Kat Osborn, CEO at Safe Families, reveals a new course to help Christians join the fight to end loneliness in our communities.

Kat Osborn's childhood Christmas dinner

Source: Supplied/Kat Osborn’s childhood Christmas dinner

The UK is in a loneliness epidemic. The ONS found that a shocking one in twenty adults feel lonely often or always, and according to research published in the journal PLOS Medicine, it’s as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Research from Kings College has found that young people who are often lonely are twice as likely to have mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, and it doesn’t stop there, because a separate study from the Campaign to End Loneliness suggested that loneliness increases the risk of early mortality by 26%. 

As this feeling of isolation sweeps our nation, the Church must pay attention. It is estimated that up to two million adults across the UK are suffering from loneliness, so it is imperative that we seek an antidote to this endemic issue.

loneliness holds no regard for age, status, role, or religious belief and Christians aren’t immune

It is important to recognise that loneliness holds no regard for age, status, role, or religious belief and Christians aren’t immune. Many Christians are deeply lonely despite their personal relationship with Jesus. Many walking through the doors of a church will also be lonely and desperately looking for that sense of belonging from their fellow congregants. Whether it’s a single dad in the toddler group, a young adult on the fringes, a widow in the mid-week drop-in, or a couple who long for the ‘village’ to help them raise their children.

Jesus models how we might respond. He demonstrated his belief in the values of community throughout his life and ministry. He selected twelve disciples not simply to pass on teachings, but to share in his journey, forming a tight-knit community around him. They dined, travelled, learned, and experienced trials together; embodying Jesus’ vision of a faith-based community. His habit of breaking bread with a wide range of individuals - from tax collectors to lepers - shows his disregard for social status or societal norms when it came to inclusivity. These dinners weren’t just meals; they were symbolic events where barriers were broken and community was formed.

His parable of the Great Banquet, where a master invites the poor, crippled, and lame to a feast after the rich and privileged decline, echoes this message of inclusivity and community. 

I grew up in a home with an open-door policy. My parents placed value on inviting others in. I had foster siblings from the age of two until 10 and our Christmas dinners were always about how many we could possibly fit around the table. As a child, it seemed to me like the only way to do life.

At Christmas time, we’re tempted to batten down the hatches and take care of ourselves

We need to position ourselves so we’re ready to respond to opportunities for connection. At Christmas time, we’re tempted to batten down the hatches and take care of ourselves, and our families. But as Christians, we’re called to spread unconditional love, belonging and acceptance from God and we’re given these gifts to bestow on others.

A culture of belonging requires us to be safely vulnerable, open to interruption and to widen the circle of our ‘family’. Will we delve beyond the small talk? Will we pause for the person who is about to share, so we don’t miss the opportunity for connection? Will we open the doors of our homes?

If connection stops at the welcome team on a Sunday morning we’re not doing enough. Building a culture of belonging means it should permeate the very fabric of a community, and it shouldn’t rely on one person, team, or day of the week. And if the majority are ready to build deeper relationships, the Church is richer for it and uniquely positioned to model something our society is desperate for.

If you want to build deeper relationships within your community, the Belonging Course provides a beautiful challenge to step into the joy and the ups and downs of widening your circle and finding the antidote to loneliness through your church.

For more information visit belongingcourse.uk or contact the Safe Families team at belongingcourse@safefamilies.uk