Two headlines leapt off the page at me recently. The first …
Study: Death Risk from Loneliness Higher than Poverty & On Par with Obesity
The article speaks to a 14 percent spike in premature death among the lonely. Several studies are cited but the conclusions are the same. Stated simply, lacking the most basic of relationships leads us to perish much more quickly.
Lest you think it is only hermits who must take heed, the article goes on to state that this is persistent even among those in relationships, married, living with others and with family near. It highlights the importance of the sense of connectedness that we all have. We want to be liked, cared-for and to matter to someone. Loneliness sucks.
And lo and behold the next link reinforced that thinking
You’ve Got a Friend in me: Our Changing Relationship with Artificial Intelligence
This article spoke about how increasing numbers of people are attempting to have an actual relationships with computers via virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana. People engage them in conversation like real people and some even consider them “friends”. Increasingly some of these relationships even stray from the verbal to the physical #ewww.
Perhaps more disturbing than even that, (I said perhaps) researchers are working hard to enhance technology so that it is even easier to befriend artificial intelligence. Companies are investing millions in building wise-cracking algorithms that actually assemble speech, rather than just regurgitate canned answers. The end result will be virtual people who learn about you, what you like and how to take on a persona.
Why does this matter?
It matters because there is a real need in the world. People want relationships, friendships and a sense of belonging. Lacking it they are losing hope, dying faster and becoming cynical jerks on social media.
I can assure you we already have plenty of those.
What people need is exactly what they used to get from church. A multi-generational group where you belong, people miss you when you aren’t there and genuinely care about you when you are struggling.
Yet the church in 2016 itself is struggling. Attendance is down, denominations are bleeding members and the populous seems “over” organized religion. This, despite a need that has never been greater.
As a marketer this gets me thinking. In the marketing game, when you are struggling to get traction with a product that you believe in, you need to focus.
Focus on benefits over features. The distinction between the two is incredibly important. Not what something offers, but what it does for me.
For years in the evangelism game we’ve missed it. We’ve talked about things like eternal life and a relationship with your Creator, even living water. To most people these concepts are intangible, mystical or seem off in a distant future.
As a church we’ve got to flip the script. Yes we need to focus on winning souls for Christ, but our pitch needs to change to focus on what a church gives you.
- Where else can you collaborate with people of all ages to serve others?
- Where else do people accept you exactly as you are with all your fears and failures?
- Where else can you build meaningful relationships with kindergartners and octogenarians simultaneously?
- Who else can help you set your priorities and hold you accountable to take action?
- Where else can you join a choir even if you can’t sing a lick? Be cast in a play? Carol to the homebound? Enjoy donuts and coffee virtually guilt-free?
Don’t get me wrong, church isn’t rotary and can’t become rotary, but if we put the relationships first, the rest will all fall into place.
How do I know about the power of this? Because I’ve experienced it.
I was recently hospitalized. Ultimately not a big deal, but it was four days on a bed with a painful condition and even more painful daytime television.
You know who came to visit me at the hospital to save me from The View?
The world’s greatest wife and kids of course, but also my pastor and a good friend from church. It was cool that they thought enough to do that. Following my release, no fewer than 30 church friends have subsequently asked me how I’m doing. They ask because they care. They saw I wasn’t around, wondered why and took an interest.
In short, I was missed. It’s good to be missed!
Now I’ve got a great family, strong marriage and many friends in and out of the church. At the end of the day it felt pretty cool to matter to all those people. It was humbling really– all the texts, emails, flowers and well-wishes.
To think that there are those in this world facing much worse than I did, and lacking the resources I have is truly tragic. The lonely, fearful, isolated and scared are out there and they desperately need us. As a group of believers we need to find those people and give them one tenth of the feeling I had.
If we can do that, it’ll be standing room only every Sunday.