quitting church: reason #6

America’s 89.6 million singles head just over half (50.3 percent) of all American households, according to the 2006 census.  About 50 million have never married.

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.

duin concludes:

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?

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14 thoughts on “quitting church: reason #6

  1. i wish i knew the answer to this, but all i can really say is THANK YOU. i’ve always wondered what would happen if our churches edified and treasured their singles as much as they do married couples, but the only responses i ever get to that question involve me being told to stop being bitter. hmph.
    love your thoughts on this, and i’m definitely going to check out julia duin’s writing!

    • I wrote a blog post about that not too long ago – how often times, if an unmarried Christian person mentions any sadness or anger over being single and/or being ignored (or treated like trash by Christian culture and most churches), the old cliche’ about “you’re being bitter” gets brought up.

      So every time married Christians complain about their marriages, I guess we singles need to tell them to “stop being bitter.”

      Sometimes, Christians have a legitimate right to feel bitter. Most often, the accusation is not even true – there are a lot of Christians who feel sad about being unmarried into their 30s and beyond, or maybe disappointed, but not bitter.

      I think singles over the age of 30 have every right to point out that most Christian churches are either neglecting singles or treating them poorly but most married Christians try to shut down our grievances by telling us we are “bitter.”

      The married Christian couples and the pastors don’t want to listen to our heartaches or concerns, and they certainly don’t want to take actual, practical steps in helping singles, so they cut us off by bringing up the “you are bitter” insult. I think it’s their way of avoiding responsibility.

  2. I love duin’s perspective on this issue. I believe the church should be teaching us singles how to look for a mate and how to be married. But, it has been my experience that the church for the most part pressures and pushes young people to marry WAY to young. I have seen some of my friends experiencing depression because they are not married. NOT A PRETTY PICTURE!! I am in my 40’s and have had opportunity to be married twice (and was even pressured by one of the young men that God spoke to him that I was THE ONE, whatever the means). I didn’t feel either young men were God’s best for me so I declined and wow, has my life been so fulfilling as I have followed God’s plan. I have been a business woman, children’s pastor, missionary to China, and elementary school teacher. And, I have a promise from the Father that the best is yet to come. I believe the church should relieve young people of the pressure to be married and encourage and support them to follow God flat out…..and, when the time is right and they are ready, I am full confident God will bring about married life. But married life shouldn’t be the only goal to work toward. There are many other paths to follow. Am I anti-marriage? No!!!! Because I believe I will one day experience it. BUT, I AM anti-pressuring young people and helping them skip some of the treasure God has locked up inside of them because they marry way too early and end up being miserable. Ministry to and for singles is overlooked by many churches because ministry is done by the leadership and if they feel their ministry is in another area singles are left out. Just my thoughts…..thanks for having the guts to pursue this Randy!!!

  3. PS—I might add plugging single people into already established ministry opportunities DOES NOT meet their needs as a single person. It DOES NOT meet the need for community. When singles serve with no community, it breeds isolation and that’s the last thing singles need. I have tried to plug into many churches and the first thing they ask me is to take on a job within the church but they DO NOT offer community. Serving is vital but it does not replace or meet the need for community. Biblical community should come first and out of that setting service will happen. I BELIEVE IT.

    • Fran, author Duin mentions that aspect in her book also.

      Duin mentions both types of churches: the ones that pay attention to older singles but who insult them with platitudes or simplistic advice, the ones who tell singles they are “making an idol of marriage” (even though they are not – by the way, simply having a desire to get married is not tantamount to making into an idol, but pastors and Christians bloggers frequently make this false accusation against singles), but Duin also discusses how some churches view older, unmarried Christians as a cheap labor pool, a bunch of work-horses to be exploited.

      A lot of married Christian couples love to assume that all unmarried Christian women over the age 25 would love to act as free baby sitter, for example.

      1) Never occurs to them that Christian women have much more to offer than that, and that 2) some Christian women do not like babies or children and feel uncomfortable around them.

  4. Well what is an unmarried male supposed to do with his God given normal sex drive, which requires periodic release? Pray, take “cold showers,” masturbation, look at porn, supress, pretend it doesn’t exist?

    • It seems like most churches/Christians teach that even masturbation is out, but I see nothing in the Bible that forbids it.

      The new trend among conservative Christians (I’m serious, they’ve said this in their blogs, published books about it), is to tell teen-aged Christians to get married as soon as possible, by age 18 – 20. Al Mohler, president of SBC, is one of the ones to do this. The book “Singled Out” by Christian authors Field and Colon also mention this scary new trend.

      I’ve seen books by other Christian authors who do nothing but encourage young people to get married right away.

      Personally, I don’t think that marrying young is a good answer. I think it will result in divorce.

