Monday, December 26, 2005

Adult Christian Singles - Desires and Perceived Needs


The life situations of single adults vary so widely that if asked how their churches could better minister to them, a dozen single adults would likely give a dozen different answers.

The wide range of needs and desires of singles fall mainly into four general areas: spiritual (their walk with God), physical (life’s daily needs and challenges), emotional (depending on their reasons for being single) and social (fellowship in the body of Christ). The organizational structure of the church cannot possibly meet all those needs and it should not even attempt to. The church can, however, make it possible for the congregation to meet the needs of their spiritual siblings. Caring pastors and boards can make it easier for single adults to find each other and meet each other’s social (fellowship), spiritual and emotional needs and help them navigate the organizational structure in place to meet their physical needs.

Spiritual Needs of Single Adults

All Christians, including singles, need to define and establish their purpose in life. Single adults, however, have different needs than married people. Couples need to focus on their marriages – God intended them to be as one flesh (Genesis 2:24) and they must pursue the spiritual aspect of their marriages with that in mind. Singles are “going it alone”, whether by choice, chance or circumstance, and they must recognize their spiritual needs with that in mind.

“Ministry groups” (designed to reflect the makeup of the congregation) hold the focus of one large church in Grand Rapids. The church urges these ministry groups to attempt to meet the needs of the members of their group before going to the resources of the church. When this paper was first written, there were no singles-only groups available and singles were mostly getting put into groups at random. A ministry group can easily consist of a group of people with nothing in common except Christ9. Many singles find it uncomfortable, if not inappropriate to share inner struggles of a personal nature in a mixed group of men and women, so the intimate sharing that could (and should) be taking place cannot. People in ministry groups are quick to reach out and help in any way that they can and they do support singles in many ways. For issues that relate specifically to singleness, however, singles may find the fellowship and support of other singles more useful. Some singles desire a “singles only” group; others do not. In an ideal situation, they would have both options.

Married couples with children, to some extent, have their spiritual path marked out for them. One of their major spiritual goals is to raise their children in a Godly way; God laid that path out for them.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Single adults with children also bear this responsibility; without the help of a partner, the job becomes much more difficult. Single custodial parents may fill the role of both mother and father, creating a pressure that God never parents to bear. The Bible says that God supports the fatherless; single mothers find it easier to believe the promise when the men of God step up to the job description of mentor, teacher and guide.

“The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow…” (Psalms 146:9)

Single adults without children have challenges as well. Persistent matchmakers may cause singles to question their value. They may begin to wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why can’t I just be accepted for who I am?” In a church where the focus in on the family, a single person might be told outright that God has that one special person out there for him or her. Faith in God may suffer when that person doesn’t show up. This focus on marriage pulls the focus away from God (Widder 179)

The church must intentionally address the unique spiritual needs of single adults – issues like marriage and singleness, dating and preparing for marriage in a Godly way and relating to the rest of the church as singles in a married world. Until it does, church will become increasingly irrelevant to single adults, especially those new to the faith and those who are struggling with other life circumstances.

Emotional Needs of Single Adults

The emotional needs of single adults differ by population and age. Never married singles and those without children may seem more transient than those who have children, primarily due to either education or work related moves. This movement leads to high turnover rates in the church and makes it difficult for singles to develop and maintain relationships with other Christian singles adults. Because single adults are often geographically removed from their families, they have an increased need for relational connection (Kamstra 5:6). Single adults may want or need help making and maintaining intimate, long-lasting, same-sex friendships.

For divorcees, the emotional needs depend not only on the circumstances of the divorce, but also on the attitudes of the church that they attend. New divorcees often have a sense of alienation, guilt and failure. They not only deal with the end of their marriage, they suddenly feel the added responsibilities of being the only adult in the household. Divorcees with children are thrust into single parenting; combined with an overwhelming feeling that nobody understands and a sense of intense loneliness, life seems a recipe for burnout. They often feel not only rejected by their spouse, they feel alienated by their families, churches and even from God. More than nearly anything else, divorced people (especially new divorcees) have a need for acceptance. They need the support and fellowship of other single Christians and divorced people in particular; they often find value in recovery programs such as DivorceCare©, conducted by people that have experienced divorce themselves (Church Initiative).

Traditionally, the church accepts widowed people more than the other segments of the singles population. Yes, the marriage ended, but it ended with a death certificate, not a divorce certificate. Widowed people account for 6.6% of the United States adult population, with 2% being between the ages of 34 and 55 (2002 American Community Survey). Older widowed people in the church are more likely to be emotionally cared for by their families and many churches have programs for seniors, which offers older people the opportunity to fellowship with peers. Older people may also enjoy serving the body of Christ as “phone buddies” or by being mentors to younger Christians. Like all people, they have a need to be valued and needed for who they are (Barna, 131).

