There are tons of singles’ ministry resources out there for churches. Many large churches have a full-time pastor or director in charge of their singles ministry (sometimes called “College and Career” or another pseudonym). Effectively shepherding singles is a difficult tension. Singles often ask, “What do you have for me?” but the programmatic efforts to respond to that question, while looking good on paper, often don’t translate to fruitful ministry to singles. In fact, those efforts can often make things worse.
In a survey of 504 Christian singles, 62% of respondents said they would prefer to be included with married couples in church ministry programs such as small group and events, the types of things singles normally get separated out from.
This response is consistent with a previous article I wrote reflecting on how nearly half (45%) of Christian singles interviewed said they feel like outcasts in the Church.
A simple conclusion can be drawn from this: (Generally speaking) Singles do not want to be separated out from the rest of the Church. It feels stigmatizing. They want to be treated as humans, not as humans with something wrong with them.
We must realize the subconscious things we communicate when we separate singles out from their married counterparts. We think we are being intentional, but more often than not what is communicated is not special care, but second class branding and labeling.
Comments from surveyed singles back this up:
“Sunday morning adult (post high school) Sunday school classes should be gatherings that include all stages of life. I’ve gone to a church that had an exclusive singles group on Sunday mornings, and I didn’t like that, because I never got to see my friends after they got married, or if they were still in high school or college, and hadn’t “graduated” into the singles group yet. It felt very segregated and disconnected. I ended up dating a guy from a different church, with a system that is more inclusive, and I think it works much better.”
“The church needs to learn to talk to single people the way they’d talk to anyone else. Singleness is hard, but it’s also good, in many ways. I want to be treated like everyone else, not like “SINGLE” is the biggest thing written on my forehead.”
“Include (singles) within the entire body of Christ. He who walks with the wise becomes wise. It was a blessing being surrounded by Godly couples during my time in college. Seeing the good and the bad gave me a realistic taste of what marriage is. It is difficult for me to find a Biblical basis for isolating singles within a church body. I find it to be more of a modern phenomenon of evangelicalism rather than something rooted in discipleship
Some of the singles who did the survey also added in the comments section that they like both options, of being with other singles as well as being with the rest of the church body, and prefer a church that offers both.
The whole conversation can feel like a Catch-22 and I’m not advocating that there is an easy or simple solution. Whatever is tried is not going to be perfect for everyone, and that shouldn’t be the goal. My point, and I think the strongest point that the survey data brings out, is that the way we are currently going about things is communicating an inferiority to singles, whereas Scripture communicates the opposite. The more I study what Jesus and Paul say about singleness, the more I am convinced that singleness is the ideal presented by the Bible and marriage is the concession (heyo!), not the other way around. Don’t take my word for it, take Paul’s:
1 Corinthians 7:7 I wish that all of you were (single) as I am . But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
1Corinthians 7:32-35 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
1 Corinthians 7:38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
Put those phrases together, “I wish that all of you were (single) as I am…I would like you to be free…live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord…he who does not marry does better.”
Have you ever heard that sermon preached?
I don’t mean that singleness is an option, but that it’s the prescribed ideal biblical option for discipleship, and that marriage is a concession given but far from an ideal.
How many churches have singles on their elder teams or on their leadership teams?
How many churches have singles in their preaching rotations?
How many churches could the Apostle Paul get a job at?
My point is, the problem with our singles’ ministry does not have to do with our singles’ ministries, it has to do with our church ministries, our theology and our faithfulness to Scripture in the things we prioritize and elevate versus the things we don’t.
Comments from singles in the survey show that our ministries do not reflect this biblical truth:
“My church ignores things that apply to me as a single and focuses on married people problems and raising kids. There’s an implied pressure to conform, marry, and start having tons of babies but, most of the time, I just feel ignored. When they do talk about singles it’s as if it’s a disease that they hope I’ll one day be cured of.”
“I find it difficult to attend church if I don’t go with my family or other single people. Most Sundays I will stay home and watch service on TV rather than attending service. When you go by yourself, you get those people who cast judgment because your a single female. It is definitely seen as a negative to be approaching 30 and not married in the South. People automatically assume something is wrong with her.
Often our singles ministries are filled with mixers and social events, saying we are trying to cultivate community among singles but the ulterior motive is to try to manufacture as many marriages as possible. The underlying assumption being that singles are coming to church to find dates. The survey data also debunked this assumption. 59% of Christians singles said they do not believe church is a good place to find dates.
If singles aren’t coming to church to find dates and they don’t want to be exclusively separated from families, it’s also consistent that they would prefer to be with adults of all ages, rather than pigeon-holed in with people in their own age bracket. What was striking about this stat was the vast percentage of singles who preferred to be in community with a diversity of age ranges, with 78% saying so. This ought to give us great pause in so emphasizing our “college ministries,” our “young marrieds,” and even our “senior saints” types of program categorizations.
This finding also contradicts the longstanding church growth strategy that homogeneity is the way to grow your church. I have railed on homogeneous churches being directly unbiblical in previous blog posts and I stand by that point here. To me, whether making everyone in your church a cookie cutter, plastic molded image of the next person statistically puts more butts in seats or not is irrelevant. It is unbiblical.
Besides, not all growth is healthy.
Ever have to get “a growth” removed? (if not, go ahead and Google Image that real quick…)
Ministering effectively to singles is not about having a great singles ministry, it’s about having accurate theology and valuing singleness as a high calling the way the Bible does. It’s about not only normalizing singleness in church, but honoring it and presenting it as the ideal that the Bible does, not just in word, but in how we program and in the strategies we use to make our churches healthy. This sort of shift can’t be programmed at all, which makes it much harder.
And if we means we lose a few butts in seats, so be it.