In a public lecture delivered in 2018, Australian, Dr Hugh McKay, a social psychologist and researcher, talked about two significant developments in contemporary Australia at the time. The first was that Australia was in the grip of a mental health crisis, in particular an epidemic of anxiety. According to Beyond Blue, two million Aussies were suffering from a diagnosed anxiety disorder, with a further two million suffering either from depression or some other type of mental illness. The 2021 census data backs McKay’s assertion. Taking the top spot, 8.8% of the population (2.3 million people) have said they have a long term mental health condition (including depression and anxiety).

The second was our society was becoming more socially fragmented than at any previous time in our history due to a whole range of factors, one of which is busyness. (for more, you can read his book, ‘Australia Reimagined’), which has become a virtue. Consider how people greet each other, “How are you going? Busy?”, as if you are abnormal if you are not busy. McKay went on to say that even for retirees, they are expected to say, “Look, I’m so busy I don’t know how I ever had time to go to work”.  Technology is another reason why our society is fragmenting. There is plenty of research to show that people who spend large amounts of time online or on their mobile phones experience deep loneliness and social distress. According to a study at Oxford University, the average Facebook users have 155 friends but would only trust 4 in a crisis. 

While the problems McKay raises are complex and exacerbated by the pandemic, it seems to me being a part of community is a key consideration as an antidote to the problem of social fragmentation and the resultant anxiety. We are social beings by design, created not just for relationship with God but with others. It is not just sound, biblical theology as an author for the New York Times wrote, “Increasingly…research confirms our deepest intuition: Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being”. 

It shouldn’t surprise us that the means through which Jesus discipled and instructed the 12 was by forming them into a community. The Christian faith is personal but it is not private. Brad House in his book, “Community” writes, “We have been saved to be a community, not a church of individuals…We have to be more than a collection of individuals who occasionally gather together”   

Sure, we can survive without community but to live in isolation in the words of God, “It is not good”. According to Professor Beer who directs the ‘Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning’ at the University of Adelaide, “Social isolation is equivalent to the health effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or consuming more than six alcoholic drinks daily…It is more harmful than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity”. A caution: don’t confuse church attendance with being in community! 

Are you in community? Are you in supportive relationships with people from Windsor Road whom you can talk to about the highs and lows of following Jesus or the challenges you’re facing, personally or in your frontlines? If you are not, you can start investing in them right now. If you are, go deeper.

Have faith in God!

Mark Ng