I’ve been active in the local church for as long as I can remember and on staff at one for the past 14 years. I did not get married until I was 33 years old -- earlier than many but later than most, it seemed. Also, I’ve overseen our church’s ministry to college students and younger singles for the last 5 years. From that limited firsthand experience, I’d like to share 4 considerations for ministering to singles.
Just Over 50% of Adult Americans Are Single
It’s really tempting to gear ministry towards nuclear families because they often drive/fund further ministry and seem to be the familial goal set before us, but the very message and mission of the church is to proclaim a gospel message that is an impartial force of reconciliation for all. Also, there are more singles in your community (and maybe your church) than you realize. You may not see them out and about, but that’s probably because they don’t have anyone to be out and about with.
Consider discovering and engaging the single population in your church and community over commonalities you do share such as work, faith, culture, community, etc. rather than implying singles can join in once they catch up.
Who You’re Not Speaking To Says Something
I think I can speak for many singles when I say that the typical practice of overlooking adult singles in the church while pouring resources into and directing teaching mainly at children, students, and families makes singles feel incomplete. There is often a stigma on singles in the church that creates a sense of (if not the literal utterance) “bless your heart, we’ll get that fixed” when the church encounters them. If the church’s message seems to be that marriages and parenting bring the "real" issues in life, you may be sending the message that singles don’t have issues worth working on.
I’m sure most pastors expect single adults to listen to sermons on marriage, parenting, etc. as if investing in their potential future. But how many pastors preach on singleness (at all) and expect married folks to tune in? Married believers could learn a lot about how to minister to singles around them instead of tuning out the message that “doesn’t apply to them.” Imagine how many sermons would be ignored if singles tuned out every message on parenting, marriage, family, etc. This is the same principle that applies to all topic driven teaching. You’re going to leave somebody out, so it’s best to use sparingly. Likewise, consider how many events your church has promoted as “church-wide” when you really just meant “there’s something for kids, students, and their parents.”
Consider the message your church is sending across every demographic with the sermon series and ministries you emphasize.
Homogeneous Groups Can Create Blind Spots
If the small groups and Bible studies in your church are all divided by life stages, some problems can occur. For one, when it comes time to open up about struggles, prayer requests, etc. groups can tend to think in relation to their life stage (“Pray for my kids, pray for my wife, etc.”) without ever being vulnerable (“Pray for my heart in this area… Pray for my doubt here…”). Praying for families is good and necessary, but if that’s our sole approach, we’re never dealing with the individual heart issues that are fundamental to the Christian walk.
This is not a problem found only in non-single prayer circles, but it is a mindset that can be fostered by life stage-centric groups. Another oversight this approach can create is a gap for people who don’t fit neatly into our divisions. Say your church has a young marrieds class (twentysomethings with no kids or just starting) and then a class of marrieds in their 30s (elementary age kids). Then a couple comes where the husband is mid 30s and the wife is mid 20s. They’ve only been married a few years and are just starting a family. Pretty easy to feel out of place in this system and without a place to belong. I heard of a similar situation where a couple was actually told “Hmmm, we don’t really have a place for you.” I think there is benefit to fellowship others going through what we’re going through, but it seems like the biblical exhortation in 1 Timothy 5 would be impossible if we only stuck with our own.
Consider moving toward multigenerational and intergenerational ministry, groups, and fellowship as the norm in your church or at least implementing it whenever possible.
Idols Stem from Identities
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “An idol is something that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention, and money to it effortlessly.” I think an easy test to identify idols in our lives is to consider what we get defensive and selfish about. I’ve heard idols described simply as those things for which we rearrange our lives. A lot of idols today, I think, are wrapped up in where we find our identities. Whatever I consider to be the core essence of who I am as a person is going to be the key to everything I do and pursue. This can be seen on the cover of most entertainment mags, the daily sports highlights, and in most political protests.
The church needs to be careful in this arena because our approach to ministry could be feeding the idea that a person’s value is tied to their role in life. If the church overemphasizes the role of spouse or parent, a person whose identity and idolatry is bound to their marriage or kids will be further mislead. Meanwhile, the singles in attendance may be lead to think they don’t have value, yet. Not until they reach those coveted roles. This misunderstanding and misplaced worship has led many singles in the church to feel like second-class citizens.
Consider emphasizing the truth that the believer’s identity is found in Christ alone. All worth, value, motivation, etc. flows from Him. Therefore, every other identity/role is to be surrendered to Christ and His purposes.