There are many online articles about the small number of singles in churches, the even smaller number of singles in church leadership positions, and explanations of why singles do not come to church. Many churches see the need for singles ministry, but are puzzled as to how to begin and maintain. Well, I guess it’s time for me to weigh in on some issues as I see them repeated online.
- The many differing aspects of singleness have similar, but unique, needs.
- Singles get lumped into “one size fits all” regardless of age and reason for their singleness.
- Family, family, family.
- Marriage is celebrated, singleness is not
- Many questions simply do not have answers, and may be trivialized.
“Single” is a simple designation for someone who does not have a spouse. There are church ministries up through high school, and in some cases, college. Where does the post-high school or college person, who is now called “single,” fit? Suddenly they are faced with questions about independence as well as the realization that they are now “single.” Where do they go? The many categories of singlehood have the “single” thing in common, but physically, emotionally, mentally, and certainly age-wise, they may be worlds apart. One thing is common: Churches do not know what to do with them – with us – with me.
Categories as I see them:
- * Single but in a relationship; or single but not in a relationship.
- * Widowed – death of a spouse.
- * Divorced – separation from a spouse.
- * Single with children, whether widowed or divorced.
- * Never-married.
There is simply not a “one size fits all” way to deal with singleness. While every person on the planet needs relationship to thrive, thoughtful consideration has a place in dealing with widely varied needs and desires. Singles are thrown together with the assumption they will “bond” simply because they are single. The ages may span 20s to 80s with the host of life-stages in between. Many singles simply do not see a compelling reason to be in a church which does not speak to their own life.
Churches develop grief classes for those who have lost a spouse, and divorce recovery groups as more and more Christians walk that very difficult road. The need arises for single parents to talk together so they can see they are not the only ones in that situation. Something else arises which makes it uncomfortable for some widowed, divorced, and single parents to come to church, particularly if they were part of a former couple in the church. They may no longer feel the acceptance they felt as a couple. Where couples may have exchanged dinner invitations, it feels awkward to invite just one. In divorce, one or both have decided not to attend any more because it is just too uncomfortable.
Many churches will not recognize that their important emphasis on family makes it difficult for some onesomes to fit in. Of course, young families and children are necessary for the future of the church. Too often, though, conversation is limited to children or family life, making some singles feel as if they are sort of pasted onto someone else’s family and not an important unit on their own.
Marriage is celebrated. Singleness is not. Now, these days, many single couples decide to live together and even have children outside of marriage. The widespread practice has changed the complexion of the church as parents struggle because what they believed to be right is not followed by their children. Celibacy outside of marriage is considered impossible and unnecessary – and even laughable. Marriage sermon series abound, often without the realization that perhaps more than half of their congregation is in one of the single categories – and they are aching to be recognized with compassion and understanding.
Some questions are able to be handled in loving ways. Who knows if/when I get home at night? Who is there to talk to when I really need to talk? I love Bible study. Where can I find someone to go deeper with? The answers to these and others like them all hinge around fellowship and relationship with others.
Other questions are not answered so easily, or they may be trivialized. What do I do with the God-given desire for physical, emotional, and mental intimacy with another person – a spouse? How do I handle desire for sexual contact? Who mentors me in self-discipline to practice celibacy? How can the desire for deep heartfelt conversation with a spouse be filled? Apart from the Song of Solomon, romance is not particularly addressed in scripture. But, it’s enough to bring up the question – Who chooses and cherishes and romances me?
Phew! Now it is definitely time for a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie! I know this post is longer than usual.
I hope it has sparked some thinking – and I really want to know what you think about you and church.