Combatting The Negative Effects Of Isolationism

Social isolation

New cohort with Neighboring Movement begins Sept. 28

There is a hidden health crisis steadily on the rise in the United States that affects millions of people each year. It is not the opioid crisis, but the rise of social isolation and loneliness. People are often surprised when they hear about this crisis. “Don’t we have more ways to connect with people than we ever have before?” they ask.

Even though there are more ways to connect with each other, nearly half of the country in 2018 expressed that they felt lonely or lacked companionship. While feeling lonely may not seem like a crisis, isolation – whether it feels like it is happening or it actually is happening to you – has profound health implications. Search anywhere online and one can see research connecting loneliness and isolation with premature death and other significant health problems.

Social health has moved front and center in the medical world because of the rapid rise in rates of isolation. Experts now use social health as a key factor in determining if a place is healthy or unhealthy. In case you are curious, the DFW area’s overall health scores are good compared to the rest of the state. But, there is a big BUT, the area scores in the lower-half percentile of social health. Translation: Even though people in the DFW area have good physical health, they are socially lonely and isolated, which affects the overall health of the area.

Churches, their congregants and pastors are not exempt from this experience. In fact, they likely feel the effects of isolation on a greater level than many others due to dwindling church attendance across the country. Churches have become isolated institutions in their own neighborhoods. They know what it feels like to be isolated: the dread that church may not survive; the loneliness of not knowing anyone in the neighborhood; the frustration and grief when no one comes to the programs and events that we have worked hard to create; the exhaustion of just trying to survive.

I grew up in the DFW area as an isolated person. In my early twenties, I journeyed alongside homeless neighbors in East Dallas and have seen the destruction isolation can bring upon a human being up close. As a UMC lay person, it is painful to watch the church I love further isolate itself and people within and beyond its institutional structures. I am done with letting isolation have its way.

Last year, I began working with a faith-based non-profit called Neighboring Movement, which works to combat social isolation. We train churches and their congregants how to reclaim the practice of neighboring through asset-based community development (ABCD). ABCD helps us notice the gifts around us, rather than starting with the problems. We look for the signs of God’s abundance in the midst of scarcity, which we believe moves us toward developing joy-filled relationships. To be clear this training is not a church-growth program, but a way for your church to move toward healthy, non-coercive relationships with your neighbors.

If any of this resonates with you, I would like to invite you and your congregation to join our fall cohort, which begins Sept. 28. The training includes 24 weeks of curriculum, spiritual practices and discernment resources, three training workshops, coaching from the Neighboring Movement staff and the creation of an asset-map of your neighborhood. Also, if you are worried about money, know that we are working with the conference office to secure funding for churches who need financial assistance.

Ryan Klinck is the SoCe Life Neighboring Resident. Email Ryan or visit the website for more information.

Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019