Nearly half (46%) of American adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely. That same study by Cigna also found that nearly the same percentage (47%) reported feelings of being left out. That is why many say loneliness is at “epidemic levels.”
Twenty-five years ago (1994) I wrote a book (Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope) making a number of predictions for the future. Chapter eight set forth the case for a coming crisis of loneliness. Years later Philip Slater wrote about The Pursuit of Loneliness. The US Census Bureau documented the increasing number of adults living alone. Dan Kiley talked about living together loneliness in one of his books. Roberta Hestenes coined the term “crowded loneliness.” The trend was there for anyone to see if they began reading some of the sociological literature.
Of course, lots of people have written about the crisis of loneliness since then. Robert Putnam wrote about it in his famous book, Bowling Alone. He argues that people need to be connected in order for our society to function effectively. Putnam concludes, “Social capital makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.” In his book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal, Senator Ben Sasse laments that our traditional tribes and social connectedness are in collapse.
All of this comes at a cost. Julianne Holt-Lunstad has published research showing that people with weaker social ties had a 50 percent increased likelihood of dying earlier than those with stronger ones. Being disconnected, she says, is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The loneliness epidemic has arrived. Pastors and churches need to address this dangerous trend.