      Another problem is that most churches do not value celibacy, refraining until marriage to have sex – at least not for people above the age of 25.

      If you are under the age of 25, you will have lots of messages from conservative Christian groups telling you to “wait until marriage for sexual activity,” but once you get to 26 or 30 years old, a lot of preachers and other Christians assume you are having sex outside of marriage any way (even if you are not).

      If you are a Christian over the age of 30 and still sexually pure, you receive no support, attention, or encouragement from conservative Christians to keep on abstaining. It is assumed, even by most Christians, that there is no such thing as a ‘Christian virgin who is over 25 years old’ – but there are.

      As a matter of fact some conservative Christian personalities, or their blogs and books, are disrespectful towards Christians over 30 years old who are still celibate. They tend to make very rude assumptions or comments about older celibates.

  5. thanks for the thoughtful question, joe.

    first let me say that i am sympathetic to your problem. we live in a sexual culture and pleasure seems to be an entitlement. still, the bible adresses the question you raised pretty clearly:

    “Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband… Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9)

    your question is one the church needs to wrestle with, joe, and i thank you for sharing here.

    • I’m disappointed with your response. After some 2,000 years of Christianity, the church should not have to wrestle with my question. The church should have an answer. Also, it is not MY problem; it is the church’s problem. I certainly would not advise a 16+ year old young man who has raging hormones to get married to some young woman who is “boy crazy” and then move into his/her parent’s home while they complete high school or drop out of school and live on minimum wage jobs.

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  7. As a 34-year-old never married single I read Debbie Maken’s book
    “Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness.”

    I applied what I learned from this book for singles with tips one can actually use
    (instead of just sit back and try to be content to wait for marriage to “happen”).
    Less than 18 months later, as a direct result of my proactive search for a godly
    husband, I got married to my present amazing husband.

    Here’s the story in more details (I posted this testimonial on ChristianCafe.com):

    Dear Christian Cafe Staff,
    Thank you so much for your ministry to marriage-minded singles. Thomas and I were married this month (Nov 2010), thanks to you guys! Here is our testimonial and wedding photos.

    Thomas & Veronique
    (Exegete345 from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin & QuietGrace545 from Pinellas Park, Florida)

    After asking my pastor for his approval and help in screening online matches, I, Veronique, joined ChristianCafe.com in August 2009.

    Instead of limiting my search to my home state of Florida only, I did a nationwide search, looking for someone experienced in my favorite ministry: street evangelism done Way-of-the-Master style. I made it clear in my profile that I would only be interested in someone marriage-minded and active in ministry. I stated that my pastor would oversee the courtship, that I would have to meet their pastor, and that there would be no kissing until the wedding day. That screened out many men and saved me a lot of time.

    I didn’t want to wait passively for people to contact me, and preferred to do the choosing myself. I looked for people who had a profile that made it obvious that they served God by the things they did for Him (ministry) and not just with words. One of the prospects I sent a wink to was Thomas.

    Soon, I was corresponding steadily with three godly men: “Suitor #1” from New York, “Suitor #2” from Mississippi, and Thomas from Wisconsin. All three were experienced in street evangelism, well-versed in reformed theology, and active enough in their local church to be well-known by their pastors. They were also unashamedly and openly seeking a strong, godly wife.

    My pastor gave me guidelines, or rules, to impose on all three suitors, in part to test their character. I also let them know about one another, as a matter of conscience so that they would not be deceived in thinking I was exclusive at that point.

    Suitor #1 balked at the guidelines, refusing to submit to or respect my pastor’s authority over me. He was also jealous of the other two suitors and demanded that I end my contact with them. I told him the guidelines were not up for negotiation, that he had to abide by them, and that I wouldn’t eliminate the other two suitors before meeting them.

    Suitor #1 ended contact with me in September 2009, which freed up my time to get to know Suitor #2 and Thomas. They were both extraordinary Christian men. Suitor #2’s main ministry is one-on-one street evangelism, open air preaching, and discipleship. Thomas’ main ministry is studying the Word of God in the original languages and accurately expounding on it in sermons and Bible studies, some of which are on his page Jaalits.com.

    Suitor #2 drove from Mississippi to Florida to meet me in February 2010 and stayed at my pastor’s house. 

    Thomas flew from Wisconsin to Florida in March 2010 to meet me too and stayed with a godly couple from my church.

    Both wanted to consider marriage with me. Suitor #2 was my strong preference because of his passion and boldness in evangelism and seemingly perfectly applied reformed theology to his life. I was very honest and open with Thomas about this, even telling him that Suitor #2 and I had developed romantic feelings for each other during his visit to me and that I felt I was cheating on Suitor #2 by spending time with him (Thomas).

