Are Singles in the Church Family?

Are Singles in the Church Family? October 31, 2014

From Claire Bonner, in Mutuality (Autumn, 2014): 15-17. Mutuality is a publication of the Christians for Biblical Equality. Follow @CBEInt and and

I became curious about how single adults were being cared for in the [complementarian] church and began studying the issue. My assumptions were immediately challenged. Because most people in my generation at church are married, I had thought single adults were a minority. I was surprised to learn that within Western populations, there is a steady increase in unmarried adults and one-person households. Many variables can account for this change, but the reality is that this is an expanding demographic. Yet, relatively few single adults are involved in churches. …

How is the church seeking to understand and respond to this reality? Do our teachings lead to practices that affirm singles in their lives and callings? Or do we isolate and exclude them, as my friend had experienced? …

Single adults are diverse, unique individuals, and the participants interviewed had differing ideas, opinions, and experiences. But their experiences have several features in common
, summarized below.

1. Single adults receive little pastoral care. …

2. Single adults’ needs are not understood….

3. Church demographic divisions leave single adults out….

4. Single adults find the church a challenging place to cultivate friendships across genders….

5. Single adults feel that their lives are not perceived to be as significant as married lives….

My overall observation is that single adults, like anyone else, need a nurturing family environment. Where traditional families have this support at home, singles often don’t. They may live alone or with other single adults, each with their own lives. Some live far from their biological families. This makes it all the more important for the church to affirm and include single adults as part of the church family.

Jesus knew his disciples were his true family (Matt. 12:47-50), and all Christians are part of this family. But single adults often don’t experience the church as the loving and caring spiritual family it should be….

The complementarian churches of the single adults I interviewed reflect complementarian theology, placing emphasis on fulfilling marriage-based gender roles in the Christian life, and not knowing what to do with single adults. But would the responses of single adults be different at egalitarian churches? …

So, I issue a challenge to egalitarian churches: ask your single adults for honest reflections on their experience in the church. And really listen to them.

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  • Mark

    Being a single adult in church was the best church/community experience of my life, granted I was fortunate to find my way to a mega-church with a huge young adult ministry of mostly singles. Since being married, I have felt isolated and alone in church, with little pastoral care, understanding, etc. Go fig. Actually I have thoughts on this, but the main point I guess is that many people feel alone in institutional church, and we all have our reason/excuse on why that is.

  • steve burdan

    Thanks for posting this, Dr. Scot! Lots of thoughts here, though I’m not sure I would go along with author and use her party line as dividing point – almost every Evan. church I have been in or ever read about has become misaligned with an over-emphasis on the social pyramid with Married w/ Children at the top – just like secular society… Far different I’m sure from the early church that was more inclusive of singles in their many stages…

  • TJ Ford

    This really hits close to home. I belong to a more egalitarian denomination, which is heavily older adults. The problem I have is that I’m not “single again”, so I don’t fit in with the widowed and divorced, I’m too old (at 52) for the young adults (we have almost non-existent single young adult population). I have no children to share stories, pictures about. I show up for worship, I sometimes sit with people, sometimes by myself, then have small talk with a few people, but mostly I see other adults rush off to lunch, errands, things with family/kids. Most times, I just leave with a short wave and go on with the rest of my Sunday. It’s about 90 minutes of my Sunday, that’s about it. I’ve mentioned this to someone, who suggested I join a committee or something. Putting someone to work at church isn’t always the answer to feeling disconnected.

  • RJS4DQ

    What would be the answer?

  • TJ Ford

    That is a good question. It would be hard to change the dynamics of the congregation (about 225 members overall, about 1/2 in church on an average Sunday). There are larger congregations of related denominations that have so many other groups, events, that it would be tempting to go to those for connectedness, while maintaining membership in my “home” church.

    Even if my home church were made of up lots of young families, I’d still be the older never married guy wandering around. I could invite my single peers, but they’re predominantly unchurched or anti-church, and I doubt they’d find it interesting or intriguing enough to continue. A few have gone with me out of curiosity, and the reaction is always the same: nice people but see why I feel out of place.

  • TJ Ford

    I belonged to a rather large mainline Protestant congregation that had so much emphasis on family ministry that I tried to lead a Bible study, and had nobody show up for 2 Sundays while a parenting workshop was going on. I was also relegated to a very small conference room at the end of a hallway, where I was hardly noticed.

  • RJS4DQ

    It’s a good and hard question I think.

    The question of belonging can hit many people hard, but I can see how it would hit singles past 30 doubly hard. It is surprising to me as a now empty nester how much “belonging” was actually tied to having young, or at least school age children.

  • DMH

    With such a feeling of disconnect what about this church makes it worthy of being your “home church”?

  • TJ Ford

    Well, I do know most of the people, even if I only say hi or engage in small talk, so the feeling of familiarity is there. It’s not like I’m sitting among strangers, I just don’t have that much commonality with them. Going somewhere else would entail getting to know new people all over again. I’m very sociable, so that’s not an issue. In fact, I love meeting new people.

    It’s a quandary.

  • TJ Ford

    Most people in the congregation over 30 who are single are single again. I can’t relate to that, either. I feel caught between 2 generations.

  • Adrianna Wright

    Thank you for issuing this challenge, Scot!!

  • Guthrum

    Several years ago a nearby church started a singles ministry, one of the first churches around to get into what became the newest church trend. They did so well at it that churches sent leaders to their church to see how they did it. Their growth was phenomenal, with half their members eventually coming from their singles program. And we are talking thousands here. I don’t know how it is going now, as that was back in the ’80’s.

