(This is guest blog by Brian Bill, board member of Keep Believing Ministries, and pastor of Pontiac Bible Church)

According to a recent study, there is a plague of loneliness sweeping our country today. This outbreak of isolation has infected our closest relationships. The number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters has doubled, to nearly 25 percent. Another 25 percent are just one person away from nobody and the number of close friends for the average American has gone down from three to two.

Perhaps our technology has contributed to this problem. We’d rather “IM” than say, “I am in need of a friend.” Our iPod’s allow us to be with people and yet be far away as our minds are filled with music. We send text messages and then when we run into people we have nothing new to say. As one person points out: “In the virtual neighborhood, how many have substituted email for intimacy, contacts for confidants and Facebook for face-to-face?” While these technological tools can help us feel interconnected with a lot of people, many of us feel more isolated than ever.

Hidden in the data from this study is actually some good news. We may have fewer intimate relationships but the ones we do have are deeper than what people experienced just twenty years ago. While friction still reigns in some families, many husbands and wives are experiencing closer community with each other, and parents and children are even getting along.

One way to expand your network of relationships is by getting involved in a local church. If you are not committed to a community of faith, may I encourage you to get up this Sunday and go to church? That alone won’t make you feel more connected, but it’s a start because the local church is indeed the hope of the world. Bill Hybels writes: “There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community…It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, and the disillusioned…”

A couple years ago I preached a series of sermons on the “one another” statements of Scripture. I learned that it is impossible to live out these imperatives unless we are in close community with other people. We’re called to care for one another, to be devoted to one another, to honor one another, to be compassionate to one another, to agree with one another, to forgive one another, to live in harmony with one another, to offer hospitality to one another, to be united with one another, to love one another, to accept one another, to carry each other’s burdens, to greet one another, to serve one another, to encourage one another, and even to bear with one another.

Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor and author of “Bowling Alone,” has concluded that social isolation is as big a risk factor for premature death as smoking. Another study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine concludes that going to church may in fact extend your life by two to three years. In other words, going to church won’t kill you; it may in fact help you live longer.

Have you been drifting away from real relationships? Has it been awhile since you’ve plugged into church and into the lives of others? If so, Hebrews 10:25 offers a corrective: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Just as it’s easy to get out of the habit of going to church; it’s just as easy to get into the habit of connecting with God and His people every Sunday. Lay aside your excuses. Get rid of your guilt about not going and just go because if you stay unplugged you will eventually unravel.

Actually, going to church is not really for our benefit anyway; it’s for God’s glory. We go in order to give Him praise and adoration. A side benefit is that we also learn and grow and become connected to others. One of the best ways to experience biblical community with others is by joining a Bible study group. Some other ideas include serving together, reaching out to those on the Gulf Coast, or attending a Divorce Care group.

Real people just like you are just as lonely as you are. As Ellen Goodman says, “If you are feeling isolated, you are not alone.” The good news is that you and I have been created for community and hard-wired for friendships.

But most importantly, we have been designed for a relationship with God. Will you respond to His offer by confessing your sins and receiving the Lord Jesus into your life? After all, since Jesus was known to be a friend of sinners, I qualify…and so do you.

Once you begin a friendship with Jesus, you can be assured of the promise found in Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” You can’t find a friend like that anywhere else.

(Pastor Brian writes a daily blog and can be reached by email at brian@pontiacbible.org, but he’d prefer to talk to you in person)

You can reach the author at  ray@keepbelieving.com. Click  here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.