The Loneliness Crisis in America and How the Church Can Help


Lisa Cooper

Article ID:



Oct 4, 2023


Sep 27, 2023

This is an online article from the Christian Research Journal.

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​In the United States, there is much talk of a new kind of crisis — a crisis of epic proportions that has tragic health implications. Much more covert than a war or a financial crisis, it has been referred to as the “loneliness epidemic.”1 The loneliness epidemic began years before the COVID-19 pandemic, although the pandemic has helped bring loneliness to the forefront of national dialogue.

With a growing awareness of loneliness and its effect on society, studies have been conducted by scientific, sociological, governmental, and statistical groups. Non-Christian sources have proposed reasonable solutions to loneliness. These solutions stumble upon the same realities that the Christian church has advocated for since its inception: loneliness is best treated within the context of a community with shared values, a community of people who are willing and able to give their time and talents to support one another, sacrifice for one another, and serve one another. The body of Christ, the Christian church, offers a reasonable solution to this crisis, providing important things that are needed to meet the needs of the lonely.


The unconditional love shown to us by Jesus provides the basis for how we love others.

Jesus instructs us, “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).2 Further, His life, ministry, and death provide the paradigmatic example of humility and willingness to put others before oneself. Paul writes that Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8).

The beginnings of the Christian church, recorded in the book of Acts, reveal a vision for how Christians are to live together in community, and this is key to addressing loneliness. Having just witnessed Jesus, their Savior, risen from the dead, calling them into a relationship with others through discipleship, triune baptism, and teaching (Matt. 28:19–20), the disciples establish the church. Just following the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Luke records:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)

Thus, through mutual care and concern, the Christian community grows. Susan Mettes offers a vision for how the church already does many of the things that address loneliness, “like group singing…community service, being a part of a community that meets in person, providing confidants and confessors, and having people you can call in an emergency.”3 Christian community is strengthened when we hold all things in common — not just physical things but emotional things. Paul emphasizes this in Galatians when he writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).

The burdens that we carry as humans affected by sin can make it inconvenient to forge strong bonds with others. Loneliness is one of the deep needs that must be addressed by Christians — not something that should deter us from entering into the struggles of others. Benjamin Windle writes in Digital Church in a Lonely World:

We all carry brokenness, personality quirks and the ability to make choices that hurt others. However, the potential pain of being in community is not simply an unwanted by-product; it is a key part of the purpose of community. It is the very fact that community costs us something that makes it valuable. It is within our church community that we get to practice interpersonal gospel actions like forgiveness, graciousness and kindness. What we learn about practicing the way of Jesus in a local church community is like training for our everyday lives. It is not meant to be sterile, clinical and polished. It’s real.4 (emphasis in original)


A common misconception is that loneliness implies social isolation. However, a very socially connected individual may still experience loneliness, and a significantly socially isolated individual may be completely content alone.5 Miriam Kirmayer explains, “In reality, loneliness has less to do with being alone and much more to do with the experience of feeling unseen.”6

The “attributional approach” to loneliness, which has been widely adopted by social scientists since it was written about in the 1980s by Daniel Perlman and Letitia Anne Peplau, construes “loneliness as a discrepancy between one’s desired and achieved levels of social relations.”7 This approach challenges the idea that low levels of social contact are the only factor involved in discovering or categorizing loneliness and allows for a definition that suits a broader range of feelings of loneliness.

In his article entitled “How Loneliness is Damaging Our Health,” John Leland delves into this idea: “Loneliness…is a gap between the level of connectedness that you want and what you have. It is not the same as social isolation, which is codified in the social sciences as a measure of a person’s contacts. Loneliness is a subjective feeling.”8 In other words, loneliness is personal, subjective social pain. It can manifest as numbness, exhaustion, fear, anxiety, and dread, among other things. Thus, loneliness looks different for every person.

