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January 9, 2007

Redefining Singles Ministry

When I moved to New York, I visited churches for a year. One of the reasons I settled at the church I joined is that it doesn't have a singles ministry. No one asked me to serve on the worship team of the singles service or teach in the singles Sunday-school class; my pastor instead asked me to serve on the education committee. And no one invited me to a singles mixer; instead, I mingle with married friends, engaged friends, widowed friends, and other single 20-somethings at the church suppers on Sunday evenings.

I didn't want to be part of a singles ministry because the majority of my needs don't have anything to do with being single. I need prayer. I need to serve others. I need to be held accountable for my sins. And I figure married people need those things, too. I don't want to be segregated with people who, superficially, are just like me. The eye cannot say to the hand, after all, "I don't need you."

Lots of single Christians don't agree with me. Indeed, a lot of my Christian friends, who go to different churches, say they chose their church precisely because it offers a vital singles ministry. Singleness, they say, does come with special needs, and thank God the church is recognizing that more than it did 20 years ago and is responding.

Sue Nilson, singles ministry pastor at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, a large seeker-sensitive congregation just north of Dayton, Ohio, has worked with single Christians for almost 15 years. Good singles ministry isn't a holding tank where single Christians wallow in those issues, she says; it is "a place to process them so that singles can then go on to be great leaders for Christ, in the church and the world."

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about singles ministry as Nilson. Terry Hershey was once one of the country's leading singles ministers. In 1981 he joined the staff of Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in southern California, and he co-founded the now defunct National Association of Single Adult Leaders. His books and seminars established him as an authoritative voice. But in the last 20 years, he's done some rethinking on the singles issue. "Churches should never be divided along gender or marital or generational lines," he now says. "As soon as we ghettoize people - Oh, I'm glad you're in our church today; are you single? Then go to room 207 - then we've done something wrong."

Hershey now believes churches don't need singles ministers as much as singles advocates. And advocacy, he says, "has nothing to do with instituting a program. It has to do with how we help provide childcare for single parents who are in our church. It has to do with how we plug people in who are single adults so they know they can serve here and have support here. That's singles ministry."


I agree with Winner. I want the experience of serving and sharing among people of all stages.

However, I do sometimes need to talk about my specific struggles. I love the idea of single advocates in churches, which I've never really heard explained. It makes a lot of sense to me and would love to see more about how that would look in a church.

I recently resigned from a position as singles lay leader in our large non-denominational church. I lead or tried to lead 30's and40's singles for 3 years. Although the church supported my leadership, 30's and 40's singles were not on their radar. They have 2 singles ministers for the college/20-something crowd. I found it hard to lead 30's and 40's due to the diversity of the group and folks complaining about how their specific needs weren't being met My philosophy is the same as Lauren's, as single adults we need to be becoming part of our body, serving, interacting with all ages and seasons of life, doing life together. Singles groups tend to be unhealthy as they are either a meat market or a place for singles to dwell on their disappointments and problems. I would definitely encourage churches to recognize singles and not put all their focus on marriage and family issues but to work toward bringing all ages and seasons of life together as a family.

Thank you Lauren for ur refreshing view and open mindness....yes, i also agree with you. There should not be any restrictions on the type of ministries we take up whether we are single or not....granted we are better equip to understand other people if we are going thru the same phase but it would be really good for people to discard the label of being single and just live life.....the best days are those that we forget that we are single!!!!

I'm single, but most everyone else my age at my church is married. I personally would enjoy being in a group with some other singles, at least sometimes. Sometimes I get the impression that the newly married couples in my Sunday School class think that I am "behind" or less mature than them because I am not married. (They would say "not married yet.") I'd like to have a place where I can talk with people about things other than weddings and in-laws.

Paul wrote a letter specifically to Timothy about living his life being unmarried. I think that there is definitely a need for singles ministries in the church.

Our culture is inundated with sex. A married couple doesn't really have to do a study on fornication and abstaining from sex, so where are we as singles going to have the encouragement that Paul gave to Timothy.

