Are Churches Adjusting to This?

Is your church adjusting to the rise of numbers among singles?

Census data released this week says 31 million households in 2010 consisted of just one person, 4 million more than 2000. According to the new data, singles make up 27% of U.S. households; in several large cities, including New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., it’s more than 40%.

For the first time ever, Census found, less than half of all U.S. homes — 48% — were husband-wife households.

In 1950, 22% of Americans were single, and 9% of U.S. households were occupied by people who lived alone, says New York University sociology professor Eric Klinenberg, author of new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.

And in places like Manhattan and San Francisco, more than 40% of all households consisted of just one person, according to the new numbers.

The swelling percentage of single-living people is changing the way cities grow, homes are built and businesses operate. The trend line has been noticed by developers and economic observers in many corners of the country.


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  • we have not adjusted. however, it seems churches cater to who attends, and currently this is one demographic we don’t seem to have in large numbers. for those who are in attendance, i have thought of this issue as a majority of sermon illustration tend to deal with marriage and family issues. that is something i’ve been aware of as a pastor.

  • phil_style

    Last church I went to thought that “singles” living alone were a mission field to be caught in the net and married off to other church singles.
    Their attitude was that you were single because you hadn’t married yet.

  • slowly…very slowly. Last year I was on the front page of the New York Times for being an evangelical single pastor looking for a senior pastor position (you posted the article here on Jesus Creed). Gratefully, I have found a congregation that sees me as ‘normal’ for being 39 and single (though looking ladies! 🙂

    As far as I know, in my denomination–evangelical covenant–there are less than 1% of senior pastors that are single…that is 300% less than the senior pastors in my denomination that are female (3%), and we have been ordaining women into the ministry since 1974. Given that the national average is now 50% of the adult population that are single, and given that only 1% in my denomination have senior pastors who are single, I would say very cautiously and slowly are churches mildly–did I mention “slowly”–warming up to singles being leaders–or parishioners–in the church.

  • Jag

    Interestingly, when I was online dating, I had to remove all mentions of church (even though I work for one) from my profile in order to attract the liberal woman/women I was searching for. Mentioning church or Christianity seemed to make them automatically assume I was conservative and perhaps even seeking someone to be in authority over.

    On the other hand, there were a good number of women searching for a good Christian man for a Christian relationship/marriage. But they were too conservative for me, and I really want a full equal in every sense of the word. I don’t want to be the leader.

  • KC

    I personally don’t get the sense that churches are, but I’ve had little church experience over the past year or so. Actually, that non-adjustment is a small part of why my mom left our old church and the main reason I left – once you were out of high school, there were very few single people who attended the church. Most singles at church were expected to couple up eventually, and all the Sunday School classes were full of and aimed at married couples. I felt I didn’t have a place to fit in as a single person because of that.

    I know my college’s RUF branch doesn’t focus on marriage or couples or engagement as much as any of the churches I’ve been to over the past but that’s easily explained since most students at RUF here aren’t in a long-term relationship and that’s not as expected during college. It’s still nice, though, that while we can discuss romantic relationships, we’re not expected to be in them or talk about them all the time or be focused on coupling up during church time.

  • In my experience the church is so focused on teaching about our union with God through the analogy of marriage that they conflate the two and end up confusing marriage with salvation, and worship the institution as though it were Christ himself. Married people are thus seen as closer to God, and marriage within the church is hegemonic. This is not only destructive and dehumanizing to those who are not married, but it is idolatrous.

  • Perhaps, the orthodox, evangelical Christian church in America should follow the lead of the neo-liberal, mainline denominations work toward doing away with marriage all together. This will do away with the need to have these conversations by leading to an inclusive church that embraces all expressions of human sexuality and re-definitions of what family means. Ephesians 5 is truly archaic, prejudicial, and needs to be re-interpreted. Rather than calling culture to old, worn out wine skins, let’s just create new ones that work for us. The statistics make it clear that the Gospel just doesn’t work.

  • Sherri

    @chadm – We don’t attend BECAUSE churches don’t “cater” to us. And churches don’t need to cater to us – just don’t exclude us. Most churches I’ve attended make singles past age 35 feel like lepers. Their loss, because we have more time to serve and help than our married friends who often have children.