From feeling a disconnect in personal relationships, lack of social connection, feelings of being undervalued or devalued by the broader community, and/or the existential feeling that life lacks purpose, loneliness can have different root causes. Judith Graham advocates inspecting those root causes before proposing solutions.9 In writing specifically about elders, she explains that limitations and afflictions — from hearing loss to extreme grief due to loss of loved ones — show a range of causes of loneliness. Men also have been highlighted as facing a loneliness crisis, resulting in not only higher rates of suicide (approximately 3.9 times higher than women)10 but also a significant “friendship recession.”11 According to the New York Times, less than half of men say that they are satisfied with how many friends they have, “while 15 percent said they had no close friends at all.”12 And male relationships are often less emotionally connected than those of women.13 Being aware that elders and men have a higher risk of loneliness can help us be proactive in mitigating the effects of loneliness, which can be devastating both physically and mentally.

The Physical Danger of Loneliness

Loneliness, though a mental and social feeling, has a direct impact on physical health. A study cited by many, a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, makes the alarming claim that lack of social connection can bring about health risks such as premature death as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.14

Similarly, the U.S. Surgeon General’s “Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community” states that “loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for premature death by 26% and 29% respectively.”15 Likewise, lack of social connection is associated with “increased risk of disease, including a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.”16 A study conducted in 2017 also reveals that lonely people, when exposed to a cold virus, were more likely to develop symptoms than others who did not suffer from loneliness.17 Loneliness, therefore, impacts not only the mental health of individuals who struggle with it, it can greatly increase the risk of physical ailments and even premature death.


Long before the onset of the global pandemic in 2020, doctors and lawmakers in the United States have been sounding an alarm for meaningful engagement on the topic of loneliness. According to a Cigna study,18 “Between 2018 and 2019, loneliness in the United States surged seven percentage points….That translated to 61 percent of Americans, or 3 in 5 adults, who described themselves as lonely.”19

A 2018 cross-country survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in partnership with The Economist states, “More than a fifth of adults in the United States…say they often or always feel lonely, feel that they lack companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others, and many of them say their loneliness has had a negative impact on various aspects of their life.”20 Along with this, there is a significant correlation between loneliness and other mental health concerns, lower incomes, and problematic health conditions.21

The Impact of COVID-19

With social isolation, travel bans in place, along with extensive job loss and shelter-in-place orders, loneliness became an intense topic of discussion in recent years. An extensive study entitled, “Loneliness before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis,” explains that it “remains unclear whether loneliness has increased overall since the pandemic started” (emphasis in original), but there have been reports of stable, increases, and decreases in loneliness levels.22

In other words, longitudinal studies of data reveal somewhat of an increase in loneliness, “however, observed effects were small and heterogeneous, suggesting that at this point in time, concerns about a ‘loneliness pandemic’ are likely overblown.”23 Loneliness, therefore, has plagued Americans since before the pandemic hit, and even with all kinds of social upheaval in the pandemic’s wake, loneliness remains at similar levels as it was before. The pandemic likely did not exacerbate loneliness levels, but rather exposed loneliness as being a significant problem felt by individuals across the country and around the world.

It is important to note that with the pandemic came a de-stigmatization of the topic of loneliness. There was an attempt to normalize loneliness and associated mental health issues through messaging related to how common loneliness is, how it affects relationships and individuals, and how it can be managed and alleviated. This attempt to normalize feelings of social pain are apparent, with celebrities speaking out candidly about their experiences. For example, People Magazine quoted a newsletter released by Lorde — a well-known singer and songwriter, saying: “Being away from home at a time where the country’s struggling to contain the virus, feeling isolated from friends and loved ones there. Looking out at the country I’m in and feeling estranged from so much of what I see, and knowing it feels as estranged from me…[I’m] questioning what I’m doing and why, all the time, on an unprecedented level.”24 This is only one example among many of famous individuals coming forward to disclose their feelings of loneliness, tension, pain, and social distress during the pandemic.


What are the root causes of American loneliness? There is much to be said in response to this question — too much for an article of this length — however, there is one main undergirding cause of loneliness that is prevalent in our culture worth noting, and that is the historic change in the conception of the individual. If loneliness is rooted within the self and is a subjective feeling determined by individuals, then the concept of what it means to be an individual is imperative in this discussion.

Within the context of history, many individuals would find their place in their family, their communities, their churches, and other social groupings. To that end, social success was achieved by living within the bounds of society at large, being shaped by it, and growing closer to others within those contexts. Today, there is an ever-increasing focus on the self. Being one’s most authentic self is of prime importance, and in that endeavor the need and desire for affirmation from others becomes the most important thing in perceived social success.

