Gen Z Is Lonely; That's No Bueno
People are becoming increasingly lonely, and Generation Z is suffering the most.
CBS News reports these findings from a recent study of social connectedness by Cigna:
Generation Z, or those between the ages of 18 and 22, were the loneliest generation, with a "loneliness score" of 48.3. Possible loneliness scores range from 20 to 80, with the national average a 44.
Millennials (ages 23 to 37) were close behind with a score of 45.3, followed by Generation X (ages 38 to 51) with a loneliness score of 45.1 The so-called Greatest Generation, those age 72 or over, ranked as the least lonely, with a score of 38.6.
Researchers are saying this level of loneliness suggests an epidemic, a major, widespread health crisis that is in need of immediate attention.
Why should this be of pressing concern? It isn’t only that people are disconnected and perhaps sad. Loneliness can have a negative impact on human health. In an October 2017 report from CBS News, Former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy states:
"It turns out that loneliness is associated with a reduction in your lifespan that is as severe as the lifespan you see with smoking 15 cigarettes a day...We evolve to be social creatures and thousands of years ago if you were connected to other people you were more likely to have a stable food supply and to be protected from predators. So when you're disconnected, you're in a stress state. When that happens chronically, it can have a profound impact on your health."
Put aside your quibbles, if you have them, with Murthy’s evolutionary claim that loneliness is a causation for stress. Instead, consider a theological hypothesis: we’re made in the image of God, a loving community of three persons, yet one God, and creation in the image means we are inherently social. We need community because we were made for relationships.
What are the reasons for people becoming disconnected? Technology isn’t the only challenge. Church attendance is down, people spend less time with their neighbors, people spend less time with coworkers outside of the office (happy hour, softball, picnics), and families are smaller. We’ve lost touch with cultural practices that put us face to face with others, and instead replaced them with isolation, workaholism, and a weak vision for the common good.
So how do we turn the tide? A good starting point: analyze how and when your church gathers people together, and ask if those connection points are conducive to inviting friends, neighbors, and outsiders to your fellowship. Think beyond worship.
My young adult Sunday school class recently participated in a city softball league. We practiced at a park near a local university. During one of our practices there were six other college students in the park. A few were throwing around a baseball. We invited them to play with us, shared our names, and enjoyed the evening. It was a small act, but it created a place for strangers to meet and see one another as neighbors.
Maybe your church could host a picnic or a block party. Encourage your congregants to gather a few of their neighbors, cook some hot dogs on a driveway, and invite others nearby to come out of their homes for a few moments with a lawn chair for tea. If nearby families have teenagers (Gen Zers!), encourage them to bring their kids so you can say hello. Equip your church members to create an occasion where more than the adults can connect. Play basketball, play cornhole, or set up washers. Games remove pressure to converse and allow people to relax and enjoy themselves, to find a little sabbath and rest.
If there is a loneliness epidemic, I know of no body of people more equipped to help the world discover the joys of human connection, to see that we are made for relationships because we are made in the image of God. God still heals those who are hurting in our midst, and can do so through the church. This is an opportunity. Don’t miss it.