Monday, December 26, 2005

Adult Christian Singles: Options for Singles Ministries


What the Church Can Do For Singles

The diversity of the singles population requires that any singles ministry reflect that diversity. A multi-faceted singles ministry can be built around the spiritual, emotions, physical and fellowship needs of the singles involved.

In a typical week, only one of three single adults attends a church service (Barna 86). About 30% of all singles have not attended a church service other than a holiday or special event within the past six months (Barna 93). Even among singles who consider themselves Christians, many are walking away from the church. In order to understand how the church can meet the needs of singles, we need to understand why they are leaving the church in the first place.

“We live in an age where the commutes are long and leisure time is short, “Duin writes, ”Singles, like everybody else, do not like to waste time nor suffer fools gladly. I’ve seen the same pattern all over the country; committed evangelical Christian men and women in their thirties and forties who have had it with their family-centric churches and who have quietly slipped out. They have put in their twenty or more years of service to their church and have gotten little or nothing back.” If churches do not make themselves relevant to the lives of single adults, church attendance will continue to dwindle, even as the singles population explodes.

The answer to the question, “What does a singles ministry look like?” is not simple; it depends on the church and the singles that attend. Single adults want to be integrated into the church as a whole, to be included as servants and as recipients. They also want to have peer support and fellowship to meet their particular needs as singles (just as seniors, women, youth, etc., want to meet together.) DivorceCare© and GriefShare© (both from Church Initiatives) are wonderful examples of the care that many newly single people benefit from. A single adult should be able to worship fully, help to teach, organize and minister – and yet have that niche where he or she can meet with others with a commonality; where they can all understand each other more fully because they have been there.

George Barna defines six pillars of the Christian faith that form the basis for healthy Christian development: worship, evangelism, personal spiritual development, resource stewardship, community service and fellowship. Christians (married or single) often see this list more like a menu – choosing one or two of the more comfortable areas and developing those, resulting in incomplete believers (75). When this happens, they have a lopsided view of Christianity that enables them to continue with their lukewarm beliefs. Helping singles identify and develop each of those pillars will help them make a major leap forward in their walk with God and become better servants within the church.

Single Christians, like all Christians, need an active prayer life. Like all Christians, they need intercessory prayer and the opportunity to pray in small groups and (if needed) to be taught to have an active individual prayer life.

Single adults who are entering the church for the first time, or who find themselves in a new life situation and serious about God for the first time, will need to have an opportunity to study God’s Word. They will benefit greatly from having a small Bible study group with a guide written by single adults. Singles, especially new singles, need to see the “dots connected”, to be taught how the entire body of Christ fits into God’s greater purpose. Until they have a chance to dig deep into Scripture, they will continue on the path they are on, ever hearing, never understanding.

Programs or Bible studies that address the unique needs of each group of singles involved in the ministry should supplement the universal needs of singles. Smaller churches can network together to form sustainable groups.

Younger people (either in age or spiritual maturity) may still be searching for significance and may be working their way toward discovering their place in the church. Younger adults who have never been married might need assistance learning how to relate to adults (married or single) as adults. Only a few younger adults (especially singles) have developed a significant understanding of Barna’s spiritual pillars and should have the opportunity to study and put what they learn into practice (Barna 130). The more mature Christian can offer experience and be valuable role models to celibate teens.

For the divorced person, life can be a wild ride. They can feel physically exhausted, emotionally drained, financially strapped and spiritually confused (Barna 131). Any person working in a ministry to divorced people, especially newly divorced, needs to have a deep understanding of the stress in their lives. At times, divorcees need plenty of space and other times they may want to cling; they want direction and support, but also want control. Those who minister to newly divorced people should not expect much enthusiasm about church involvement. The divorcee may have already felt the contempt of those “Christians” who look down on them because of their divorce.

Many widowed people live at a pace all their own. Typically older, they may choose not to be a part of a singles ministry at all, preferring to fellowship with “senior adults” rather than more active, younger singles. They do not want more responsibility, control or conflict. They may wish to help out with a ministry, but not run it (Barna 130). Younger widowed people may identify more with divorced people in their age range and should be encouraged to join whatever group (or groups) they feel most comfortable in.

Some singles do not want a segregated singles group at all; they want to be completely bonded to the mainstream of the church and get their “singles fix” some other way. Others want to be connected to the heartbeat of the church, but also want a smaller, more intimate group of single adults with which to fellowship. Still others would like to be part of an integrated small group, but have social opportunities for singles. In a church that cares about singles, all can be available. The church can facilitate the gathering of singles but should be careful not to make it appear to make it mandatory. The list of activities that can be geared toward single adults or be sponsored by a singles ministry is endless, and the list will vary from church to church

Many of the goals of a targeted adult singles ministry are universal to all ministries, but some are particular to singles. A sample list of “Goals and Objectives for a Singles Ministry” reads:
  • Recognize singleness as an acceptable lifestyle.

  • Equip single adults with necessary skills to live productive lives.

  • Minister to single adults during times of crisis.

  • Help single adults become integrated into the local church ministry and family.

  • Help members of the church family see single adults as family members.

  • Provide single adults a place of service to minister to the church family.

  • Develop support structures within the church to meet the unique needs of the single adult and single-parent family.

What Single Adults Can Do For the Church

Dick Schmidt says:
Singles ministry plays a vital role in the life and development of our church. It is viewed that way from the top down. Our elders view the singles ministry as vital for at least the following two reasons: 1) It is a key entry point into the church. Many people who are now in leadership…came through the door of our singles ministry. 2) As a church we believe…that every individual has spiritual gifts. Everyone is challenged and encouraged to nurture their God-given abilities to serve others…People who are part of the singles ministry have the opportunity to develop into strong Christian leaders…In fact, one of the stated goals for the singles ministry is that it be a leadership development center. A significant part of our church leadership is made up of single adults. They play a vital part in the life and growth of this church.” (Kamstra 4:8)

A targeted singles ministry can have an immense impact on a church. While there are many single mothers on the verge of poverty (or beyond), there are also many single professionals who bring education, skills and “sweat equity” to the church. Single adults have much more to bring to the church than filling the nursery or Sunday School duty that is typically open to them.

Susan notes that before any person can feel truly accepted, they must first feel truly useful. An integral part of a singles ministry should be to offer opportunities to serve the church in a wide variety of ways. If the church reaches out to single adults and gives them equal opportunities to serve on committees, boards and councils, singles will reach out in kind and become an involved and satisfied part of the church.



Gina said...

Hey Ellen,

I am really enjoying reading your series on singles. I think you have addressed an important and often overlooked population of the Christian community with compassion and insight. I hope others will be inspired by your observations.

The church I attend doesn't have a singles ministry, but I know there is a Methodist church in my area that has a huge singles group. I wonder how many more singles we would have at our church if we focused on that segment of the population more?

Being single myself, I can totally empathize with the concerns you have mentioned.


Anonymous said...

Thanks - I wish more churches would pay attention.