Self-expression, then, dictates who we are and why we matter, rather than any external factor. In this shift in perception of the individual, American culture has decidedly turned from friendships or other relationships that strengthen and challenge (“iron sharpens iron,” as per Proverbs 27:17) to placing emphasis on being affirmed and loved regardless. Alan Noble writes to this effect in his book You Are Not Your Own: “Identity is only meaningful when there are other people who can witness your identity. We have a need to be seen and affirmed; it is an inherent part of what it means to have an identity.”25 Understanding and asserting individual identity, therefore, has placed our social relations in peril, moving from friends who strengthen us and desire our good to being mere cheerleaders who have no ability to critique or challenge. The concept of personal identity itself has been collapsed into simple self-expression.

The perception of being loved and affirmed for your “most authentic self,” is one of the many factors at the root of the loneliness crisis. By turning our gaze inward, we lose the sense of being a part of a broader community, and we lose the ability to be shaped in positive ways by others. This can bring about the prevalent feelings of social pain, disunity, feelings of being disconnected or inauthentic in social interactions, and thus, compounding all these things together, loneliness results.

For historical context, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl R. Trueman traces the understanding of the individual and their relationship to community and society at large through time. He contends that the conception of identity turns inward in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries thanks to the Romantics, building on Rousseau’s ideas. He writes of their view, “The individual is at his most authentic before he is shaped (and corrupted) by the need to conform to social conventions.”26 There is something, according to this view, that is inherent in a person that should demand others’ interest and affirmation.

And so, when simply acting as an “authentic” self does not bring about desired love and connection to others, it proves upsetting. Trueman explains, “The question of identity in the modern world is a question of dignity.”27 Self-expression has, therefore, become a need. Loneliness — social pain — can stem from the feeling of not being fully affirmed or loved for who an individual is at their most authentic expression of themselves. Jordan Cooper underscores this same idea in his book The True, the Good, and the Beautiful: “Through liberalism, human dignity is now explained with language of rights. Humans are, by nature, autonomous, free creatures who have a series of rights they have been granted by their Creator. And thus to stop someone from following their own personal desires is to infringe upon another’s rights, thus denying their human value and dignity.”28 Although many other factors play into the loneliness crisis, this modern correlation between authentic self-expression and human value and dignity is certainly one of the main issues to be considered. And with the increasing normalization of the primacy of subjective feelings and growing opportunities to discuss loneliness openly have come many opinions for solutions.


Loneliness, being a subjective experience, will not and cannot be fixed with a one-size-fits-all solution. This being the case, many writers have attempted to put forth some ideas that could help alleviate loneliness and chart a safe and healthy path forward for those who are struggling. However, it is notable that many secular writers and researchers have arrived at the same conclusions as Christians: build lasting relationships — both in community and friendships — serve and reach out to others.

Christina Caron, a reporter from the New York Times who regularly covers topics related to mental health and healthcare, sums up Dr. Vivek Murthy’s advisory on loneliness in her article “How to Feel Less Lonely, According to the Surgeon General.” She summarizes his points in the report with these categories: “Reconnect with people,” “Minimize distractions,” “When people call, pick up the phone,” “Serve others,” and “Get help.”29 Some of these solutions seem like common sense. If you are feeling lonely, connecting with others and asking for help seem to be obvious places to start. But these things are much more easily said than done.

Reaching Out and Asking for Help

Cultivating lasting friendships is one of the most prevalently cited solutions to answering how one can reach out to others effectively. Friends are those who help us bear emotional burdens and come alongside us when we feel broken and alone. Benefits from meaningful friendships include extended life expectancy, logistical support, decreased stress levels, and positive peer pressure.30 A New York Times article by Catherine Pearson gives practical advice from Marisa Franco, a psychologist who studies friendship. To make and keep friends, Franco’s advice is to 1) “assume people like you”; 2) “put yourself out there”; and 3) don’t blame yourself when you feel like you “don’t have enough friends.”31 Beginning from a positive attitude and self-affirming place, according to Franco, allows friendship to shift from being a potential source of stress to being something that may offer important comfort in times of loneliness or crisis.

