Church as most of us know it isn’t much like it was 100 years ago. Medium-sized churches which used to dominate America are now drying up. Tiny start-up churches and mega-churches have taken over. I hear people whine about this reality, but it’s a result of changing demographics: the Christian divorce rate is equivalent to the secular rate of about 49%. Churches are no longer rooted in the stability of married couples who live in one place for 20+ years. At least half of those attending the larger churches are single. The majority of those are single parents. It’s a statistical reality that single people as a group are more transient than married people with families.
In the 80’s, church leadership saw the growing population of singles and took a stab at offering singles ministry. It would start with a great success, but over time, people in the group paired up and left. Those remaining would often create a very unhealthy dynamic. New people entering the group were often very damaged from past relationships and not seeking Divorce Recovery or therapy. Sometimes people with predatory intentions would cruise the group looking for an injured gazelle on the rebound. Cliques might abound and jealousy and competition often caused drama. The decree came down from on high: Singles Ministry Didn’t Work.
Here’s the paradox: Most Christian thought leaders agree that spiritual community is crucial to individual growth. As Andy Stanley puts it, “People do better in circles than in rows.” This is where church leaders miss the boat. Most of the people who make policy decisions in the church have never been single as an adult. They got married in Bible College, and have been married for 20+ years. They have no idea how difficult it is for single people to go from a service of over 500 people on the weekend to joining a small group of less than 30.
Have you ever gone to a business networking event solo or to a wedding or where you didn’t know anyone but the bride and groom? If not, I implore you to try this once: Get all dressed up, walk in by yourself, and try to make
conversation with total strangers. No fair if you’re the pastor officiating. See how comfortable and fun that is for you. The next time you go to such an event with your spouse, you will have far greater appreciation for what a comfort it is to have him or her by your side. It’s a whole different experience. I’m an extrovert, and I hate going to those types of events by myself, even though I know I’m going to run into people I know and meet new people I will enjoy. How much worse is this for introverts?
Those who are growing in their faith are far more likely to:
- be satisfied with their church experience
- attend services consistently
- have a more positive attitude in general
- volunteer regularly
- contribute financially with intentionality
So shouldn’t we want our congregations to grow in their spiritual development?
- This happens best with small group participation
- Most people have a difficult time going from a service of >500 to a group of <30.
- (+/-) 50% of people in the church are single (if this is not true in your church, you should ask yourself WHY since this is true of the US population)
- Most people agree that it’s harder to attend a small group for the first time by yourself
Therefore, it is in the best interest of the church to offer some sort of transitional group to help this large demographic move from shallow weekend attendance to deeper small group connection. But since experience has shown that the average healthy lifespan for a 52-week a year singles ministry is about 2-3 years, we need to try something different.
- Recruit small group leaders in the singles community
- Build community among the leaders
- Allow leaders to choose small group focus (Sermon study notes, Bible study, book study, etc.)
- Create short-burst events at the church (i.e. “Three _____days in the month of _______”)
- Promote these events at weekend services (this is crucial!)
- Have small group leaders facilitate event
- Use part of the time at events to help attendees experiment with different small groups
- Repeat this system at least once a year
A system like this would create healthy small groups and help recruit new members every year. It would make the single people in the congregation feel validated instead of marginalized. Once the small group is formed, it wouldn’t have to be classified “for singles only”. This way people would feel comfortable staying after they found a love-interest.
To recap, about 50% of the US population is single. Single people often complain that the church sees them as a source of volunteer power (“since they have so much more time on their hands”), but refuse to acknowledge their unique difficulties in connecting in a deeper way at church.
Year-round singles ministry is fraught with difficulties including a limited lifespan, but having short-burst events (3-4 consecutive weeks once or twice a year) is a system that could work indefinitely. This consumes minimal church resources, while sending the message to singles that they are valued.
Healthy churches foster spiritually development in their congregation. Small groups are the answer, but singles often need a bridge event that can help them find a small group that works for them. The compassionate and wise solution is to offer such an event to singles on at least an annual basis.
If you are in support of this type of singles ministry, please share this essay with your church leaders.
My book, Dating, Sex, & Jesus, is available at Amazon.com. Please “like” the Dating, Sex, & Jesus Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/DatingandJesus for fun and interesting content and book excerpts in your feed. Thanks!