Single People in Church = Gay People in Church

This article was recently published from one of my very favorite publications, RELEVANT Magazine. The title is, “Being Single with Intentionality.” It caught my eye because so often singles in church culture feel as weird and put out as gays and lesbians do.

I was speaking recently at Willow Creek and I brought up the aforementioned point, and the ‘singles group’ sitting together at the side of the auditorium starting cheering really, really loudly. Awkward for everyone in the audience—except for them, me and the gay folks in attendance (yes, gay people do attend Willow whether they know it or not—but they do know it) because we are the ones that really know the truth. Interesting how this works?

But the one thing that kept running through my head while reading this article was the following:

Why do singles have to be intentional in forming relationships with the dominant married culture in the church? Why do the married folks get off so easy—like it’s the singles responsibility to fit into their life, like their life is more important or more worthy, and thus, the singles need to adapt. Forget that! How about this:

You married people need to adjust and be intentional in forming relationships with the singles in your church. You seek them and be intentional about it—not the other way around. I’m tired of the majority culture making the minority culture feel like it’s somehow their fault and they need to be the one’s to change or adapt. Sneaky tricks the majority gets to utilize with power and influence.

I’m over it. I’m calling it out. And I’m not going to stand for this stuff happening anymore.

Grow a pair married couples and be the Church.

Much love.

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  • Yes, I agree, things are backward. Have always wondered why because I am single I never get invited to married couple’s places or befriended especially by them. Singles are really missing out, some of us need to relate to married’s to see how they relate to each other. They do get off too easy!

  • Wes


  • Its mostly just Christian segregation. Pitiful. And the part that kills me is that the majority church pushes it off on you all like you should be doing something better to hang with THEM. Breaks my heart. I’m a big fan of ditching the whole singles and couples ministires. I do understand the point behind them, but they’ve run their course. At some point the church has to retrospectively look back and assess what has happened – good or bad. Changes need to be made. Unfortunetly though, whenever I bring this up to churches, I just get laughed at. The good news: I’m still going to be a thorn in their side saying this stuff. A few insulting laughs haven’t deterred me yet. 🙂

    • Oh, thank you. Thank you.

  • GREAT POINT! But easier to do without kids. Once you add kids into the mix, things change, my man. As much as I’d like to intentionally build relationships with single folks, when my kids are screaming and fighting each other at 9 pm, I don’t think they are gonna want me to hang out at Sbux very long.

    That doesn’t give married with kids an out. but it definitely makes it a little more difficult.

  • LP

    I’ve been at churches that didn’t even have singles groups and most of the married folks still wouldn’t befriend single folks like me. They all but said go find a husband and then we can talk. When we chase all the single people out of the church it kinda makes it harder to find a Christian spouse there!

  • Arlene

    Why not both? Shouldn’t the onus just be on us all? 🙂

  • Mrs T

    Wow! I’m so glad I go to a big church & don’t feel the division, altho they have various demographic SS classes. But one is not compelled to be pigeon-holed. I have friends of all types, altho as a married person, I tend to have more single friends. I think it’s because so many families buy into the suburban thing. We stayed in the city to raise our kids. We only had 2, so managed private schools. I do think that schooling is a big factor why parents move to the suburbs, therefore disconnecting from the singles in the church who prefer the city.
    Still, I find it hard to hear the complaint that there are still these divisions. In our modern culture, it sounds so weird. Even small towns are very contemporary in so many areas. I would think singles & marrieds would blend easily together everywhere!

  • How timely this is, Andrew. A church down the street from me is having some sort of “conference” this weekend. I have no idea what it is, but made the comment to my mother when she asked if I knew what it was that, “it’s probably YET ANOTHER one of their ‘Couples Conferences’!” Those things are a dime a dozen these days. Two years ago it was “Fireproof” or “Firestarter” or whatever the name of it was, and before that it was some other catchy/kitchy slogan undoubtedly crafted by some marketing specialist paid way too much to come up with the latest and greatest “ministry money-maker!” Gee…bitter much?! 😉

    Seriously, though, as a single person I have always felt left out of mainstream churches no matter the denomination. Add to that my struggle with SSA and I’m practically a leper! There’s an almost elitist attitude among married people in the church. I’ve been in churches where only married people were allowed to serve, as if a gold band and guilt-free sex bestows the mantel of leadership on the shoulders of “real Christians.” Nevermind the fact that Paul himself was not married and, for all intents and purposes, said, ‘it’s better not to be married, but if you just can’t control yourself, by all means, tie the knot!’