Also cited by Catherine Pearson is a study32 conducted by Dr. Peggy Liu from the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business, in which 13 experiments were conducted “to get a sense of how good people are at guessing how much friends value being reached out to, and what kinds of interactions are the most powerful.”33 Across all 13 experiments, people who “initiated contact significantly underestimated how much it would be appreciated.”34 Dr. Liu stresses how important even a simple “how are you?” text can be when establishing and maintaining friendships. Simple check-ins can be powerful to establish trust and feelings of mutual safety that are imperative to friendships.

Christian Relationships

These practical solutions can be aided by involvement in a meaningful community. It is much easier to reach out for help if you know that there are people in your life that you can rely on. It is much easier to pick up the phone when a friend calls when you know that friend cares for you and won’t judge you for not feeling your best in that moment. The Christian church, when functioning according to Scripture, provides meaningful relationships such as these.

Deep connection to others is enhanced by acknowledging and addressing the inherent worth of the other person. In the creation account in the Bible, God creates mankind “in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Having been created in God’s image not only gives us our own sense of worth — I am worthy of being known and loved — but it also gives us reason to show kindness and understanding, acknowledging the worth of others — they are worthy of being known and loved.

God’s love has been extended to us not just in how we have been created, but also how we have been redeemed. God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save sinners: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16–17). This self-sacrificial love is not love in the abstract. Jesus Christ came to reconcile people to the Father, and He knows and loves each of us. Jesus says to His disciples, “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30); further, God knows and loves us so much that He “chose us in him [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4).

Our understanding of human worth should also be shaped by an understanding of who we will be when Jesus returns. In his sermon entitled “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis implores people to remember that one day, we and our fellow humans will be glorified, and that, “next to the Blessed Sacrament itself,” our neighbor is “the holiest object presented to your senses,” and in our Chrisitan neighbors, “the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”35 This understanding of what glory we will receive as children of God shapes our ability to reach out and care for others.

Serving Others

It may seem counterintuitive that serving others while feeling lonely can make a significant change in feelings of loneliness, but it has been shown to be the case. In a review of recent studies published by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the claim is made that there is a “strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.”36 The health benefits of volunteering extend also to alleviation of loneliness. Citing a study on loneliness in widowers ages 51 and older,37 Christina Caron explains that those who volunteered “two or more hours a week felt less lonely — and were no lonelier than the married volunteers.”38 Volunteering brings about meaningful social interactions with others and can help improve health outcomes of those who suffer from loneliness.

Lifting Our Eyes and Seeing Others

Ultimately, service for the sake of self-improvement will not help end loneliness. A self-sacrificial attitude must support this endeavor. Alan Noble writes: “Inasmuch as it’s in our power to pursue committed friendships, we should — just be ready to die to yourself. Be willing to sacrifice things you really want to do and things that will make you more successful or wealthy or give you pleasure. Instead, commit to a church and a place, help a friend repair their home or car, and sit with someone who is suffering.”39 Friendship, from a Christian vantage point, is so much more than simply calling or texting each other; it involves lifting our eyes from our own needs and focusing on others.

Tim Keller explores this idea of a desire to be fully known and loved within the context of Christian marriage, but it relates to all human relationships. He writes: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”40 It may not be easy, but vulnerability can help forge these relationships in which we can be “fully known and truly loved.” Likewise, we must be willing to let others be vulnerable with us to forge these bonds.

As relationships grow in our lives, too, we must be grateful to God from whom all good gifts come. It is only through His mercy and grace that we have others to share life with. And Christian community is certainly not something to be taken for granted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart.41


Drawing together in community, knowing who we are made to be and why we matter can help us begin to address concerns about loneliness. Social connectedness does offer a path forward to a way out of loneliness, but we must also overcome the problematic understanding of individualism in our culture. So, by forging real, lasting bonds with others through Christian community, acknowledging the worth of others, and through service, significant change can take place in our experience of loneliness in America. Turning our eyes from ourselves to others in the context of community can change our conception of self and our conception of others.

Where loneliness is present, we can choose to act. We can come alongside those who are suffering and extend a loving hand of friendship, companionship, and help — even when those people who need that help are outside of the Christian church. And when we personally experience the depths of loneliness, we too can remember who we are made to be, who we are in Christ, and who we will become when Jesus returns.

Lisa Cooper is a senior copywriter at RevelationMedia and a freelance writer with Barna. She has a master’s degree in religion from The American Lutheran Theological Seminary.