    Like a friend of mine put it, Thomas didn’t have a “snowball’s chance in Hell” to win my heart and mind against Suitor #2. I was calmly and joyfully set on marrying Suitor #2 who was the bold street evangelist I had prayed for for years.

    But something quite unexpected and dramatic happened. God intervened and did the impossible. God took my mind and heart and turned them toward Thomas, initially against my will.

    Thomas refused to give up on me. Even when he saw no chance of being chosen over Suitor #2, Thomas fought to win my heart and mind with everything that he had, telling me, “The rest of my life depends on it. I will get to spend it either with you or without you.” He spent hours prostrate, face down in prayer, pleading with God that if there were any way at all possible within His divine will he would be the one chosen to pursue marriage with me.

    Thomas wrote to my pastor, telling him how and why he loved me, what sacrifices he’d be willing to make for me, why he wants to marry me, what made me different from others in his eyes, and how very much he would cherish me if I were to be his dear wife. He was relentless in fighting for me. I saw that he truly loved me and that he would not give up on me. His drive, determination, passionate love for me, and his courage in expressive it boldly and tenderly in the face of what looked like imminent rejection moved me deeply. 

    In April 2010 I made the hardest phone call I ever had to make. I called Suitor #2 to tell him that I chose Thomas. I cried because Suitor #2 had been nothing but kind, generous, thoughtful, protective, and loving toward me; I was hurting a man who is so godly and sensitive.

    Suitor #2 didn’t show any anger. He gently tried to make me feel better, and he prayed over the phone for Thomas and me, wishing us a great marriage. The next day he wrote me a long e-mail for the sole purpose of drying my tears, for the sole purpose of comforting me. He asked me not to worry about him and assured me that his suffering at losing me was God’s way of making him grow in faith. His reaction to my decision showed clearly just how sanctified and selfless he is. 

    Thomas and I were very impressed with Suitor #2’s reaction, and we were saddened by his pain. We pray regularly that God would soon provide him with a godly wife through ChristianCafe.com or through another means.

    In May 2010 Thomas flew to Florida to meet my father and ask him for my hand. With tears in his eyes, my father said, “Yes, I give you my permission without any hesitation, and I will tell you why: I have never seen my daughter happier.” When I look back at the pictures my father took of Thomas and me at that time, I can see that my father was right; I am positively beaming with radiant joy in them.

    In June 2010 I flew to Wisconsin to meet Thomas’ parents, grandparents, and siblings. He proposed to me July 1st in the front row of his church’s sanctuary with a sparkling princess cut engagement ring. I said yes. We both teared up out of joy, and we held hands and prayed to God, thanking and praising Him for gracing us with each other.

    In August 2010 I flew to Wisconsin again (airlines should advertise on dating sites, offering discounts, seriously) to plan our life together. I stayed again at the home of Thomas’ pastor and his wife.

    In November 2010 Thomas and I were married in Florida by my pastor, in a Christ-centered ceremony that was infinitely more focused on Biblical truths than human romance. We used evangelism tracts, booklets, and CDs as wedding favors. And, yes, that day we exchanged our very first kiss on the lips.

    I now live in Wisconsin with my godly, loving, affectionate, devoted husband, and I have never been happier. We thank God for using ChristianCafe.com to bring us together.

    In closing, it’s fascinating that while Thomas had been online-dating for almost 8 years before I found him, I had been on ChristianCafe.com for not even a month before the site matched me with him based on my search criteria! Indeed the good LORD’s timing is different for everybody. I am so glad Thomas did not give up online-dating after a couple of years!

    And, by the way, the very godly Suitor #2 “Ambassador475” is still on Christian Cafe. If you are a strong godly woman who takes the Great Commission seriously, you might want to pray about contacting this exceptional Christian man who lives a poured out life for Jesus Christ, and who would selflessly love his wife.

    Veronique (QuietGrace545)

    • @Veronique

      I don’t mean to sound rude, but in all honesty, your post was so long, I couldn’t make it all the way through but just ick, no, and yuck on author Debbie Maken! I cannot recommend any Christian fully take her advice or read her books.

      While Maken is correct to an extent on how most churches and conservative Christian culture act as impediments to unmarried Christians who desire marriage, she can be quite rude about getting her points across, and she holds a few mistaken assumptions about unmarried Christians, and has some faulty biblical interpretations.

      I have read excerpts from Maken’s books about marriage, reviews of them, etc, and she is too harsh with, and judgemental against, both unmarried Christian women and men – she blames them for being unmarried. It doesn’t seem to occur to Maken that not everyone chose deliberately to remain single past the age of 30.

      In some cases, it does not matter how hard a Christian works to find a mate (you can join lots of dating web sites, go to many church functions for unmarrieds) and still not find a partner. A lot of hard work and pro-active looking is not a guarantee that all Christians will get a spouse.

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