A friend recently shared with me how terribly lonely she feels at church on Sundays. “Everyone has their place and their people, and I just don’t know who to sit with. I kind of feel invisible,” she explained. She isn’t alone in her feelings. Another friend shared how disconnected and lonely she feels in her small group. Even after a few months of gathering with this group, she is struggling to develop strong connections with others.
The sad reality is that too many people feel estranged and lonely even while gathering to worship with tens or hundreds of other believers. If the God we worship is a God who places the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) and believers make up the family of God (Galatians 4:4-5), then shouldn’t Church gatherings be a time of deep fellowship?
Foundation of Fellowship
In his first epistle, the apostle John explains that he has proclaimed the gospel of Christ so that believers might have fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ. This fellowship with God leads to eternal life and fellowship with each other (1 John 1:3). In modern church culture, we often equate fellowship with socializing or eating together, but John makes it clear that Christian fellowship is much deeper. The Greek word for fellowship in this passage is koinōnia and means “that which is shared in common”. A life-changing encounter with the good news of the gospel is the shared commonality of all true believers. Thus, authentic fellowship is always grounded in gospel truth, and it is this truth that binds people from every nation, tribe, race, gender, and class together as one Body of Believers. Because of a shared faith in Jesus alone, we are immediately connected with people we may have absolutely nothing else in common with. So, if this common gospel bond exists why is loneliness still so prevalent?
Christians gathering as Christians
It almost goes without saying, but for gospel fellowship to be experienced, Christians must gather together. This happens in the context of the local church and includes both large gatherings for corporate worship and small group gatherings of two or more believers (Acts 2:46). Both types of gathering are essential parts of the Christian life, but deep abiding fellowship with others will not happen simply by sitting together in the rows of a worship center on Sunday mornings. As my husband says, “the Christian life is lived out in circles, not just rows.”
True, gospel-founded fellowship is experienced as we put our feet under the same table with other believers–sharing food, conversation, and life. It’s lived out in one-on-one mentoring relationships and developed in small groups that enable us to know others at the heart level. And it happens when Christians gather as Christians. In other words, these gatherings are more than just social events where followers of Christ hang out, play games, and talk about the weather, jobs and kids. When Christians gather, Christ should be present in our conversations. As we share joys and burdens and dreams and disappointments, we must speak the truth of God’s Word to one another in love. This does not mean that every gathering should be a Bible study or every conversation must be about theology. It does mean, for those who have been transformed by the power of the gospel, Christ is never absent in our minds and hearts and, therefore, should never be totally absent in our conversations and gatherings. We will talk about about what we truly love because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). When Christians gather as Christians, deep connectedness results and loneliness has no place.
Hospitality and Vulnerability
Growth in authentic fellowship with others requires an abandonment of the “church consumer” mentality. First Peter 4:9-10 teaches that each believer is to use his or her individual gift(s) to serve others, and all are to practice hospitality without grumbling. To combat loneliness in the church, we must take our eyes off ourselves and learn to see people we might welcome and serve. Hospitality has been defined as “the generous reception of guests, visitors, or strangers” and it requires both open small groups and open homes. Do we notice people on the fringe and welcome them in as part of the family? When we feel unseen and lonely ourselves, do we plug into a small group or volunteer in an area of church ministry and ask ,”How can I use my gifts and who can I serve?” Do we reach out to someone we could mentor in the faith or even ask an older believer to mentor us? Sticking to ourselves or close to people we already know (people who don’t require too much of us) often feels most comfortable, but it is not most Christ-like.
As we welcome and serve others, we must let the facade fall. The experience of authentic gospel fellowship necessitates vulnerability. Like Paul, do we love others enough to share not only the gospel message but our very lives as well (1 Thes 2:8)? Sharing our lives means laughing and crying together. It means sharing food and time and all the resources God has given us . It means being transparent about personal sin. It means being willing to pray together, search the Scriptures together, encourage each other, and speak hard truths in love. It means humbling ourselves enough to hear and receive hard truth from those who love us. It means learning to trust others because ultimately we trust Christ.
Hope of perfected Fellowship
Christian fellowship will always fall short in this life here on Earth, and we will all struggle with feelings of loneliness from time to time. Even in seasons of richest community, there will be hints of longing for something more in the deepest places of our hearts. However, as we faithfully practice hospitality and embrace vulnerability and service, loneliness will fade and the buds of a fellowship rooted in the gospel of grace will begin to blossom visibly. These blossoms that grow in the Church offer a beautiful foretaste of the day when every tear of loneliness will be wiped away because the dwelling place of God Himself will be with man (Rev 21:3). When that glorious day comes, we will see Jesus face to face, and He will dwell with us fully. We will be His people. He will be our God. And loneliness will be no more.