Did you know that single adults are the largest and growing demographic in our country today? People come to this place in many ways. Some of us, including myself, as the result of divorce. An increasing number of people are delaying marriage, or deciding for various reasons that marriage is not for them. The Church, for the most part, does a poor job of welcoming this demographic into church life, as demonstrated by the lack of single adults in our pews relative to their large presence in our communities. This lack of outreach is also a large factor in our difficulty in reaching younger generations. We simply have to do better. The Great Commission calls us to go out and bring the Gospel message to all people, not simply to families that have two married parents and children. Here are some ways we can do a better job of welcoming this growing segment of our communities.
- Churches, because they are full of largely older and married people, tend to view being single as a temporary and interim status. The implication of this is that singles are viewed as somehow incomplete or even broken, as they are. This is not true. Some singles may be grieving the loss of a relationship, but many of us view our status as one that is stable and healthy. The result of this misconception is that churches who do make efforts to reach out to single adults often create separate programs that function as match-making venues, often created in the style of a slightly older version of youth group.
- Marriage has long been thought of as an entrance into adulthood. Indeed we make it a sacred stepping into adulthood, solemnizing this new life state in a religious context, with vows and prayers. This is well and good. But the Church should honor other rites of passage as well. After all, the Bible is filled with examples of single adults who found themselves commissioned to ministry without the status of marriage. Why don’t we commission single adults into their vocation as faithful disciples in their present state? As it is, the last blessing most of them received was at their confirmation or baptism. We need to find ways of blessing graduations, first apartments, or first jobs as well.
- Here is a practical way of welcoming singles. When planning fellowship gatherings at homes, make a habit of setting them up for an odd number of people. “Dinners for Eight” and similar ideas are wonderful in their creation of community, but they would communicate greater welcome to singles if they were framed as “Dinners for Seven” or “Dinners for Nine.” In fact, most singles are seeking community. We may consider ourselves to be whole and complete, but our lives may lack companionship. Creating community that includes multiple generations and the opportunity for diverse family configurations to participate would be a meaningful ministry to many single adults.
- Many churches, in their statements of values and inclusion, rightly do a good job of including the GLBT community. We could quite easily extend this welcome to include other family configurations, including single adults. We would do well to remember that divorced people are well aware that such acceptance isn’t always offered. There are many denominations that still explicitly judge divorced people in a number of ways. Many people with a background in these churches or no church background may simple assume that church is not intended for them.
This is the beginning of a conversation I plan to continue. Feel free to express your thoughts!