  • Joe Canner

    Joshua #7: I understand that you are being sarcastic, but what does your comment have to do with Scot’s post, or any of the other comments? The post has to do with singles (people who live alone), not redefining marriage or being permissive of various expressions of sexuality.

  • JohnM

    Are churches adjusting to this? I wish we wouldn’t worry so much about adjusting all the time. Unfortunately some churches will end up running to once again catch up to, and gushingly affirm, the cultural wave, and some will once again be running to capitalize on market demand.

  • KatR

    @JoshuaWaulk I’m laughing over the fact that you quoted Ephesians in the middle of your screed bashing singles. I’ll let you figure out why.

  • Joshua Waulk

    @KatR: I don’t think your reference is that difficult. Secondly, I wasn’t bashing anyone, much less single people. Thirdly, you may not be as familiar with my reference or the reason for my sarcasm. Carry on.

  • Joshua Waulk

    And btw, I’m all for consulting the stats and so forth. Know your tribe. There’s a danger I’m referring to in my “screed.” (What is that, any way?)

  • @Joshua Waulk: I’m uncertain how you see changing cultural marital practices as equivalent to giving up on the gospel? I’m understanding your argument as a reductio ad absurdum saying “Let’s just eradicate marriage altogether because the Gospel doesn’t work,” (its being sarcasm) but since marriage and the gospel are not the same thing, it is a non sequitor to include the gospel in your reduction because you are talking about marriage, not the Gospel. These two things should never be conflated.

    We should understand marriage and its place in the church and the good things it brings to God’s people and to society. But we should never allow our view of it to cloud sight of the love God has for all individuals, married or not, and the complete objective reality of Christ’s atonement.

  • phil_style

    Comment 7 appears to have derailed this train….

  • @Annie: You are correct. Marriage is not “the Gospel” and the atonement is, well, what word can adequately describe what Christ has done for his people? Yet, marriage, w/o argument, displays one of the most powerful truths of the Gospel: the union between Christ and his church. That’s the grand purpose of marriage. Singleness cannot display this (although I’m sure someone will tell me how it does). And yet, singleness is not sin…unless…a person remains single because of some hidden idolatry (which I’m sure never happens…its purely theoretical). And yes, I know very well that marrieds craft their own idols, as well (I know my heart pumps out idols 24/7). But that’s not entirely my point…I alluded to it earlier. My concern, what led to my neo-con-ortho-reformed sarcastic rant is the reality that the numbers Scot posted reflect the shedding of the Gospel in cultures across the globe. Marriage and the birth rates that follow are down significantly all over the map. Not just in America. Segments of the church are pointing to these realities, reflected in stats, and are responding by saying, essentially, “See, this system of marriage is archaic and by its very nature, discriminatory. We need to redefine and rework how we understand marriage.” And just like that, we find ourselves w/”churches” doing all sorts of neat things with the Gospel. Scot notes the title of a book in his post, “The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.” His title ought to lead us to ask: why is singleness “appealing”? I suspect for most people its not so that they can, like Paul (KatR) live a life on mission, spreading the Good News everywhere they go. Let’s be honest, these stats, encompassing many Christian people, do not reflect a people sold out for the Gospel, by and large. This person may, and that person may, but I’d be willing to bet, that these numbers are the natural consequence of a human population that has shaken its collective fist at God and said, “I’ll do it my way, Sir.” So, I’m actually in agreement w/Scot’s post and his question. What are churches doing to respond to this? I’m afraid that in many sectors, the answer is either, not enough, or the wrong thing entirely. And, if I’ve violated yet again one of the latin named errors of argument, or if I’ve “derailed” the “conversation”, I apologize. T’was not my intent. Hopefully, there’s enough “tolerance” for my viewpoint here.

  • Gary Lyn

    I think for many years the family has been one of those “program idols” of the church. The church is described as the family of God. We are here to minister to families. “Family of God” is not a significant metaphor for church in scripture. I don’t believe the church is here to minister to families. I believe the church exists to minister to persons. Yes, part of the identity of many people is member of a family, but as the statistics, many people are a household of one. Are they a family of one? Or does the family emphasis break down here.
    This “idolatry” gets expressed in many subtle ways. Several years ago, I was part of an active singles group in a church in Houston. During the season of Advent one year, we noticed that when the time came for the Advent Candle lighting, every week it was a mother, father, and children that did so. After all, the tradition was for families to light the Advent candle.