    I’ve honestly just grown tired of the prevailing attitude in the church that married people are somehow more godly than us poor, unfortunate, hopeless, sinful singles! As I said in reponse to another one of your posts, it’s unfortunate that our culture places so much emphasis on conjugal relationships, be it in their attitudes toward gays or their attitudes toward singles!

    Thanks for your stance on this!

  • preach!

  • Andrew — I liked the thoughts about being intentional at church. It is even doubly hard for gay folks in churches that are not affirming. That often makes for a don’t ask / don’t tell environment where integrity and honesty are lacking in the fabric of the church. It is also why it is important to be out and visible as gay people within the church. Especially for churches that are not fully affirming, keeping gays in the closet puts their gay congregants at the most disadvantaged as far as intentional ministry within the church.

    Thus so much talent goes wasted. I am not just talking about the obvious places within the church that we inhabit — like music and education. I am talking about those key bonding times in the church at which church relationships grow to a deeper level. I am talking at the level at which the mission of the church takes on form and true community. I am talking about the many other able gifts of intentional leadership, wisdom, sensitivity, whatever, that gays can bring from their unique perspective. How can we be doing that when we are steered only to groups that are often primarily meat markets for straights where the primary focus is to get us paired up with someone of the opposite sex?

    I got to say though, I know lots of gays who met their partners unwittingly in such groups. Sadly, however, most of them ended up leaving the church and taking their talents with them because they no longer fit into the tidy square boxes the church had cut out for them.

    The church is called to make disciples of ALL nations, i.e. ethnic groups (ethnos). Gays and lesbians are a unique ethnos within the context of the Great Commission that the church has for the most part disobediently avoided the commands of God to make disciples of in the same manner they would all others within their broader community. It is time for the church to realize this and prepare ways to fully integrate, not just singles, but gay and lesbian singles, couples and families into the life of the church.

    I fully believe when you start seeing that happen you will see the other issues with straight singles go away as well. It is the same kind of principle that Gary Cates and Richard Florida talk about in relationship to their studies at The Urban Institute regarding diversity. Population centers, like Silicone Valley, that create and prepare for an environment that is conducive to gay and lesbian population groups are the most likely to grow. Populations where the gay, lesbian and other creative or diverse classes of population are discriminated against are the most likely to dwindle and the populations move away … and guess where to? They take up new residence at the population centers that embrace diversity of all kinds and especially gays and lesbians. It is statistically true.

    Churches that have a purposeful and intentional ministry of making disciples of ALL the people groups in their church, including their single and GLBT congregants, are the ones that are the most likely to have spiritually responsible and healthy growing congregations.

  • Another thought. Statistically, according to the U.S. census, only 1/3 of household groups are made up of households with opposite gender parents and children. Yet, in recent years the model of ministry and politics within the church is geared almost exclusively at “Family FIrst” or “Family Values” types of concepts. God forbid they do anything to make a church environment conducive to gays and lesbians. In the process they have totally lost sght of an even larger group of people in their church. That is the singles and the non-traditional family groups in the church. It could be a single parent and their child, children or grandchildren. Or elderly siblings. Or singles living alone or with roommates. Or unmarried straights in relationship. There is a whole host of variables of this group. Yet, as far as numbers of household units in any given geographical area, they are statistically twice as large as the group for which the church primarily structures itself for. For the most part, these non-traditional families are lost in ministry focus within most churches. This, I believe, is one of the unintentional, but harmful, consequences of the rhetoric and philosophy of leadershp groups in America whose primary motivation is animus against gays. To heal and mend the broken relationship the church has with its very own gay sons and lesbian daughters I believe is to mend the many other broken relationshiops between the church and its other non-traditional family groups as well. … just a thought.

  • Seth

    And divorced singles have a tougher road in the church than never-married singles, with or without children. When their marriages ended, most folks in the churches I have attended over the years simply left, whether to start over at a new church or to generally divest from church life. Kind of a shame, no?

  • Crissy Brooks

    Thanks for the post Andrew. I am enjoying this discussion. While I recognize your point about majority group stepping up and reaching out to the minority group I think there is something to be said for each group- single or married- inviting the other into their lives and events. I have a married couple friend that I have dinner with every other Monday. I love walking into the craziness of their house with all their kids because it is so different from my life. It helps me see what they are dealing with. They like hanging with me because the things I’m involved with are so different from their world and I keep them connected to our broader community. I suppose this is the point you are making- that our lives can be enriched by one another if we would connect instead of stay in our labeled groups. Thanks for once again bringing it up.

