The Loneliness Epidemic: Why So Many of Us Feel Alone — and How Leaders Can Respond

Diana Rubi reviews Susan Mettes' new book.

Susan Mettes
Brazos Press, 224 pages | Published November 2, 2021

Loneliness doesn’t always look the way we think it should. Spiritual leaders need to understand this if churches are to be part of the solution. In The Loneliness Epidemic, Susan Mettes offers a comprehensive understanding of loneliness, how it can impact us and the critical role that the church should play to help address it. Mettes analyzes loneliness and myths often associated with it through two prominent surveys done by the Barna Group, calling on spiritual leaders to deepen relationships through hospitality and community.

The survey analysis was very telling, breaking some of the myths of loneliness, but what most resonated with me was the discussion of friendship. Often, especially in our spiritual communities, we prioritize romantic or familial relationships and don’t talk enough about the importance of quality friendships. Mettes says, “If belongingness is the near opposite of loneliness, friendship is often the most powerfully anti-loneliness form of belonging. Yes, even more than kinship.”

My parents migrated to the U.S., but most members of their families did not follow them. Therefore, I grew up with few relatives around me. My “family” mostly consists of deep friendships that turned into chosen family. For many years, I grieved the desire to have kin surrounding me. However, with time, I have witnessed the power of finding belonging through friendships and chosen family.

At times, Mettes breaks down the study by active practicing Christians, non-practicing Christians and non-Christians. While this breakdown was important to help understand where people landed on certain scales of loneliness, I wish Mettes had included a deeper understanding of non-practicing Christians and the loneliness that can often be felt within the Church and how to address it. There is a glimpse of this when Mettes discusses disconnected young Christians wanting to “be able to do both [faith and a life of justice],” but what I think is missing is an expanded description of what this means and how leaders can take a more active role beyond “listening and seeking to be reliable.”

After moving to new cities and exploring churches, the very first thing that I consistently noticed was that I was the youngest and, more often than not, one of few people of color in the room. Church leaders need to ask the vital questions: what do young Christians mean when they say they want to be able to do both faith and a life of justice? How can leaders foster this commitment to faith and justice? Finding a deep understanding of this and practicing a commitment to faith and justice can reengage non-practicing Christians and provide that space of belonging that the church was meant to foster.

The discussion on loneliness that this book offers is an important one and there is space to expand further on the ways that loneliness can be addressed within church communities. This will be an important read if you are already a leader in ministry or looking to be one; and along with reading this, it will be crucial to reflect and practice ways to foster a community of belonging and togetherness.

Presbyterian Outlook supports local bookstores. Join us! Click on the link below to purchase The Loneliness Epidemic: Why So Many of Us Feel Alone — and How Leaders Can Respond from BookShop, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. As an affiliate, Outlook will also earn a commission from your purchase.