  1. One of the many books labeling this crisis an “epidemic” is Susan Mettes, The Loneliness Epidemic: Why So Many of Us Feel Alone and How Leaders Can Respond (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2021).
  2. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
  3. Mettes, The Loneliness Epidemic, 14.
  4. Benjamin Windle, Digital Church in a Lonely World: 7 Ingredients of a Church Community (Ventura, CA: Barna Ideas, 2022), 29.
  5. John Leland, “How Loneliness Is Damaging Our Health,” New York Times, April 20, 2022,
  6. Miriam Kirmayer, “It’s Time to Rethink What Loneliness Is,” The Guardian, July 22, 2021,
  7. Daniel Perlman and Letitia Anne Peplau, “Toward a Social Psychology of Loneliness,” Chapter 2, Personal Relationships in Disorder, ed. Steve Duck and Robin Gilmour (London: Academic Press, 1981), 32,
  8. Leland, “How Loneliness Is Damaging Our Health.”
  9. Judith Graham, “There’s a Serious Problem Plaguing Some Older People: Loneliness,” Washington Post, April 7, 2019,
  10.  “Suicide Statistics,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2023,
  11. Daniel A. Cox, “American Men Suffer a Friendship Recession,” Survey Center on American Life, July 6, 2021,
  12. Catherine Pearson, “Why Is It So Hard for Men to Make Close Friends?” New York Times, June 20, 2023,
  13. Cox, “American Men Suffer a Friendship Recession.”
  14. Julianne Holt-Lunstad et al., “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, National Library of Medicine: PubMed, March 2015,
  15. Vivek H. Murthy et al., “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community,” Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, 2023,, 8.
  16. Murthy et al., “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,“ 8.
  17. Angie S. LeRoy et al., “Loneliness Predicts Self-Reported Cold Symptoms after a Viral Challenge,” Health Psychology, Vol. 36, No. 5 (2017): 512–520,
  18. “Loneliness and Its Impact on the American Workplace,” Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Index, March 2020,
  19. Stephen Petrow, “I’m Not Alone in Feeling Lonely. There Are Ways to Fight Loneliness,” Washington Post, December 4 2021,
  20. Bianca DiJulio et al., “Loneliness and Social Isolation in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan: An International Survey,” KFF, August 30, 2018,
  21. DiJulio et al., “Loneliness and Social Isolation.”
  22. Mareike Ernst et al., “Loneliness before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis,” PsyArXiv, March 29, 2022, 5,
  23. Ernst et al., “Loneliness before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” 17.
  24. Dan Heching, “Lorde Opens up about Loneliness during COVID Pandemic: 2021 Has Been ‘Tough in Completely Unexpected Ways,’” People, October 26, 2021,
  25. Alan Noble, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), 45.
  26. Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 65, Nook.
  27. Trueman, Rise and Triumph, 68, Nook.
  28. Jordan Cooper, The True, the Good, and the Beautiful (Ithaca, NY: Just and Sinner, 2021) 113–14.
  29. Christina Caron, “How to Feel Less Lonely, According to the Surgeon General,” New York Times, May 2, 2023,
  30. Tara Parker-Pope, “How to Be a Better Friend,” New York Times, accessed September 25, 2023,
  31. Catherine Pearson, “How to Make, and Keep, Friends in Adulthood,” New York Times, October 5, 2022,
  32. Peggy J. Liu et al., “The Surprise of Reaching Out: Appreciated More than We Think,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, 2022,
  33. Catherine Pearson, “Text Your Friends. It Matters More than You Think,” New York Times, July 25, 2022,
  34. Pearson, “Text Your Friends.”
  35. C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (1949; New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 46.
  36. “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research,” Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development, 2007,
  37. Dawn C. Carr et al., “Does Becoming a Volunteer Attenuate Loneliness among Recently Widowed Older Adults?,” The Journals of Gerontology, Series B, Volume 73, Issue 3, March 2018, 501–510.
  38. Christina Caron, “An Overlooked Cure For Loneliness,” New York Times, June 22, 2023,
  39. Alan Noble, “Friendship and Belonging in Middle Age,” The Gospel Coalition, April 27, 2022,
  40. Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York, NY: Penguin), 80, Nook.
  41. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper One, 1954), 20
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