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A few years ago, the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy warned of an epidemic sweeping across our nation with disastrous health effects. The epidemic he warned of was not Covid; it was an epidemic of loneliness. He first issued a warning in 2014, and in 2023 he issued an advisory further detailing the dangers of it and the need for connection and community. Loneliness was deteriorating the physical and mental well being of many, and was deemed as detrimental as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!  

Dr. Murthy appealed for the help of the nation saying, “Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis… We are called to build a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation.”

One of the greatest needs of our nation and community today is not financial, educational, or political but relational. And it just might be the need you and your church are least willing to help with. If a man walked into your Bible study with no money, no job, and no place to stay, the people would probably find a way to give him some money and help with needs. But the pressing problem today is people are showing up all the time in relational poverty, and churches can’t make the time to help. The thing most needed is the thing people are least willing to give. If the church is going to impact society it will need to meet these needs, and that means connecting relationally, in genuine community, is indispensable. 

Today’s society is structured to avoid and minimize relationships. People want to do everything on their own time and schedule, and most things will accommodate that. Relationships are bypassed in shopping, exercising, working, and the call for efficiency eliminates unnecessary bonding in every sphere of life, including church.  Friendships are mediated through screens that function like security guards filtering out every inconvenience, unpredictability, and awkward pause. Interactions are distilled down to a single sterile and nonthreatening image. Most people have thousands of friends online, but no one to talk to. 

Even when people finally do get time with others they typically find themselves so well conditioned by hours and hours of isolation, fear, and self-centeredness, that it’s impossible to go beyond superficial interactions, complaints or cliche observations about sports and weather. Time with friends and loved ones is left with a sense of loss and disappointment, having hoped for deeper, more significant, and meaningful conversations. 

The self-centeredness and general relational ineptness may be put most soberingly by a character in the 2009 movie World’s Greatest Dad. In it a man played by comedian Robin Williams is dealing with his son's death and says, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It is not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” The relational ineptness of today’s society is devastating.

People need to rewire how to think about life and relationships, and there is no better way than to look to God’s design. The church needs to reprogram themselves to be the people God calls them to be. Relationships are the seedbed that ministry grows out of. When relationship building is broken, so is ministry. In 1961 theologian J.I. Packer wrote a classic and very influential book on evangelism, and he highlighted the importance of relationship as a key strategy. He said, 

We have to give ourselves in honest friendship to people, if ever our relationship with them is to reach the point at which we are justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ, and can speak to them about their own spiritual needs without being either discourteous or offensive. If you wish to do personal evangelism, then– and I hope you do; you ought to pray for the gift of friendship.” 

One of the chief reasons churches stagnate is because they take the shortcut of doing ministry without real relationships. They don’t know the people they are trying to reach. They stay superficial and safe, which is sterile, and never realize the life-giving community that God designed for them. If we want to reclaim the mission of the church and reach our nation and community, then we need to return to meeting the needs of the people God has placed around us. We need to develop relationships.