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.