Devotional theology

The Church & The Single Person

I don’t think the answer has to do with creating more clubs or groups, but with stopping the segregation.

halloween20

The other day an acquaintance from college messaged me out of the blue, asking if I’d ever written about single people in the church. I was kind of taken aback, as he’s one of those guys who became fluent in Greek and Hebrew and listened to about 14 sermons and Church History lectures a day in his spare time. Not only that, but he has been married as long as I’ve known him and has a bundle of kids. Right after we graduated, he became a pastor in the midwest. In other words, this is a dude who has it all together on the ministry side of things.

So of all people, I was surprised that he would ask me for input when it comes to practical ministry in the church. Granted, it may have been a while since he was single and having to deal with the pressures and awkward conversations we face as singles in the church, but nonetheless, I have given a lot of thought to his question.

More specifically, he asked how churches can best minister to the single people in their congregations. I gave it a lot of thought and, though this post is far from comprehensive, this is what I have come up with:

No more segregation.

For some reason, the popular practice in the past decades in the American church has become to separate people by the season of life they are in. Many churches sequester the 60+ crowd into their own Sunday School classroom, while the Young Marrieds are in another. The youth group and children’s church have their clubs, of course, which often leaves that awkward gap for us single people to mingle in whichever classroom we happen to drift into.

I don’t think the answer to the question is to create “Singles” or “Young Adult” classes or groups. Assigning people a place to be based on the season of life they inhabit is not as helpful as overhauling the entire system of apartheid.

What I mean by that is, What good are we doing the members of our churches by separating them? Shouldn’t the oldest people who have been walking with God the longest be the ones mixed into small groups with younger people, mentoring them and helping them to walk in step with the Lord? And can’t the middle-aged couple pour into the newlyweds as their marriage builds muscle in its thighs and begins to walk?

One of the most unappealing things to me is the thought of going to a “singles mixer” at a church. I mean, how desperate am I? (Pretty desperate, honestly) But the idea of going to this meeting where the entire premise is all these lonely souls searching for our better halves just grosses me out. I mean, talk about awkward pressure and forced conversations. Is this all the church is to single people? A mixer?

I think the issue is not with churches “doing singles ministry better,” but uniting their entire church as one. A family where all age groups and statuses interact. After all, isn’t that something Paul was adamant about across the pages of the New Testament? There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman, old or young, single or married, but all are united in faith in Christ.

After mulling the question over this past week, I reflected on which experiences have been the most fruitful as a single person in the church. I think the answer is, I grew the most by being in close contact with those who were not in the same category as I. How much can I really learn solely from other single people in their 20’s? What can they learn from me? (A little of course, but you get my point…)

Many of the most formative hours of my life have been spent eating with college professors or meeting with influential writers or pastors decades older than me. Sure, there are the meaningful conversations I have with people my own age, but of all places, shouldn’t the Church be a place for the coming together of people of all ages and seasons of life? Why do we feel the need to divvy ourselves up rather than come together?

Maybe what the lonely single person needs more than other lonely single people is to be poured into by older folks who have moved through where they are, and can give them hope and wisdom.

This past summer I was part of a class on addiction in Chicago, put on by my church for people of all ages who wanted to learn more. Due to the nature of the course, we all became very close and intimate very quickly. The nice thing is that the others in the class ranged from college students to 60-year-olds, and across the entire spectrum of marital statuses. And because of that, I got to hear firsthand accounts of porn and drug addiction from married couples, divorced men and women, and of course single people like me.

The beautiful thing about this class was that it was a holistic representation of the Body of Christ, from young to old, not just a segregated slice of it sitting by itself and spinning in circles.

So how should churches go about doing singles ministry better?

I think that’s the wrong question, and if we find ourselves asking it, we are probably already heading down the wrong path.

A better question is, how can we cultivate a church that simultaneously ministers to the 70-year-old couple and the 25-year-old-bachelor? What good is the church if it does not bring together the widow and the newlyweds and enable them to love one another uniquely in Christ? If grandparents want to hang out with people their own age, they can go to the YMCA or a bridge club. If I want people my own age, I’ll go to a coffee shop or join a sports league.

