julia duin is a believer, a single mother, and an accomplished author. a little over a year ago, i reviewed her book, “quitting church,” and was especially interested in her perspective on single adults in the church.
sarah taylor is a friend who is a believer, a single adult (but not a mother), and an accomplished missionary. sarah wrote a delightful piece on the church’s treatment of singles, and i decided to share it here. it is a little lengthy, but well worth the read. and visit sarah at http://confessions-sarah.blogspot.com/
The alarm goes off and I hit the bedside table trying to find the source of the noise and finally land on the snooze button. A few more snooze button pushes later I begin to wake up and realize that it’s Sunday. It’s hard to make decisions in such a sleepy state, but if I lay here any longer it will be too late. I must decide will I be going to church today? Here’s the thing – I love church. I love to sing and worship God and hear sermons that challenge me and make me think. These are important aspects of church but they aren’t the full picture of what is supposed to happen when we come together in community. But it’s the fellowship part that has me lying in bed questioning whether I’ll get up and go to church. I should go is my final decision and so I quickly get up and get ready and by quickly I mean I take my time half hoping that some catastrophe will happen that will cause me to be so late that it’s not actually worth making the drive. When no such travesty occurs and there’s still time to get to church I climb in to the car and arrive on time. I climb the stairs and find a place in the balcony at the end of the aisle and hope that no one asks me to scoot on down to the middle where I’ll be stuck. I’m not sure what my fear of being “stuck” is but in case of fire I’d like to make a hasty exit. So I sit and use the time to delete old messages from my phone waiting for the service to begin. We all stand then and begin to sing and I feel safe and happy and apart of things. There’s a time of prayer and I participate. Now comes the dreaded shake hands part of the worship service. One strange and overly hairy woman shakes my hand and asks if I’m new. “No,” I reply. I look around to see if anyone else is coming towards me and when I find that the coast is clear I sit down and begin eagerly searching the weekly bulletin so that I can avoid eye contact. It’s not that I want to be rude or unfriendly it’s that I don’t have it in me to explain who I am or what I do or that I’ve been coming here off and on for well over 10 years. I think if I had a more straightforward answer like I’m a teacher at the local elementary school and I volunteer at the local gym then I’d be more apt to make small talk. Unfortunately, I have a job that requires a 10 minute missions window to fully explain. Now that the hand shaking is over I settle in for the sermon. Altar call finishes and the final prayer is prayed. I look around for a moment to see if I can spot any of the few people I know. I don’t so I walk out to my car having spoken only one word all morning to only one person – the overly hairy woman. I get in the car trying to decide if I have the emotional energy to go and eat alone in a restaurant. It’s the Sunday thing to do to eat out. I decide that a quick sandwich at home might be nice and change lanes to head home instead. The tears are threatening to fall and all the while I’m saying to myself, “It’s okay, you’re okay. God knows best. He’s here. You’re not alone. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Jesus, help.” This is why I debate going to church every week. I go alone, I sit alone, I leave alone, I eat alone. I’m not a fan of Sundays.
This wasn’t always the case. Growing up as a pastor’s kid I loved Sundays. It was the day I got to see my friends and my grandparents. I was involved in all sorts of things on a Sunday – worship team, Bible Quiz, – and then we’d go out to eat. It was a family affair. Lots of people see it that same way and therein lies the problem for single adults. Most people go to church as a family and then go out to eat with another family and when you’re not a family then you don’t really fit. So how do we make single young adults fit into the church family?
I’ve come to believe that people choose a church based on three main criteria. They find a place where (1) they can be fed the Word of God, (2) they find community and fellowship, or (3) their family already attends (and probably multiple generations of that family). One may not choose a certain church for all three reasons but at least one of them will come into play. For me, I have no family in the area where I live so number three gets crossed off my list when choosing a church. As a single adult finding a place where there is community and fellowship is most important and yet it is the most difficult to find. Why is it so hard to find a church as a single adult?
Well, first off there seems to be some confusion on life as a single adult. Here are the top 5 things I want you to know:
1. A single adult is not the same as a single college student.
Contrary to popular belief we don’t carry on living the college life simply because we do not have spouses and children. We do go on to live very successful, busy, meaningful lives. We have mortgages, prepare dinners that never saw the frozen food aisle, and we buy actual furniture.
