so often desiring it.”
According to the study, 68% percent of never-married men in their 30s who attend church are considered lonely, while for never-married women in their 30s, the rate is 64%.
Widowed participants in the survey reported lower rates of loneliness than that of the never-married participants. Thirty percent of widowers, and 53 percent of widows under the age of 50 reported being lonely. Thirty-eight percent of widowers, and 51 percent of widows between 50-69 said they were lonely.
De Gance wrote, “The loneliness data for those who have never married reinforces the truth found in Genesis 2:18 that, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’”
“Far from being an idol, this data on the loneliness gap between single and married church goers reinforces the ongoing importance of marriage as a major solution for what ails the Church and her people,” De Gance continued.
Cohabitating church goers struggle with loneliness at a higher rate than married church goers, according to the study. “Cohabiting women were 76 percent more likely to struggle than married women and 85 percent more likely to struggle than a cohabiting man. Both cohabiting men and women were far more likely to report being lonely than married men and women,” De Gance added.
How should churches and parishioners respond to this epidemic of loneliness?
“Churches must lead a relationship revolution,” De Gance wrote. “The very existence of such a significant number of lonely single Christians should convict the hearts of pastors and married Christians everywhere.”
He continued, “While adjusting ministry to both encourage and strengthen marriage is badly needed, the survey findings also expose the need to form authentic community with a focus on effectively engaging singles in fellowship. This may often mean building sustained Christian friendships both inside and outside of church, and amongst those of different marital statuses.”
To build these friendships, De Gance suggested simply inviting others over for a meal: “Authentic Christian fellowship over mealtime between married and single church goers is just one intentional step married Christians can take to close the loneliness gap.”