My dilemma is that I am single, but with children. I would love and feel there is a need for a single parent ministry.

These ministries within the Church serves as a source of encouragement and unity for your specific state in life, beit Senior Saint, Single, Single Parent, Teen or tween. We all need to be ministered to so that we are empowered in our current state in life-hopefully to effect change in this world with like peers who are not a part of the Body of Christ.

How would a married believer minister to a single non believer who is struggling with fornication and being promiscuous? As a believer who is single you maybe able to minister specific issues because you know exactly what this person maybe going through, whether or not you struggled specifically or striving to make sure you don't fall in this area, You know where this person is in life.

I think they are needed.

Our church has a single parents ministry, or what we call a "small group" that meets regularly. It has been a wonderful place for me to get ministered and to also help others. As a single Mom, the younger singles group was not comfortable for me, because no one there had kids. I couldn't meet with them because of lack of childcare. Our group provides childcare during our meetings. Our group also provides many resources such as financial seminars, stress relief sessions and tips on organizing our cluttered homes. We have bible study and worship, and we share praise reports and pray for each others needs. We plan fun outings that include families. Our group has become sort of a catch all now for others who don't fit into the "neatly segmented" small groups of our church. We have seen relationships restored and people get married to their separated partners. Couples have also joined our group, as well as singles w/o children, because they feel they fit in and enjoy the mixed fellowship. We had to change our name from "The Single Parent Connection" to "The Parent Connection!" because we don't simply dwell on the problems of being a single parent. We equip each other for everything we might face in life. Our primary focus still is on helping single parents find their spiritual gifts and encouragement through the body of Christ (the church).

I'd say that a singles group is a good thing. I have made awesome friends in ours. It helped me become more involved in my church as well. It could become a meat market, if you let it... but we don't let ours become that. Our leaders have keen awareness and are ready to step in if there is a sense that someone is overstepping their boundaries. Those of us who have been with the group longer are able to help the newcomers find the comfort and friendship they seek and balance that with the word of God, our source for living.

I can understand the viewpoint of the writer and the responders. As for me, I'd love to be a part of a single's ministry. I'd love to meet others, especially in my age group that are single and who are sold out to Christ and are continuing to seek to draw nearer to Him and grow in the faith. It would be nice.

Paula Kay

Unless you have been single you cannot relate to singles. I became a singles leader after I was ministered to through the DivorceCare program. I had been married 21 years with two children. Although I was very actively involved in church my church-going married friends could no longer relate to me or my new station in life. I personally saw the need for someone to step up to the plate and start working with singles at my church. There should be stages of singles ministry and that is the goal I have achieved with this group. Singles come in hurting and lonely and leave filled and ready to serve. If they aren't willing to grow spiritually you'll have problems. You have to stick with the program and move them from self-service to service to others and that means structured studies and service opportunities specifically geared to singles. The leader has to genuinely care about each member and that's very time-consuming, but well worth the effort! One lay person or one minister can't do it all. You have to constantly be in the process of training singles to assume leadership roles and care for one another. That's key.

I'm all for banishing singles groups, as well as marrieds groups and seniors groups. That means all the groups within the groups too. The group for singles with kids, the singles without kids, the young marrieds, the older marrieds, the seniors who like to golf, and the group for those that don't.

Let's just form one big people group. We could even let the kids in on it too.

I am single, have been in singles groups, have served as a leader of different singles groups. But, thankfully I escaped. There was a time when I thought the church couldn't possibly understand me. I thought being single had unique problems that only other singles could relate to. I was ready to go on a crusade on behalf of the noble singles group.

But, after awhile I realized that all the segregation and hairsplitting simply created a culture of "in-breeding." It was like being in Clone World. We all looked the same, talked the same, and recycled the same old sentiments.