But we should go to church to interact with people with whom we have nothing in common except our union with Christ. As a single person, I don’t want to be stuck with other single people, but with a variety of people in a collection of life seasons. This is closer to the picture of unity Paul longed for, and the best place for real growth to occur. Not only that, but it makes the single people feel less dissociated and awkward.

There isn’t anything wrong with us. And I think the last thing we want from a church is special treatment. Or “singles groups.”

Let’s work on returning our churches to places of inclusion and invitation. Places of unity. Let’s make them places where Blacks chill with Whites, old folks hang with hooligans like me, and single people spend meaningful time with couples.

And it isn’t weird.

e

14 comments on “The Church & The Single Person

  1. keitholler60

    I agree!!! Being a 56 year old single never married in my church

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  2. Agreed! There’s so much to be learned by spending time with people in different walks of life. That’s what church should be. Thanks for writing and sharing.

  3. Great article! I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m an older single female. Never married (although not by choice). And my church does not have a singles ministry. They do have a strong small group ministry, and a couple of the groups are geared toward single guys or gals. However, my small group is a mix of people. I’m the oldest one there – and the only single person – but I’m always surrounded by couples and their kids whenever I attend. It’s like family.

    My only problem is connecting with couples and families outside of church activities. I’ve tried many times to strike up friendships with married women in my church, only to be disappointed. I’m not only single, but I work from home. That makes for a solitary existence, so I really crave relationship with other people. But, for some reason, most couples don’t consider inviting singles over for a meal. Or just to hang out. I get the impression that if I was a “couple,” I’d have a lot more friends and many more opportunities for fellowship with others outside of church activities. I feel like I’m missing out on something important. Church is more than just a bunch of meetings. It’s about building relationships and doing life together. And I feel like being single isolates me from that aspect of Christian life.

  4. Singles mixer – sounds horrible!
    Great post! It definitely gets awkward when there are groups of people who don’t quite fit into the generic groupings within church life. Being in ministry as a single 25 yr old female isn’t always the easiest, especially when the questions I get asked most have to do with what’s new in my relationship status rather than what’s new in my relationship with God.

    I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog over here in little New Zealand. I enjoy your writing!

    Tracy

  5. As a 25-year old bachelor associate pastor at a small country church, I love this article! It is spot on. One of the most encouraging aspects of serving with the church I pastor are the 70-year old couples. Intergenerational ministry is needed and what you describe in this article is a great summary of what I think as well.

  6. For most of my young and middle adulthood I attended churches with an active single adult department. I have been a member of single adult Sunday school classes, and I have been a member of a class called the Joshua class, so called because it has “no walls” of demographics, other than that it is for adults. (In fact the Joshua class was started as an option for choir members who have to cut out a bit earlier than others, but it grew to include all ages and a mix of married adults and single adults.) When I was active in the single adult department, I had an active social life with other friends in the class, and many of those friendships still form the core of my social life today. However, I had to work to feel a part of the church body at large, and to achieve this I sang in choir, served on committees, participated in Bible studies and eagerly took advantage of other ministry opportunities that gave me a chance to interact with church members outside the single adult department.

    (Another issue single adults face – especially younger adults just out of college – is that some other church members look at them a bit like an extension of the youth department. Church leaders should encourage ministry opportunities with depth and remember that single adults, while often thrilled to help with the nursery or Vacation Bible School, are often an untapped resource for help with budget and finance committees, personnel issues, the church’s social media presence and publications, and more. And married church members should guard against viewing single adults as somehow less adult if they have never been married or had children. Never underestimate the self-sufficiency and independence single adults must develop for practical, professional, personal and emotional survival.)

    Conversely, during the years I attended the Joshua class, I had a tremendously rich sense of being part of the church as a whole, but socially I was a bit lonely and had a hard time finding friends who didn’t need to find babysitters or ask a spouse if it was ok for them to go hiking at a local park or take in a movie or go grab dinner and knock around the local mall. Of course, just as members don’t ideally view church as a dating service, you also don’t necessarily rely solely on your church for a social outlet. Being a church member goes far deeper, and if your only friends are church friends, you need to branch out. And yet the fellowship you have with your church family is unlike any other, and the bond is precious beyond words.