2. Singleness is not a “season of life.”
Being single is a marital status not a life season. Too often this gets said to singles implying that what we are currently involved in is simply filler until we get married and our real life begins. This also implies that God’s call, our career goals, and our current successes are all just part of God’s plan to lead us to that special someone. I don’t accept that. Either God has a plan for each person’s life or He doesn’t. Either I’m called by God or I’m not. It cannot be that this is the back up plan for my life without a partner.
3. Singleness is not a terminal disease. I may die single but I won’t die because I’m single.
I could have a very lucrative side job if I were to get paid for each time someone asked if I was married then tilted their head to the side looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ll be praying,” all while shaking their still tilted head. While I can appreciate people wanting me to be as happy as they are in their marriage (or maybe be as un-happy since misery does love company) it is possible to live a very fulfilled and on-purpose life as a single person. I’m not dying inside every time I attend a wedding or watch a baby dedication at church. My desire to be a part of family life in and out of church doesn’t come from this sad and desperate or terminally ill part of me. It comes from a basic human need to have community and in this case with other believers.
4. Asking me why I’m not married is not a helpful question.
I mean really do people expect me to answer that? Truthfully, if I knew why I wasn’t married wouldn’t that go a long way in helping me find a spouse? God gives us the grace to bear what He has asked of us, but this question tests that grace!
5. You’d be surprised what we would attend if we were invited.
There is a common misconception that single people don’t want to be invited if it’s going to be a group of married people or if there will be children present. I recognize that the true “season of life” that I am in is one in which everyone has young children. I get that and am happy to play fake “aunt” to children around the world. Life is not fair nor is it even. Inviting one single person doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly invite a second. Odd numbered dinner parties can be the best kind! We don’t need you to match make. We need you to be our friend.
So how does this knowledge help both married young adults and single young adults to develop a sense of community in church? Well,
1. Singles are part of the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:14 tells us that the body is made up of many parts. The truth is some parts are single and some are coupled. 2 arms 2 legs 2 eyes 2 ears – some parts come in pairs but some parts of the body come single but are no less important – 1 nose 1 stomach 1 gallbladder. We need all of these parts, both coupled and individual, in order for the body to function properly.
The way in which this body works best is when it’s operating all together and not segregated out with all the arms and legs together and all the noses in another class. We don’t want to be stuck in a singles group; we want to be included. Why must single adults always be placed in a separate group made up mostly of socially awkward weirdoes? I mean let’s be honest – you were already thinking it. Why can’t we be placed in a class with a variety of both singles and married couples within our age range? Let’s not be afraid to have life groups or class parties with odd numbered guests. You don’t need to “fix us up” or wink at us after mentioning that so and so is also single. Rather, let it be a non issue as we come together in unity and do life together.
2. The Psalmist said that the Lord sits the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) – this should be happening with the church family.
I have been so blessed in my life to have not only two incredible parents and a great sister but also wonderful families that God has placed me in. There are families all over the world where I am considered “Aunt” Sarah to children who do not share my blood. I have family because God placed me in their lives and them in mine. But why does this not happen more often in the church? I believe it’s the same reason why we don’t take time to get to know a new young couple – we are too busy with our own lives to truly take time to form the family of God. But, we must work harder to create this family.
Get to know the single adults in your church and invite them to be part of your family. You don’t need to start a new ministry in your church to reach singles just be more intentional in including the single adults in your small groups and encourage them to take their place in the family of God.
How do young adult leaders and pastors help with this?
1. Check that your language from the pulpit is inclusive.
If all your examples and illustrations during a sermon begin with “how many of you are married?” or “if you’re married then you’ll understand that…” then you may have a problem. Giving examples from marriage is not the problem – we can easily fit that example into our own relationship settings and experiences. The problem is that by beginning the story in a manner that excludes singles you alienate us and make it seem that we cannot learn from this story.
2. If the small group or class isn’t called young married then keep your curriculum balanced.
3. Don’t forget that we eat dinner too!
When was the last time a young couple invited a single adult, whom they did not know prior to marriage, to their house for dinner? As has already been said odd numbered dinner parties are the best kind. Encourage fellowship between singles and couples of all ages.
When we come together in unity, as one body or one family in Christ, a beautiful thing happens. Suddenly we aren’t single or married we’re just people who need each other, brother and sisters who help each other, who encourage each other, who pray one for another. Isn’t that what church is all about?