What we need in the church is not more groups, but to learn how to love those who are different than ourselves. Segregation only fosters a climate of misunderstanding and judgement. The less we interact, the more other groupings of people seem strange. We deprive each other of the unique wisdom that comes from those that are in different stations and development in life. Its not that married couples don't understand singles, its that some married couples, just like everyone else, are too preoccupied with their own lives to care. We all are capable of being too selfish and impatient to take the time to understand someone else who is not exactly like us. It's a lot easier to hunker down with those who think like me and agree with me.

One person commented that married people cannot relate to singles because of sexual temptation. But, the reality is we are all sexual beings and sexual temptation does not disappear when one is married. We too often exaggerate our problems as being unique, but we are all in the same boat of the human race. We all know what it is to experience temptation, suffering, and joy.

I, for one, am enjoying the richness that comes from connecting with older women who have something to teach me, being able to observe healthy married couples, and interacting with energetic kids. That feels more like what a church "family" as the body of Christ is supposed to be.

Although I agree with Lauren that the church needs to be less segregated and more integrated, the reality is that the church is not doing a great job at reaching single adults. One look at most of our Sunday Morning services validates that. If almost 50% of the adult population is single, then our churches, to be culturally relevant, should be growing to reflect that number. If the church does not reflect that, they then need to consider why singles are or are not attending their church. And, what does the church need to do in light of that.

I would agree - the current structure of single adult ministry has many flaws. Single Adult Ministry was the church's response over 30 years ago to the changing cultural dynamic - the rise of divorce and the choice to marry later. But I want to caution us to not throw out the baby with the bathwater. What the church currently needs are some individuals who love single adults and who are willing to take the time to rethink ministry to single adults. We also need to encourage churches to consider type of environment they foster and whether or not it is helping or hindering single adults in attending their church and participating in the life of the church. The media gets it...businesses get it...the church has a bit of a ways to go to catch up.

I've been a single adult director for 10 years. I am currently taking the time to rethink my own ministry structures...and making adjustments that foster positive change. I would be happy to hear from others who are thinking about these same things.

What about the children of single parents? I see a lack of support for them. There are some children who do not have role models or a big family to step in and help add to their lives and help them build a strong foundation. There are some children who only have one parent and no one else to provide support, encouragement, and direction. I asked one of my ministers if he knew of any other fathers in the church who may be willing to include my son in some activites and provide some encouragement (my son and I are alone - no family members to help out). The minister told me to go find someone in a small group. When I finally joined a small group, they were all married and it was suggested to me that I should leave and join a singles group. I wish some people would think of the children.

Sherri, I sympathize with your plight as a single mom. The traditional church is often too segregated to provide a space for those who don't exactly fit the box. Have you tried a house church? House churches tend to be intergenerational. Thus, single parents and kids all fit nicely in with everyone else. Since kids are not typically ferretted out to their own groups, house churches typically provide good interaction between adults and kids, as well as marrieds and singles. I attend a house church and we have a single mom with two kids. We all interact with her children, including the men. Its a natural setting for mentoring the younger ones. It very much has a family feel to it. Smaller and more intimate. We look after each other.

I agree that churches do not need singles ministries. I am a single lady who thoroughly enjoys the company of the married men at my church. These men are so much more interesting than the single men I meet and it upsets me when their wives do not want me to get to know their husbands and spend time with them at church functions. We need to remember that we are one body in Christ and I should not be shunned when I want to talk and spend time with a married man.

The worst tempered people I've ever met were people who knew they were wrong.

I am a single female and I agree with having a Single Ministry. I have conversation with everyone hang-out with singles and married couples, but I have nothing in common with a married person. I love the idea to pick up the phone and call and talk to my single friends and go out or take a trip, cruises, camping or whatever, you can't just drop what you are doing when you are married. Singles and Married couples have the same basic spiritual needs but couples having the spiritual support and encouragement that a spouse can offer, I rather have a group that I can lean on and have similar interest.. And to Lynn what do you have in common with a MARRIED MAN!!! why would you say they are much more interesting than single men you do not talk about a married man and single man in the same sentence a married man has nothing to give you they are married!! I would not want you around my husband either when you say they are more interesting than a single (REALLY) WOW

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