This post is aimed directly at everyone, married and single, to try to explain some of the hurdles singles face within the church. Generally speaking, my own church does a great job with singles. But we can always do better. Some of the examples you'll find here are taken from my church, and some are generalities - I'm not going to tell you which is which.
Why do middle-aged singles need more encouragement than anyone else? Because we're largely overlooked by everyone else. Outside the walls of the church, nearly half the adult population is single. Within the church, the percentage is usually much lower. Singles ministries are often geared towards younger singles, which makes churches feel good because they think they're doing their part to help young adults find Christan mates.
But what happens to those of us who have never married, or those who are single again due to divorce or the death of a spouse? It becomes more and more difficult for those of us who fit in this category to find our place within a church that seems geared towards couples who are raising their children.
Why does this matter? Because Paul tells us that the body of Christ is more than one group of people. It's single adults of all ages, senior adults, newly married couples and couples who have spent their entire adult lives together. It's singles and marrieds with children at home, those with children who are grown, and those without children. And each part of the body must be concerned about every other part in order for the body to function properly.
When that doesn't happen, some parts often wind up feeling excluded from the rest of the church. Much of what I'm saying in this post would apply just as much to senior adults as it does to singles, but some of it is exclusive to singles. Here are some of the situations that can exist in any church where most of the body ignores the single adults.
- Single moms and dads have a difficult time building relationships with the parents of their children's peers. Too often, that makes it difficult for their children to make friends within the church, which in turn, causes the children to feel left out of the body of Christ.
- Singles who choose to go to mixed classes can find themselves feeling invisible. Sure, there are people who talk to them, but too often it's the handful who are in class leadership, and not the members who don't consider it their job to visit with those outside their group of friends.
- Singles who have gifts to share are often overlooked, leaving them feeling frustrated. When church leaders are looking for people to do work within the church, their minds seem to automatically gravitate to lists of couples.
Are these problems the fault of the structure of the church? Partly.
Is it the fault of pastors who sometimes seem to forget that there are single people in the congregation? Partly.
Is it the fault of married couples who sometimes seem to diminish singles in the church? Partly.
Is it the fault of singles ourselves? Partly.
How can the structure of the church change to make it easier for singles to feel included in the church? Well, that depends on the church. A huge help would be to put singles in an area with their married peers instead of segregating them. Every committee should make an effort to include singles - and not the same handful of singles stretched to serve on every committe.
Pastors can include singles in their sermons. It's natural for a pastor to use illustrations they can relate to themselves, but if you want a congregation that doesn't look exactly like you, then expand the illustrations to include singles, and for that matter, seniors. Part of a pastor's job is to lead from the pulpit, and if you want a diverse congregation, you're going to have to model diversity in your sermons, and in your actions.
What can couples do? Make an effort to get to know the single parents of the kids in your own child's class. Include those kids from single parent families in activities with your family. Invite singles (or seniors) to your home for a meal. When you have friends from church over, include some singles.
What can singles do? Visit a church several times before you write it off. Get involved. If you decide to join that church, look for areas in the church where you can use your gifts and volunteer to serve there, and serve faithfully. You too, can invite a couple over for a meal, or include couples when you have singles over. Every single adult who gets involved makes it easier for others in the church to remember to include singles. Just as the rest of the church should be concerned about the singles in the church, single adults should be concerned about every other part of the body.
This isn't intended to be a comprehensive list of changes that would make churches more single-friendly. But it's a start.