Younger widowed people walk a different path than older widowed people do. Many have children at home and may find that they share more challenges with divorced parents than they share with older widowed people. They may also feel anger and frustration at having to start over at a young age, when they should have been married for many more years (Young Widows and Widowers). This group often benefits from a recovery program, such as GriefShare©. While GriefShare© is designed for anybody who has suffered a loss through death, the program recognizes that widowed people may find it difficult to feel optimistic about the future. This faith-based program offers the opportunity to meeting with others who understand the deep pain that widowed people experience (Church Initiatives).

Newly widowed Christians, thrust (sometimes unwillingly) into singleness, find fellowship with other singles essential. For years, they have functioned as half of a couple – part of the whole; in the time it takes to draw one breath, the are the whole. Like divorcees, widowed people need to learn to socialize as a single person and given the opportunity, they can learn from each other.

The local church cannot meet all of the emotional needs of newly single people in most cases. Ideally, people are not “fixed”. Rather, they are given the tools to adjust to their changing lives. Of course, in some cases singles (like anybody else) do need counseling, but if the first option puts singles into a group of peers where they can get support and ideas from others who have been where they are, showing them that they are not alone, those adjustments take place much more quickly.

Emotionally, every person faces experiences that require a strong support system. Most marriages have that built in, but single adults must actively recruit their support. A single parent finds this support crucial in the case of illness.

When a married parent has a cold, in is an inconvenience – his or her spouse makes dinner and picks up the slack (although some married people would argue this point.) When a custodial single parent has a cold, he or she may not have a backup to pick up the slack. If the parent is sick in bed, the dishes will still stay in the sink, the laundry will pile up and life will rush on. If a sole custodial parent has a sick child, he or she may have nobody to take turns during the night, laving the parent exhausted. During the day, a single parent with a sick child may miss work to take care of his or her child, which can quickly lead to financial hardship. Susan, a single adoptive mother says, “When my daughter is sick, I have to stay home from work; it makes me look irresponsible to my boss, my co-workers. And I still have to pay for daycare!”

Even minor surgeries can cause big problems. I recently had a minor surgery; all of my family lives out of town and I had to make arrangements to get home. My siblings all work, my mother and father were in Florida. They did make arrangements to come back to Michigan a little early so my dad could drive me home. A friend volunteered as well and - somehow things got confused and both of these people thought the other one was driving; so neither one of them made plans to be there! It did work out – they both showed up. But it was difficult not having somebody there. Sometimes people complain that I’m too independent, but when I did need help, coordinating it was harder than I thought.

Serious illness wreak an emotional havoc all their own. A single parent can feel isolated and adrift. Helene is a young teacher, 26 years old. She has never been married and has a three-year-old son. A third year teacher, she currently takes classes toward her Master’s Degree. In November 2003, she also had cancer surgery. Helene lamented, “Married people just don’t understand! I need to talk with somebody who understands what it is like to be single and going through something this hard!” In a church that holds marriage up as the ideal, this woman wanted somebody who could empathize, not just sympathize.

Married people do go through serious illnesses, but illness can seem much harder for a single parent, unless they have had the opportunity to form strong relationships with their peers. Faced with the realization that life truly does not go on forever, a single parent has to deal not only with his or her own mortality, but also with the future lives of his or her children. In the lives of most divorced people, the other parent can step in. For single mothers with children whose father is not around, having to choose who will have custody of her children can be a soul-wrenching experience.

Most married people simply cannot comprehend the depth of feeling that a single parent feels during times of life-threatening illness. They can sympathize, but not empathize. This does not mean that married people cannot effectively minister to singles, but in times of great stress, most human beings feel a need to draw close to others with a single life experience in common.

Singles can and should fellowship with married people. The experiences of the entire body have value and nobody should ever go out of his or her way to segregate totally. However, married people may have a harder time internalizing some of the specific challenges that single people experience; other singles may more easily draw closer to the situation since they can more easily picture themselves alone and ill. The church organization cannot meet the single person’s need for peer support, but it can (and should) make it easier for single people to network (fellowship) and meet together to meet each other’s needs.

Social Needs of Single Adults

Known by the church as “fellowship”, people have chosen to fellowship with people that they have something in common with since nearly the beginning of time. Women gathered around the well in villages or at the river to do laundry and talked as they worked. In more recent times, quilting bees have drawn women together for fellowship and the Bible tells us about men gathering at the gates of cities. People have a need to socialize with other people and they are naturally drawn to those that they share a common kinship with. Single adults are no different.

One church tells singles that the church is not a “consumer church,” and they do not want to have one group of people segregating themselves. Looking at a table with fliers advertising a marriage retreat, events for “MOPS” (Mothers of pre-schoolers), people over 50, teens, grade school children, women, men and even golfers, it was hard to understand why all of these segments of the church family deserve targeted ministries, while singles were described as a “consumer group”.