    There are no easy answers, but as a 51-year-old (still) single adult, I can say, in conclusion: 1) balance is important, so it’s important for single adults to have the chance to experience both the single adult dynamic and the sense of being part of the whole church; and 2) single adults have a great deal to offer, and it is important not to limit or categorize them.

  7. I’m not sure I quite agree with the general thrust of this. I think shared interests and experiences can foster growth. While it may not be age, it could be. Others could find solace and growth from hearing about the struggles of those their age and be turned off by those older “know-it-alls”. Your favorable example was of those getting together for a shared interest in addiction. So maybe the key really, in groups of age or other interests, is the authentic nature of the group.

  8. The only thing that struck me about this post is the statement about you being desperate. It’s going to tempt single girls towards aggression. You’ve been pretty candid in the posts I’ve read about your state of singleness and your struggle with porn.

    My boyfriend was telling me today that the reason he hates porn is because it gets you used to the fake and keeps you from the real. What is stopping you from getting married?

    It doesn’t make sense to be a strong and able minded man and complain about singleness if you have the desire for marriage. What is holding you back from it… it probably isn’t that you just need to find the right person? Chances are you have a lot of beautiful incredible women in your life you could marry . Why don’t you just marry one of them?

  9. sorry i can’t figure out how to delete that comment. i’m so sorry, i didn’t mean to communicate that!!! it didn’t even go with the post. I’m so sorry, please forgive me.

  10. So true Ethan! And a huge shout out to the couples and older people who spend time with me and who have let me hang out with them during the Awkward Teen Years. You are right; we learn so much from each other and that is the point of unity and harmony – different notes, working together. I currently don’t have many people in the same stage of life as me in town, and that is super hard, so that type of relationship has its place, but I am so thankful for my 30something married girlfriends and guyfriends whom I wouldn’t have got to know if I always had people in the same age bracket as me. We need each other! Thanks for reminding me not to make the whole peer thing too inportant. 😊

  11. Agreed. So true. I`ve had some experiences for being a single person in the church. When I used to go with my grandma,in a community full of elderly people and families,there used to be some other single people as well and I can say it was always comfortable and pleasant. Plus,I never felt judged.
    Here,in the community I`m living now,where I go to church by my own,I`ve always felt good and also not judged. One of the reasons,I believe,is that our group is very diverse…we have married couples,elderly people and some single people too. In fact,this is the church where I`ve seen more single people than any other one.
    Funny thing about all this,though,is that,in the community in the city where my mom lives and works for the church,it`s bad for you being a single person in the church. They all think you must be very lonely and sad and desperate and blablabla. Even my mom. Because she told me so. That`s why I never step foot on that church again.

  12. SwissMissLibrarian

    Well said. My sister is currently doing research on the single person and the church for her phd dissertation and she has heard so many broken and beautiful stories from people struggling with this sense of disconnect from their community. These are conversations we should be having as a community of believers. From one weary traveler to another, thank you for being open and willing to ask the hard questions even the ones with no easy answers. I currently live in central Europe so I’m blessed when I sneak in and find community on my travels and it’s great to hear about people like you and my sister trying to bring some light and warmth. 🙂

  13. I’m glad I’ve discovered your blog, Ethan. It is true indeed that segregation does a lot of damage..the example of the country that took preschoolers to nursing homes comes to mind (can’t remember which one it was, but both sides had a blast). Mixing generations and different walks of life is, imo, essential and healthy. Even more so as people who get married sometimes tend to separate themselves from others, socially speaking; I guess it’s natural for some time with newlyweds, but sometimes married people seem “inaccessible”, as if it were a club, and as if they no more have time for other people. It’s also kinda frustrating when events are organized for married couples only – it would be enriching for single people, too, to attend these kinds of events; I get it that sometimes it’s good for couples to be with couples, but I don’t like the idea of exclusion in general 🙂

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