  • Guthrum

    A few years a church nearby sponsored a workshop:”Understanding and parenting your teen”. The class filled up and they had to offer additional classes.

  • John Morgan

    Scott – Ask yourself these questions. If you stepped back in time to Jesus’ day, what would be our definition of a “single”adult? Would we ask Paul if he had a marriage license? Would we assume he was single because he had no woman by his side? Or would we assume he was single because he had denounced a sexual relationship? Now, move forward to today. What is a single? John, 53, never married.

  • Erin

    I’ve also had problems being single. It wasn’t a problem during my early twenties because I was still in grad school. But at 26 I became a college professor (and I looked even younger, which I hope will pay off in my forties!). That means participating in any “college and career” class or ministry was awkward at best. But I couldn’t join the married ministry because I didn’t have a spouse.

    I tried to to get to know people at my church but they would always refer me to back to a small group (that I was already a member of). It was particularly frustrating to see all the men that started attending about the same time I did be mentored and somehow the church leaders got to know them. I didn’t notice it right away because my job is very busy and I although I wanted to make friends and serve in the church, I’m not interested in being involved in church leadership (I do plenty of leading and mentoring as a college professor). But recently I looked around and noticed that all the men who started attending the same time I did had been brought into the leadership friend circle and were being mentored for future leadership. Some women were also in the leadership circle, but only married women. Which seemed odd. And then younger and newer men began the leadership “track”.

    I think the most hurtful incident was when my family came to visit me a few years ago. Lots of people came up to say hello and ask if we were new in town. I had never met any of them before, they had never said hello to me.

    I ended up leaving that church this past summer after attending for six years. It was a combination of not getting to know people despite years of attendance and service and several other issues.

    Some of the best small groups I’ve been part of in the past were multi-generational. I don’t understand why the church is always splitting people up into age or life-stage groups. It’s great to get to know your peers, but there is also so much to learn from people at different points along life’s path.

  • Barbara

    Single adult ? Whati is that ? 24 – 30 ? I’m 41 years old , single and feeling really left alone in Church . DO you ever hear that someone in Church prays for singles? No, all the prayers of the faithful during Mass in favor of the family.
    During the mass I can see a lot of younger people with their children, who, after Sunday mass will to go for family lunch or an activity with their children.
    It really hurts me all hits me . I’m not single but my chose , I really wanted a family !!

  • guest

    My aunt, a single teacher who never married, and who passed away a few years ago (in her 70s) lived in a small town. There was no singles group, as far as I know, at her church. I think she primarily participated in church as a member of the choir (having fortunately inherited my grandmother’s ability to sing). Her friends from college and from work attended other churches. So, they each went to their respective church for Sunday services, but then met up together after services at a restaurant, as a sort of informal and improptu (inter-denominational) “small group.” Cross-denominational groups/relationships seem to work out, when groups within your own church just don’t. When it comes to church participation and/or denominational loyalty, singles need to “blur the lines” to get fellowship.

  • guest

    I strongly agree that “putting someone to work at church isn’t always the answer to feeling disconnected.” I tried that I finally gave up on church in my late 20s (still single, and so not eligible for the newlywed group, which was the next class you graduate into after “college career”, unless – oops! – you can’t find a mate). I signed up for a Wednesday night bible study, where I failed to make any friends, since everyone else was a married with kids baby boomer. I stuck with it for 2 years, to finish the course (it was Bethel Bible study, a very thorough study). I also signed up to volunteer with the church library. However, I was totally isolated in the library work. I was tasked with typing up card catalog cards, which I mostly did at home, so I never met any new people. It was pointless as a way to become more “involved.”

  • guest

    Churches see singleness as a disease or a problem, which is why most singles programs are “therapy” for divorced and widowed. They have “triage” groups for the most troubled singles. Nothing for anyone else. Churches need more programs that don’t exclude singles; not more programs designed “for” singles (which inevitably are therapy programs for the disease of “singleness”). More programs such as: intergenerational bible study groups, themed small groups based on a theme or an interest (not an age and marital status), more fitness ministry programs, more service opportunities that bring people together with other people (not isolated grunt work that lacks community as an element).

  • Mark

    This is a late reply, but I never saw you comment till now. My point was not to make light of the suffering of singles, but I guess to show that all our issues are amplified with the church model we employ. Part of the reason my experience back then was so great is that a 40 year old single mentored our community of young-uns like we were his kids. I can only imagine your pain, but I in no way devalue singles in the church. And yes, I have heard several churches pray for and sermon toward singles, albeit generally with the same objectifying program-lens that they apply to married w/ families.

  • Sharon MacGregor

    Putting someone to work at a church without a relationship is a PATH TO feeling disconnected – I’ve been there! At one point in my life I was involved in everything in the church. However, people would only call when they needed something, substitute SS teacher or nursery worker, needed computer fixed, baby sitter, graphic design work, etc… Otherwise I was invisible. However, the 1-2 people that DID take the time to have a relationship with me outside of their needs got themselves a loyal babysitter – i was glad to help b/c i felt valued outside of that.

  • Sharon MacGregor

    How about when a couple decides to have an adult fellowship at their house that they invite some singles? How about “adult” activities instead of always couple activities. How about a women’s Bible study that is in the evening instead of during the work day. How about women talking about something OTHER than their husband and kids. How about small groups that are not “couples only” or “singles only”. How about Sunday School classed by subject instead of marital status (The book of John vs. “young marrieds”). How about congratulating single people on an accomplishment such as a new job added into the announcements about people getting engaged or having babies? How about all of us being a church family instead of only hanging out with those that are in our same stage of life? Not that hard when you think about it….just requires a little effort and creativity!