In my last post, I said that many churches are really bad at supporting single people. This was a shocking revelation to no one—well, no one single, anyway.
Because when you’re a single person in a church full of couples and families…
…after a while, you begin to feel…
…a bit superfluous.
And it’s a real problem in churches across America. I’ve heard from so many singles who have told me they think their churches have no place for them.
This is ironic, because the Bible spends a lot of time talking about the need for God’s people to focus specifically on caring for the widows and orphans among them.
Why those groups? Well, they were the people who didn’t have the support of an immediate family structure. They had unique financial needs, of course, but they also had unique emotional needs. When you preach a sermon full of references to us as husbands, wives, and kids, the widows and the orphans are the ones you’ve left out. They’re not someone’s husband or wife or child. In a very real way, they’re on their own.
This is the reality for singles of all ages in your church: The 40-something who hasn’t found the right person yet. The 70-something whose spouse has just died. The 50-something still reeling from a nasty divorce. The 20-something who is gay and facing a life of self-imposed (God-imposed? church-imposed?) celibacy.
Some people are single by choice; others by circumstance. Whatever the case, being single in our culture can be lonely, and church can feel especially so.
The challenges we singles face go beyond financial considerations and how to abstain from sex. In a church culture that emphasizes the family unit above almost all else, where is our identity? How do we spend our time as we age and so many of our peers are busy with their families? And what do we make of the fact that even our Christian communities sometimes treat us with condescension or suspicion for being single?
These are much bigger questions than we can address in one blog post, but for now, here are 9 ways your church can begin ministering better to single people.
1. Include singles in your church leadership. Not only does this send a powerful message; it also helps ensure that someone sensitive to the needs of singles will be part of the decision-making process.
2. Talk openly about singles—in sermons, in staff meetings, in church literature, everywhere you do ministry. When you do, think about how what you say and do affects different groups of singles, from the celibate gay man to the widow. Don’t let “singles” be code for “young people.”
3. Go out of your way to get to know the singles in your congregation—old and young. Have dinner with them. Get to know them as people, not just as singles, then ask about their experiences and get their feedback on how your church can better minister to them. I bet they’ve got some great ideas, but you might have to take some time before they’re comfortable opening up.
4. Have a singles ministry at your church that is not focused on marriage. Some of us may never marry, and all of us could use a ministry that focuses on where we are right now, not just where we might be in the future. It’s great to have classes for people preparing for marriage, but that’s not a singles ministry. Remember: We’re whole right now. We don’t want to be seen as the not-yet-marrieds or the used-to-be-marrieds.
5. Give singles the opportunity to lead the singles ministry. Many pastors think they’re avoiding potential problems by having married folks lead the singles ministry, but honestly, that feels so condescending. It also gives the distinct impression that we’re all just supposed to be on a journey toward marriage, at which point we’ll be taken more seriously.
6. Look for every opportunity to create community among the singles in your church—as well as between singles and non-singles. Even nuns and monks, dedicated to celibacy for God, still live in community together. People need community, and it can’t be limited to Sunday mornings. Offer regular social opportunities for singles of all ages, and don’t let them be perceived as matchmaking events.
7. Be particularly cognizant of the times many people gather with their families—holidays, important life moments, illness, etc. Create opportunities for your church to be their family in those times. You know all that love, support, companionship, and stability you get from having a spouse and children? We need those things, too. Think about how your church can fill those gaps.
8. Reach out to singles with special needs. For instance, singles who are elderly, disabled, or without a car may have difficulty making it to your church—not only for Sunday worship, but for social events as well. Make a point of reaching out to them and offering them rides.
9. Offer singles lots of opportunities to get plugged in. When you have opportunities for volunteering or leadership, don’t just post something in the bulletin; go out of your way to reach out to people personally and let them know how much you’d appreciate their time and talents. Even if they say no, they’ll be honored that you thought of them and asked.
Those are a few of my ideas; I also suggest taking a look at this excellent article by Leigh Kramer, who has many more great points.
What suggestions do you have? Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let’s keep this conversation going!
For more on this topic, see my previous post: Singles—why are churches so bad at dealing with them?