  • Jodi Shay

    As someone who has chosen – at least at this point – to be single, I get this all the time. My married friends don’t invite me to do things they would ask other couples to do unless they’ve “set me up” with another single friend. Some of my married friends will only do something with me (assuming that I’ve invited them to do something) if their spouse is already busy, and we always end up hanging out at my place or in public – never at their homes. The thing is that sometimes I would love to just hang out with them and their families. Sometimes I miss the chaos of a family dinner. Sometimes it would be good to just hang out and be a part of a family unit for an evening.

    I’m tired of being told that I can’t hang out with my best friend from high school, who happens to be male, because he’s married and I’m not. Why is it OK for him to hang out with other female friends simply because they are married? It’s not like their husbands are sitting there with them, and it’s not like Shawn and I are going anywhere or doing anything appropriate. I’ve had a few friends walking through a difficult situation with me, and I’ve discovered that the church has even pressured Shawn to pull back and not be a part of that or to call me and see if things are OK.

    I’ve also found that some churches won’t even consider hiring me to minister to their youth because I’m single. Apparently there is something “wrong” with me. I don’t know if they think that I’m gay or if they just assume that I’m incapable of having a relationship. Neither are true, but the fact that I’ve chosen to remain single definitely works against me.

  • WackyWilliams

    THANK YOU Andrew!! I go to one church that is prodomintly college people & they have I think a fairly good amount of singles but it still seems so marrige eletest, I even had a friend tell it would be better to be in a ss relationship then to remain alone!!! & sadly this church is a don’t ask don’t tell church, you can bring your parter just apsalutly no PDAs. so this shocked me greatly & then I had to exsplane I have no clue what that would be if I WAS intrested! it truly is that exspechily if your not dating or trolling your a leaper, I have brought up the scripter about singlness being better & a fomer paster & friend of mine actuly said yes but thats not for people like you that wan’t hugs & wan’t to hang out with people, your too lonly you need a mate! I was agast! if you want to share life with people share pain with people & share time with people you have to be married?? just becuse I like to talk, & hug & share life with people & I have no disire to ever be marred douse that make me some kind of freak?? thanks again Andrew, for making people like me feel less invisible.

  • Ryan

    I think that churches do not realize how this mentality is killing off their congregations. I think many single people feel like beyond high school and college there is no place for them in the church so they just don’t go. And many singles groups basically kind of exist to try and get those people married off.

    This reminds me of a lyric of a song called “Blender” which is sung by Amy Ray (One half of the Indigo Girls) on one of her solo albums. “Yeah,we’re all assimiliated but we are still segregated” But I think this is systemic in our culture and the greater culture will always spill over into our churches if we are not careful.

  • Sarah C.

    I’ve always been a fan of cultural mixing in the church. In my small group we’ve had up to 5 decades represented at a time, married, single, kids, no kids, several ethnic groups. I’ve been single and married while in the group, and it has been one of the richest experiences of my life. Why would I want to hang out with a bunch of folks just like me? What could I possibly learn from that?

    My husband and I also have a few single friends, mostly women, that we hang out with. I’d never really thought about it until now. But, I have had my single friends complain about the elitist attitude toward marriage and family in the church – that if you aren’t on that track (for whatever reason) you are treated as less. I find that sad. Get out there and mix it up, people!

  • I’m married, we’ve got a child, and yet I find that we don’t get to hang out in church couples dinner parties, marriage enrichment classes, etc.

    In fact, we find ourselves having our authentic and productive relationships with people who the church views as ‘different’ – so our best friends from church are single people, people with mental health problems, and those whose partners are not Christians or involved in church. The reason we manage this is because we’re a same-sex couple, and so it’s not seen as some act of charity or that we have an ulterior motive of making others ‘normal’ when we get close to them. To me, this is such a blessing, it enriches my life, as we learn from each other what leading God’s life means to people in different situations.

    But this only happens because the institutional church does have an ideal, which we all stand outside. And I know that God is with us on the margins.

  • Ken – I see how that would change stuff, as it changes your life dramatically as well. There are ebbs and flows in life, this being one of them. I’m just trying to talk about the overall picture of relationships in the Church.

