I have had good experiences as a single in the church. Unfortunately, friends, I have also had bad experiences. It would be easy for this to become a rant. To speak out of pain. But then who might listen? And what might it say about me?
I would rather speak out of love and grace: knowing the slights imparted by the Church are rarely committed on purpose, admitting I am not a perfect congregant, understanding pastors cannot be all things to all people, remembering sometimes a church needs to learn from its members in order to see the necessary changes.
Singles as a whole are often not included or treated fairly by the church. I write from the perspective of an unmarried woman but I've tried to be as general and inclusive as possible.
Please consider the following suggestions:
"Singles" is not a one-size-fits-all group. Neither then should be your approach.
As I've mentioned before, the single category includes those who have never been married, the widowed, the divorced, and single parents. We might have different preferences on how people refer to us. We probably have different feelings regarding our singleness. A one off mention will not garner you any favors. A considerate response, taking these varieties into account, will.
Put your assumptions about singles to the side.
We might be single for a season or a reason or who really knows why (addressed further below.) Most of us are fun, vibrant people worth getting to know. Don't assume we're lonely, miserable individuals just because we're not married.
Contrary to what certain pastors say, singles are no more selfish than marrieds. Trust me.
We likely don't have as much extra time as you think we do. After all, we have no one with whom to share the load and split responsibilities. That said, please don't overload your single volunteers.
Give options when it comes to community and activities.
It might be easy to lump all the singles together in one group. While there may be some commonalities, there are also big differences. The limitations of such groups also enforce a Bubble Mentality. No one, single or married, should perpetuate a bubble.
As much as possible, try not to segregate small group options. Singles should be a welcome part of any small group. We have so much to learn from one another- young, old, married, single. This also helps those who do not want to be identified ("singled" out) by their marital status.
Sure, offer the Young Adult and Singles groups or perhaps a regular singles-specific activity for people who prefer that. However, encourage singles to join mixed small groups and play an active role in the church. And let them lead!
Marriage should not be a prerequisite for ministry.
In the last decade, I led small groups for the youth group, Young Adults, and Women's Ministry. But I was not allowed to lead a community group- even though the pastoral staff sought me out for the aforementioned roles. Community groups were to be led by a married couple, really the husband. I don't always see myself as a leader but I chafe against meritless restrictions.
A guy friend of mine went to seminary and pretty much led the Young Adult group. But he was single and so he was only allowed to volunteer. How nice. The week he got engaged? They offered him the position. This is not an isolated incident.
Married pastors might neglect their families for the sake of ministry. Celibate Catholic priests and nuns might miss out on the perks of marriage. Does it have to be either/or? I'm not convinced marital status indicates how a person will perform on the job.
Promote healthy relationships between the sexes, married or singles.
The healthier the friendships, the healthier dating relationships can be, the healthier the marriages. Note: that's not a streamlined trajectory. Not all friendships will or should turn into dating relationships. Given that the divorce rate is the same for Christians as non-Christians, this is simply a good place to start.
Once married, quite a few Christian guy friends drifted away, muttering about boundaries. We had healthy boundaries when we were both single. Marriage should not be synonymous with a lack of self-control around members of the opposite sex to whom you're not married.
We all benefit from friendships with members of the opposite sex.
Don't elevate marriage over singleness. Consider what our callings really are before promoting one above all else.
As Christians, we're called to emulate Christ. The Bible may speak to various roles but it does not elevate them over others. In fact, the Bible is clear that we are the Body of Christ and we all play a vital part.
Value singles for the people God made them to be. Even if they never get married. Love them for who they are and help them see their gifts and the way they contribute to the Body.
Jesus and Paul were single. Don't forget that part of the equation.
Married people are not "more" sanctified than their single brethren. God may use your spouse to be a part of your sanctification process. He uses relationships to help sanctify me, as well. I have no doubt if a spouse was the best key to my sanctification, I'd be married right now.
It hurts when being a wife and mother is said or implied to be a woman's greatest calling. I want to get married but there's no guarantee that is in my future. It doesn't mean I cannot fulfill God's purpose for my life. I'm single and that's not a bad thing.
For every marriage stand alone sermon or series, preach on singleness as well. When making a marriage-specific application point, include an application point for singles.
Y'all. I don't even know how many marriage sermons I have sat through. I have yet to hear one on singleness. And I've attended churches with a sizable amount of singles. I even requested a pastor address this topic and passed along resources at his request- to no avail.
Tossing in "singles, this applies to you, too" during your marriage series does not count as addressing singles. If singles can listen to a sermon on marriage, surely married folks can listen to a sermon on singleness.
Address dating, celibacy, chastity, and sex. You can do it. We need these topics to be addressed. This is not an easy road to travel and we need the support of our church.
Please be aware holidays can be hurtful, as Amy wonderfully illustrates here.
Consider allowing your congregation to come to their own life specific applications.
For the congregation...
Unless you've been specifically asked, don't offer a prescription for singleness.
We might want to get married or we might not. Singles are single for a host of reasons. Many of the unmarried haven't met the right person yet and have chosen not to settle.
I will never have a good answer to the question: "why are you still single?" Before you ask such questions, ask yourself whether you would like someone to inquire about the quality of your sex life. Believe me, when strangers and acquaintances get nosy, I'm tempted.
Online dating is generally not a solution.
If you see someone sitting alone, ask them to sit with you. Invite singles out for lunch after the service or to join your family gathering at holidays.
This works both ways, of course. I appreciate my married friends who let me be a part of their families, sit with them at church, hang out at their houses, and so on.
Singles, what suggestions did I miss?
Marrieds, how do you care for the singles in your life?
Linking up to Rachel Held Evans's One in Christ: Week of Mutuality Synchroblog, exploring egalitarianism and other ways of supporting equality for women. Or in this case, singles.