This past weekend, after Nina came home with the stomach flu on Friday and before Matt got it on mile 20 of the Philadelphia marathon on Sunday, Matt and I presented a workshop at the Eastern Christian Conference on what churches should understand about blended families and how they can best minister to the parents, stepparents, and kids. Before jumping into the complexities of divorce and remarriage, we spent a few minutes talking about singles—what we learned as single or single-again people in our 30s and what we wish churches understood about them. I pulled quite a bit from this blog post and decided it was worth bringing out a second time.
As Matt says in his sermon about singleness each year (workshop point 1b: include singles in your annual “family” sermon series), most of us will be single at some point in our lives, either because we haven’t married, because a marriage has ended in divorce, or because we lose our spouse to death. As church leaders, we need to make sure we’re reaching, including and understanding the single people in our churches despite our culture’s focus on couples. Here are a few ways to start.
—Realize we’re not a life stage. Although statistically many of us are in our 20s and early 30s, to equate singles ministry with a “college and career” group leaves many of us out. A divorced, widowed, or never-married person in her 30s, 40s and beyond has little in common with the never-married, childless, recent college graduates involved in these groups.
Singleness is not just a phase of life for the young who haven’t yet married—it’s a marital status that can be part of life at any age.
—Understand we can do more. Whether it’s expanding that group to reach other singles like us, joining a Bible study, teaching VBS or serving on a praise team, many of us can serve more and more often than our married friends. Although we have full lives and demanding jobs, those of us without kids probably have a bit more free time (and money) to contribute.
—But know we need to be challenged. An occupational hazard of long-term singleness is selfishness. From the furniture in our homes to the appointments on our calendar, our lives revolve around our own needs and interests. We don’t want to be self-centered, but it takes effort. Challenge us to lead a small group, build homes in Mexico, or tutor a child.
—Invite us into community. These activities not only serve others, they create new ways for us to build relationships. We need regular opportunities to connect with other people because single life can be lonely, and we like the idea of the church as an extended family with room for us. But we don’t want to intrude on your literal family or be the proverbial fifth wheel. We love when you invite us to have lunch after church, include us in a holiday celebration, or encourage our relationship as an “aunt” or “uncle” to your child who thinks we’re awesome. (We are, by the way—and we give great birthday presents.)
—Remember one is a whole number. We live in a culture geared toward couples, and we love you guys. But please don’t feel sorry for us. Most of us who want to be married eventually will be, and in the meantime we are enjoying life. Please don’t try to “fix” us by fixing us up (unless we ask you to, of course). And if we’re recently divorced, encourage us to take the time we need to heal before jumping prematurely into dating (and probably making another huge mistake). Don’t constantly reassure us we’ll find the right person someday, as if that life will be better. We’re working on becoming the right person, which is a better bet long-term and a lot more fun, too.
Singletons, what else do you want your church to know?