    LP – See, now this is what I’m talking about! That’s some of the stupidest stuff I’ve ever heard, and yet it happens all the time! My seminary education is at Moody Bible Institute (MBI) and I promise you I’m the only one on campus who doesn’t think it’s funny when people say MBI stands for: Moody Bridal Institute. That makes me want to throw up.

    Jason – Dime a dozen is right. Break me off some Isaiah 56:3-5 instead. The Church needs to give the respect this journey deserves.

    Henry – ‘Intentionality’ and ‘All’ are key words to living our faith in the right way. And I LOVED your statistic from the US Census. I believe it, but it’s strange because even with my non-Christian friends, they’re striving to be married and have kids and all. Interesting… I’m really looking forward to seeing what the 2010 says.

    Ryan – Killing the congregations? Wow! You hit that right on the head on brother! See LP’s comment for proof. 🙂

    Rachel – No way. It’s really, really interesting this is happening in the UK as well! Isn’t it hilarious (in a really-not-funny-way) that these same issues with ‘Church’ don’t differ by country? That is beyond amazing to me. It shows a systemic problem with the structure and teaching of the church as a whole. So sad to me. So sad.

  • Hi Andrew, I think you’re spot on – if it’s happening across two different cultures, then I suspect there’s something in our theology driving it. I’d be interested to know whether things are the same or not in different Christian traditions apart from evangelicalism.

    Jodi your experiences really chime with mine – I remember the contortions our church got into when I had a male prayer partner (unbeknown to us when we paired up we weren’t meant to be a mixed-sex prayer partnership, but then they surely couldn’t put a lesbian in a single-sex prayer partnership… while the leadership pondered, my prayer partner and I had a really productive couple of years)(which was a better outcome than when a gay guy approached the church befriending project and asked for a female befriender. As far as I know the church couldn’t figure out how to make it work and refused him a befriender at all; I volunteered but lesbian befrienders were out, as it were).

    I wonder if some of the difficulties do lie in the pre-occupation of the evangelical church with sexual sin? Somehow mixed-sex married couples socialising with mixed-sex marrieds can be seen as ‘safe’ and thus holy, but the church just can’t make rules that work one there are single straight people, single LGB people and same-sex couples in the mix too…

  • Jack Harris


    What is interesting is the fact that this is not an Evangelical Church situation. Even though I am Episcopalian,I was involved in two churches when I lived in SC: one Episcopalian and one MCC. I decided to be involved in the MCC church because I had always been curious about it. I was “out” at the Episcopal Church and had great relationships there but wanted to explore the MCC church as well just to see what it was like. The pastor there is and was wonderful and a very welcoming congregation. BUT I SWEAR..they STILL were very family focused–even the gay church!

    Most of the programs and the general fabric of the church was geared towards families! You would think an MCC church, of all churches, would know that they needed to reach out the gay singles in their midst. So I just say this to say that it’s in all churches : MCC, Mainline Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical. Thankfully I have a church now that’s very gay affirming and supportive. Phew! Happy Monday! Jack

  • oooooooo Jack…throwing the gauntlet down. That’s what I’m talking about brother.

  • Diedre

    Wow, this seems harsh. I have been in churches where the marrieds reach out to singles and visa versa. I’ve also experienced the singles wanting to be in their own group, but these are usually the younger ones. I think that just because we label ourselves as Christians, whether married, single or anything else, it doesn’t automatically ensure that the we will always think of others, always include everyone, always do what is correct. If the singles want to be included, why don’t they say so? If the marrieds aren’t sure, why don’t they ask? However, sometimes even if one does say so or does ask, it isn’t always well-received. So, let’s love one another and give it a break! If you want to invited, ask.

  • Botsi

    Hi Andrew,

    i have experience that at our church last whereby it was young adults ministry(Singles) and they this talk show about relationships. it was so sad because this people they they really said what they thought was right not knowing the danger of it and also misleading the young one in the ministry. fortunately me and my husband we were there and we ended taking part and it really touched my heart that we really need not to isolate ourselves as married couple from the singles.

    they need us to help them to grow.

    thanks for the opportunity

  • Lonnie

    “gay people do attend Willow whether they know it or not”

    How could one be gay and not know it?

