according to julia duin in her unsettling book “quitting church,” this important and powerful demographic is at best ignored by the church, and at worst grossly misunderstood.
the sixth reason people are quitting church: SINGLE ADULT SCORN
Statistically, singles lead the pack in terms of people sliding out the back doors of American churches, and many singles never make it in the front door. Twenty-eight percent of the decline in religious attendance over the last thirty years can be attributed to…the fact that fewer adults are now married with children. In a word, changes in family structure have played an important role in the nation’s seculariztion. Unmarried, childless me are fity-seven percent less likely to attend church than married men with children.
duin argues that singles feel patronized by the church. the prevailing message to singles is “you must be content with your singleness since you cannot change or control it; Jesus is all you need to be happy. You should be single with great fulfillment, joy, and in the absence of loneliness. To be discontent with your single status is sin. God wants you to be single, whether you actually want to be or not.” the irony is in the fact that this message is usually preached by a married pastor. duin quotes ellen varughese, author of the freedom to marry:
We were never taught that marriage was the Lord’s provision for our sexual needs. Oh, we definitely understood that marriage was God’s provision for the pastors of the world, that elite group that God gave good things to. But we were never given to understand that we would marry someday. We were consigned to being satisfied, content, and celibate singles.
duin also suggests that perhaps part of the church’s ministry to single adults should be helping people who want to find Christian mates. varughese again:
I asked a singles pastor what he felt his most important ministry was. He listed several spiritual-sounding things such as helping singles walk more closely with Jesus and teaching them how to live victorious single lives. I asked whether his church had any programs for helping singles marry. He gave a slightly horrified look and said, “Why certainly not! We can’t allow our singles ministry to degenerate into a matchmaking service.”
duin told stories about ministers who were indifferent about singles issues until their own children began looking for mates.
While hiring three youth ministry workers, a pastor was refusing requests for at least a part-time staff member for his rapidly growing singles ministry. Then he attended a huge Promise Keepers rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C., where he found a young man to whom he introduced his oldest daughter. One thing led to another and within a short time, the two were engaged. The pastor and his wife were delighted; not only had they landed a Christian son-in-law, but he was stunningly good-looking to boot. They went about the church telling everyone how wonderfully God had answered their prayers.
This incident caused quite a stir among the single women in that church. Definitely this pastor was fulfilling a fatherly duty, but while feathering his own nest, couldn’t he have expended some energy on matching them up?
while “much of the problem for singles is the lack of christian men, which has been at crisis levels for quite some time,” ms. duin interviewed many men who echoed the sentiments of their female counterparts. a man from arizona said:
For years I thought I would meet my wife in a church setting. But I believe the attitudes towards singles that exist in most churches drive singles away. I have recently thrown in the towel and started going back into the secular world to meet women. Sexual temptations are greater and more abundant, but at least I am meeting people.
a man named “richard” said:
I, being an almost thirty-four-year-old Christian single (never-married) male, have felt the alienation and isolation that Christian singles face. Singles are seen as dysfunctional people with problems, sex-crazed animals with hormones out of control, and people who do not put a whole lot of money in the plate. Single men in their thirties are seen as gay or in my case, the ‘techno geek nerd,’ and single women in their thirties are seen as crabby old maids. I too am a committed evangelical Christian man in his thirties who has had it with their family-centric churches and quietly slipped out.
Singles are immensely valuable to the church; after all, Jesus was single. But would he approve of how so many churches have become singles warehouses instead of wedding makers?