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Why ‘Inconvenience’ Might be the Antidote to the Loneliness Epidemic

Why ‘Inconvenience’ Might be the Antidote to the Loneliness Epidemic

We are getting lonelier. We want friends. We want church to be more than an event. We truly desire to belong. But are we aware of what we need to do in order to really build community?

I get it. Calling people to embrace inconvenience probably isn’t the most appealing idea. It’s human nature to seek the easy way. You’re lonely? The church has a program for that: go and join a small group, as ninety minutes every two weeks will solve that need. We can participate in any program or service, but if we don’t carry a set of counter-cultural values regarding friendship, and a set of practices that push us towards the Way of Jesus, we can sit lonely in a crowd.

Perhaps in our desire to create and attend friction-less weekend church services we have lost something of the grit that builds true community.

The reality is something has been growing silently in the church. We are getting lonelier. I call this an “unintended consequence.”

We have the convergence of the digital revolution and a convenience-driven lifestyle. It is easier to live behind the glowing glass of our electronic shackles than to interact with a real, physical human connection.

The rise of the digital revolution and the loneliness epidemic are linked. Gen Z on average spends 7.3 hours on their smart phones a day. 79% say they are lonely. I don’t think this is a coincidence. But, at the same time, it’s so much more than that. The fundamental way we relate, congregate and share our lives needs to be re-examined for all generations. How we conceptualize church—not as pastors, not as leaders, but simply as Christ followers—needs to be prodded.

Our definition of community needs examining, and any definition that puts the responsibility on someone else needs to be challenged. We must look at our own lives and ask the following: is there more to the ecclesia—the family of God—than we are experiencing?

What if, in this modern age of loneliness and isolation, the local church could be a part of the solution?

I took this question to scripture to discover what community looked like in the New Testament. I came across seven essential practices of the early church that formed the ingredients of church community. If our practice of church does not somehow include all seven of these ingredients, we are replacing a rich historical form of community with an inferior modern variant. In short, not all community is, in fact, community. Out of the seven practices, one leaped out at me as a counter-cultural idea that needs to be reclaimed. It can be summed up in one word: inconvenience.

True community is inconvenient, not just on a practical level, but also on an emotional level.

If we attend church late, leave immediately, attend once a month and then wonder why we are not connecting, perhaps the answer isn’t to withdraw more. Perhaps the answer is to invest relationally with an imperfect community of people for an extended period of time.

Try this mental exercise. Think about two or three friends or family members that you have a close relationship with. Chances are, these people have sacrificed time, virtue and effort to be in your life. Now imagine a friend who is funny and charismatic but disappears the moment you need something. You probably wouldn’t consider that to be an act of true friendship, would you?

Let me say it this way: friendship only begins when we are willing to inconvenience ourselves for each other. And, ultimately, that is what community is—a web of interdependent friendships.

When I become willing to inconvenience my lifestyle, my emotions and my schedule, I am creating the exciting possibility of forging meaningful relationships.

If church is simply a service that people are provided, it is transactional. If church is an interpersonal family of people, I am responsible to contribute too. It becomes a community.

Here are some of the ways the New Testament calls us to an inconvenient practice of community:  

  • Welcome guests warmly: Acts 21:17
  • Live in harmony with each other: 1 Corinthians 1:10–14
  • Work enthusiastically for the Lord: 1 Corinthians 15:58
  • Love each other as brothers and sisters: Hebrews 13:1
  • Provide food and clothing: James 2:14–16
  • Acts of justice and compassion: 1 John 3:16–18
  • Practice hospitality with God’s people: Romans 12:13
  • The New Testament idea of community wasn’t very convenient at all!

Take a look at the example from Romans 12:13, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” In this context, hospitality was an “always-on” posture of being ready to help God’s people. It certainly doesn’t sound convenient. It went well beyond our modern concept of socializing. Hospitality was an opening of worshipers’ lives and hearts to those who had needs. Hospitality is friendship to a stranger. It is kindness to the broken.

Remember the old-school adage, “we only get out what we put in.” This applies to every expression of human relationships. Our friends, our spouses and our churches. Maybe our modern Christian practice of church has simply become too convenient for us.

So, what’s the barrier? I don’t think it’s just that we are busy. I think we are scared.

I’ve been in church my entire life. The challenge with engaging with people at a deeper level is, well, the people! The emotional inconvenience we embrace in community is parceled with the understanding that the very people to whom we are opening our lives to will hurt us, let us down and challenge us.

For many years, I have only seen the downside of this. The more I embed myself within a church community, the more vulnerable I am to being let down or hurt. 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.

As I have journeyed through my life, both in my personal life and in my role as a pastor, I have come to see that the inconveniences and challenges of being in real community have been used by God for my growth.

Without any inconvenience, we only have a caricature of actual biblical community. The challenges of being in a community are one of God’s tools to bring us to maturity.

The paradox is that the more we give away of our own humanity, the more we grow and the deeper we experience community. Keeping our distance may be less risky, but it robs us of the richness of true community.

We are currently under a heavy blanket of the rising loneliness epidemic. More time spent behind a screen is unlikely to fix this. We need to get back to the reality of face-to-face community. Laugh together. Hug. Share tables. Break bread. Serve each other. Go out of our way to be emotionally inconvenienced for the benefit of others.  

If you want deeper, richer, more present community in your life and in your church, take the step to embrace an inconvenience. You will be surprised by what you find on the other side.

Benjamin Windle is an author, pastor and Millennial/Gen Z Specialist. As a pastor for over 20 years, he’s walked with many people through the dark shadows and valleys of the human experience. Benjamin is the author of “Good Catastrophe: The Tide Turning Power of Hope.” For more information, visit 

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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