  • Ben

    I’m a single male who just turned 30. “I’m one of those people” who made a personal decision between God and I to remain single. If God wants me to find a mate (guy or girl) that’s fine too, it’s shouldn’t be any churches decision for me to find a mate. Anyway a quick story:

    I was 18 and the church I attended was starting up a singles/college ministry. It substantially grew from the 6 people to 30 people with ages ranging 18-30 years old with 31 year olds starting a second single ministry for older adults. Both groups had attended conferences, fellowships (both together and separately), and planned more ministries for both the married couples and themselves. When I turned 25 the church eliminated the singles groups by integrating the 18-21 year old into a “college class” and the 25-31 year old into their adult group. The current college group now consist of 6 people and no signs of growing since it’s more focused on college students, the only college in the area is a community college and it’s over 15 miles away in another community.

  • Dora

    No surprise here, although ironically, there are almost no workshops or spiritual groups for lesbian couples anywhere. So few and far between as to be nonexistant.

    And I find the best connection with straight people to be women’s groups– that way we all socialize and do things together, but because it is a women’s organization, the husbands aren’t there, and we all become equals. My partner is very handicapped and can’t deal with groups, so socially we are all together without the spouses. Churches don’t really have this kind of thing, but I find a good connection to other businesswomen who want to be around intelligent and creative women–lesbian or straight or bisexual.

    My challenge is to find the places where I’m actually going to feel part of it all. I never find this with men in the room– then the straight women kind of lose their dynamism, the older straight men have bad social skills, it just doesn’t work.

    MCC in San Francisco had very few gay and lesbian couples, and the out of control sexual culture of gay men kind of made it a problematic place for lesbians. Our best times were lesbian spirituality groups within the church, and many women just came to those, and didn’t want to join a male dominated church. Lesbians became adept at going around the margins of organizations, because they couldn’t tolerate the sexism of men. Lesbians really really hate it, so we have to find creative ways not to have to deal with this 24/7.

    But in terms of socializing with married straight couples, it usually works out ok if they don’t have kids. But kids take up people’s time, and you can’t really hang out, and I don’t want to babysit kids and don’t really like them.
    A lot of straight women with children these days have nights out with the women– and this brings us together, but again, it is not religious, it is secular. Some of the straight women who have reached out to me came from fundamentalist backgrounds, and really hated it– then there is some commonality that is interesting.

    I think it was Alice Walker or Toni Morrison who once said that they refuse to be in any group where they are the only one. So if I am the only lesbian, I will go to groups that are only women. I will not participate in mixed groups very often because I don’t want to deal with the social deadness that a lot of straight men my age display.

  • I am constantly watched

    I im constantly watched. I am a attractive young lady who loves to play around a lot. I and the 1 who the guys like to pick on and I speak to the wives but somehow I still think they are insecure around me. Sometimes I even think that married people are jealous of single people especially if they are not happy in a relationship. So in a case like that no matter what you do or no matter how comfortable you tried to make someone who is married and you are around their spouse feel….if they are not happy in their relationship they will always have that insecurity and you always felt awkward around those couples

  • Dan Thomas

    AT LAST !!! Was beginning to feel like I was the only one who felt this way.
    As an “older man” divorced and desiring to be married again ( I despise being single ) … it does hit hard after being married 18 yrs and being one of the “elitest” to be on the other side and feel the rejection, ridicule, scorn, arrogance and feeling relegated to “second class”. I have to admit – I am cured of the above for which I stand guilty when I was married.

    My biggest question: WHY are the majority of church members married? The US is 49% un-married yet church membership does not in any way come close to mirror this demographic. Are married people better than single people?

    Married or single is a choice and God allows each of us to make that choice. Benefits for both and pain for both. I chose to seek marriage again – others did not. But regardless, I feel the pinch that as a non-married person, I am ok to come in – have coffee – sit by myself but that is as far as the “welcome my brother” goes.

    Maybe the un-written rule is this: come to church married or just don’t bother to come at all. THAT would explain the membership not refelcting the national demographic.

  • BC

    Being an older single-never married gal my church recently asked if I would be interested in leading a Single Womens small group.I was interested & I decided that I must actually be visible….always felt a invisible.However, when I asked if I could order Bible Study materials for this group I was told it was not Singles group per say to study a singles spiritual journey but discovered that it was just a sorting method based the commonality of our singleness. However, there is not a single mens group they put those gentleman in the married adult group.I never really know if it’s a good idea to sort people in categories. I think it would be really interesting group church attenders as individuals, not as couples, singles, parents of teens etc. as we definitely don’t go to heaven in pairs.Does this make sense to anyone out there?…..could use some perspective on this.