Single people should, of course, participate in the church body as a whole but may also desire to socialize as singles. Churches need to avoid completely segregating singles and having a “church within a church”. Most of the time singles should have the opportunity to feel embraced by the church body and have a singles fellowship where they do not feel like the oddball. To fit in, to belong is a basic human need. Shortly after I was widowed, I was asked to attend an event with a couple. Afterward, I said to a (single) woman who had been a close friend for years, “I felt like a fifth wheel.” She responded, “You’re a fifth wheel. Get used to it.” That blunt statement of how this single woman perceives that couples see singles was my first real introduction to being single in a married world. Even women’s groups can feel challenging and frustrating for a single adult woman. Churches may unintentionally exclude single mothers when they do not offer child care for an event – assuming that there is a spouse at home to care for children. In women’s groups the topic often turns to husbands (and their faults), and single women feel not only left out of the conversation but can also feel that the married women around her just do not appreciate the value of the life they have. There are times in women’s groups when the conversation turns to more intimate topics; this can be extremely awkward for single women, who cannot participate.

Physical Needs of Single Adults

Single adults feel very aware that they are outside the church “norm” just by being single. Many Americans thrive on independence and singles are on their own; they may not want to admit that they need help with life’s daily problems (child care, illness and home/car repairs.) the one who gives is blessed as much as the one who receives; to deny a spiritual sibling the opportunity to help deprives him or her of the blessing. For single adults who may already feel isolated from the body, this may be a difficult lesson to learn. If singles are supported by other singles who encourage them to turn to the church, seeking help may be easier.

Singles should not bypass the church for their giving; goods and services have traditionally (and Biblically) been funneled through the organization. Christians should encourage other Christians to allow the body to minister to them by giving either goods or services

“For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.” Acts 4:34-35)

Single Parents
  • 60% of all children in the United States will live in a single parent household before the age of 18

  • The single parent is the most rapidly growing “poverty level segment of our society.”

  • Three out of every four teenage suicides occur in single-parent households (Kamstra 7:1)
Statistically, the children of a single parent are more likely to be at risk, and churches must make a choice. They can either embrace single parents, helping them mentor their children or they can treat them with indifference or worse. Single parents have many personal challenges – they may be recovering from the loss of a relationship and may be dealing with grief, forgiveness, depression and loneliness. A sole custodial parent must learn to adjust to being single while bearing the responsibility of being a parent. Many single parents are financially stable, but some are not; planning for the future can be frustrating when you are part of the fastest growing population in poverty.

Single mothers need the help of a few others with parenting. (Studies show that in contested cases mothers are granted the sole custody over fathers by a margin of eight to one. According to research conducted by Sanford Braver, author or “Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths”, divorced mothers are five times as likely to be satisfied with their post-divorce child custody arrangements as divorced fathers (Glenn Sacks, Convicted Murderess.) With younger children, single mothers need a break now and then. The church can help by facilitating relationships that will offer those breaks. Single mothers with teenagers need to have a system in place that will provide a dependable Godly man to mentor her children into adulthood. All children need multiple adult models; they will find them whether the church helps provide them or not. If a child finds all of his or her adult role models in secular sources, congregation members should ask themselves if they church is filling its job description. Deb says, “I had people ask, ‘What can I do to help?’ I suggested they include my son when they take their son fishing, baseball – nothing! Nobody followed through.” My own experience is similar. An elder who had lined up a mentor for my son – as a trial for a church sponsored system, approached me. We were introduced, the man was given our phone number – he never called.

Non-custodial single fathers need the love and support of the church as much as custodial
mothers do. Two-thirds of divorce proceedings in the United States are initiated by women between the ages of 21 and 37 (U.S. Census). Studies show that (as mentioned before) in contested cases mothers are granted sole custody over fathers by a margin of eight to one. Many single fathers have not only suffered the loss of the marriage, they are also dealing with being separated from their children. Seventy-five percent of divorced fathers maintain that their ex-wives have interfered with their court-ordered visitation rights and 40 of the ex-wives admit to it. In some cases, the ex-wives have moved many miles away, making it nearly impossible for fathers to see their children on a regular basis (Glenn Sacks, “Many Divorced Dads”). Child support payments are often a huge drain on a non-custodial father’s finances, making the adjustment as a single even more difficult

Single parents need loving support, not judgment. They need to be surrounded with loving spiritual siblings – both single and married. Like every part of the body, single parents need to be supported in a tangible way – and that means that the body of Christ must step forward to meet their spiritual, physical, emotional and fellowship needs. Singles need to be included in the worship, the organization, the social structure and small group support system of the church. More than anything, they need to feel that they belong.


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