Monday, December 26, 2005

Adult Christian Singles - The Church's Response


Do We Need a Singles Ministry?

George Barna challenges, “Now that you know many of the complexities of singles and just how challenging such a ministry might be, are you asking whether nor not ministry to single adults is worth the effort? (If you’re not, I suspect you’re not paying attention!) (133)

churches paying attention? How sensitive are churches to single adults?

American churches exhibit more sensitivity to the needs of families, the elderly, children, teenagers and the poor – and less to the needs of minorities, non-Christians and singles. The church’s sensitivity to families gets the highest rating, while single adults and single parents get among the lowest. (Kamstra 2:1)

In Grand Rapids, there are two churches that are located only a few miles from each other. One appears to have no immediate plans for a focused singles ministry; the other church already has one in place. The first church has the usual assortment of targeted fellowship groups, but no singles fellowship that meets on a regular (or even irregular) basis. There are singles there, but the church does not facilitate making it easy for them to meet together in an organized way. The church has chosen its focus, and a targeted singles ministry does not fit into their paradigm at this time.

Single adults quietly slip out the “back door” of the church to attend down the road, seeking fellowship with other in their life situation – and one of them, Anne, was sent. A small group leader at the first church had told her that if she wanted to be with singles, she needed to go to [name withheld] church.

My dad told me a story while I was researching this paper.

Two pastors were chatting over coffee. The first one proudly told the second one, “My church is so family oriented that there are no divorced people and very few single people in our congregation!”

The second pastor was sad for the first pastor, but just as proud of his own congregation, “Yes…I know. We have them all.”

This seems to go beyond the indifference that Elie Wiesel talked about. Anne did not leave the first church looking for something more; she was sent. A (married) church employee, when told this story said in response, “That’s not sending them away because we don’t want them. It’s an act of love to send them where they will be given what they need.” Unfortunately, while this sounds good, what would Christ really have them do? Is the “save them and send them somewhere else” attitude truly the “Christian” way of doing things? Jesus gave us the parable of the “Good Samaritan”. In this parable, the “religious” men of the church passed right by that hurting person on the side of the road. It was the Samaritan that saw the need and met it. He didn’t send the man someplace else; he washed him, bandaged him and helped him right where he was and only later put the victim on his own donkey to take him to a safe place to stay.

“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:33-34)

The first church has a sign in their office: “All things must be saturated in prayer.” That is true. The Bible says that we are to pray about all things, without ceasing. But the Bible also tells us that if we do not follow up our prayers with action, our faith is useless. Until all members of the body are on board and truly making all people feel fully embraced as spiritual siblings, this attitude of indifference will continue.

“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26)

Pastoral Staff

The Bible calls Christ “the Good Shepherd”, the senior pastor might be compared to the sheep dog, out in the field, running his heart out, trying to keep all those silly sheep going in the right direction. If the pastor appears indifferent to any one group, the rest of the church will most likely follow. “A ‘do it, but don’t bother me with it’ attitude will put the singles ministry right next door to the broom closet.” (Kamstra 4:10) Any ministry will die without the full support of the pastorate, and that includes a singles ministry. Pastors do not need to live the life of a single person; they do need to recognize that the church needs to make a focused effort to minister to all of Christ’s flock.

Most pastors have healthy marriages and families of their own so it may be difficult for them to “wear the shoes” of single adults; they may not be able to run a singles ministry as effectively as a single person.

Any singles ministry must be “owned” and headed by singles. Since an adult singles ministry will have a higher turnover in leadership (due to marriages and moves), there must be a specific and determined effort to develop new leaders. The leadership team should be larger for a singles ministry than for most other types of ministries.

The pastorate and married congregation must ask (and keep asking), “Are singles worth a targeted ministry?” In many churches, the answer seems evident – no, they are not. As long as single adults fit into the current programs that the church has, they are welcome to stay, but no new programs are on the horizon.

Many singles fell that they are never truly embraced. When they want change, the receive the unspoken (or spoken) hint: The church down the road already has lots of singles…why don’t you go there?” And many singles have. In early 2004, I was in the choir at my church, looking out over the sanctuary. There were many seats open that particular Sunday and the thought came to me, “If this church truly wanted single adults here – if we really invited them, pursued them and embraced single adults until they represented a third of the congregation, this sanctuary would be full and overflowing.”

Julia Dunn relates, “Look at church budgets. One church I used to attend had a vibrant singles group. We pleaded for some part-time staff help but were turned down because budgets, we were told, were tight. Yet at the same time, the church was adding on youth worker after youth worker. So our group died.” In that church, singles were not worth it.


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