  • Scott Gay

    Adjusting? This is another curveball thrown at the church. Joshua Waulk takes a few pokes at it and misses. Jesus could hit this form of public enemy number 1. Minors until learning to go with the pitch.

  • Ok, Scott Gay. Let’s assume I’ve swung and completely missed (in a blog post no less). We need a hero. Step up to the plate, go with the pitch, and line a double to the opposite field for us by explaining your take to the crowd. And make sure its a good one.

  • Adam

    @Joshua Walker

    Some of the comments you are throwing about have specific contexts that are very important to consider. First, your comment about birth rates being low. It’s true, they are lower than before, but your implication is wrong. Lower birthrates are very good right now. We’re facing overpopulation. The average birthrate today across the globe is about 2 children per woman. That is plenty to maintain a steady population. Higher birth rates lead to higher population and our population now is starting to cause problems.

    Second, I agree that rate of singleness and rate of divorce are due to “moral failings” but the answer is not marriage it’s community. The skills that make a marriage work are the same skills that make a community work. God defines his relationship to humanity through marriage because that is the best example we humans have. It does not make marriage the end-all be-all because it’s not. We as humans are losing the capacity to be in communion with each other and singleness and divorce are the signs that it is happening.

    The solution is not to target the singles and get them married. The solution is to get both singles and marrieds to share their lives together.

  • Wow! On the one hand, God owns the institution of marriage. He thought it was a good plan and since He is God, he is always right. On the other hand, singleness is a gift from God. No marriage partner = no sexual experience. So long as single Christians who hold the name of Christ understand that, we at least a good place to start. For those who think the Christian ethic on sex is archaic and out-dated, I think you need a new heart, one filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and a desire to honor God and acknowledge Him in every area of your life. Scripture provides instructions to the married, to the single, to husbands, wives, children, young men and old, young women and old. It leaves on one out. The duty of the Christian community is to honor God in all that she does. Singles want special attention, homosexuals want special attention, everyone wants special attention. It is not the duty of the Church to focus on any one group. Her focus is on Christ and her goal is the spiritual growth of those within her ranks, not their entertainment. Another man-centered “me” article that fails to recognize the pernicious Americanization of Christianity. Regrettable and unfortunate.

  • Fish

    Marriage is older than the Bible. God owns the institution of marriage only in the sense He owns everything, including civil government, the authority which for legal purposes defines marriage.

    If God owned marriage and we followed scripture, we’d have polygamy and child marriage – there’s no restriction in the Bible on 12 year olds getting married, but as a people / government we have defined that as wrong. Or, as in my state, we have sky-high divorce rates due to teenagers getting married to the wrong person because they are in lust and feel that marriage is the proper way out of that conundrum.

    Singles are a pressing issue for the church, which does generally think of marriage as something it owns and so looks upon the arrangement as the ultimate. But singleness is not a condition to be resolved or even necessarily discouraged. I don’t need the church encouraging my daughter to get married before she reaches that level of maturity.

  • @Joshua

    Thank you for your thorough response. I agree that we do not take the gospel seriously enough; the church does not spend enough time teaching doctrine and theology. The atonement, the trinity, the incarnation and our ultimate union with God are shuffled to the side for practical advice.

    Yes, marriage does reflect this union we have with God. I don’t think there is any evidence that singleness shows that union. But do not forget; marriage is an analogy to that union, not the union itself. Singleness does not need to teach us anything about union with God in order for single people not only to be of worth and value inherently and in the church, but also to be included in union with God. The church’s eagerness to marry singles off shows a reluctance to fully recognize their equal union with God because the church doesn’t know what else to do with them. This comes from an over-focus on the analogy of marriage to Christ and his bride, and and under-focus on Christ and his bride themselves.

  • SC

    It’s true that the church has mostly written off singles over the age of 35. Many singles who wish to be married are told to be quiet and be content, or they’re too picky and singlehood is their own fault. Singles don’t get prayers for any reason unless someone has died. The general attitude of the church is shortsighted because it is driving people away who are not only productive and valuable to the running of the church as singles, but may still marry and have children whether naturally, by adoption or with step-children. Will more future generations of children be raised without the church because their parents were alienated out of it today?