I’m going to venture into a topic we do not often discuss in our churches. Sometimes singles are too embarrassed to bring it up or they fear being accused of having a “whoa is me” attitude. Sometimes church leaders are too afraid of saying the wrong thing to bring it up. Yet, we cannot neglect this important segment of the population. Singles, whether they are the never marrieds, widows, divorced, separated, single parents, young singles, old singles or in-between singles are an important part of our world. So I’m being clear, my heart in this is to stir us all, whether single or married, to examine our attitudes and behaviours that may be hindering singles from experiencing full fellowship with the body of Christ.
My hope is to call us to pay attention. I feel it is like when in Acts 6 the church needed to be reminded that the Grecian Jews felt their widows were being overlooked by the Hebraic Jews in the daily distribution of food. I don’t believe anyone has intentionally overlooked another in our churches, but I have heard many a single comment how overlooked, and worse devalued, they have felt in some of our church communities. My hope is we all, but especially those in church leadership, examine our attitudes towards singleness.
I’m planning three blogs over the next few weeks on the topic of singleness.
1. This week – why churches need to pay attention to singles. I must admit, this one is the most rant like, so please also come back next week.
2. Next week – 8 things churches can do to include singles
3. In 2 weeks – What singles can do to build bridges with the church
Oh, and I should state my bias from the beginning. I’m a 30-something single, never-married, female Pastor. So, I’ve experienced some of the joys and struggles of singlehood in the church and sought to help the church notice and connect with singles. In some ways being in church leadership makes my experience different than other singles, as it is easier for people to know me and I rarely slip in and out of a church unnoticed, whereas my single friends tell me how easily they can slip in and out of church unnoticed.
Here are 4 reasons churches need to pay attention to singles:
1. Singles are a large, and increasing, portion of the population
Looking at the latest Statistic Canada numbers, from 2011, there are more people living alone in Canada then there are couples with children (let that sink in for a moment.) One person households count for 27.6% of all homes across Canada. (Statistics Canada) Note that the “living alone” statistic would not include singles living with roommates or family. The single demographic is increasing in Canada, particularly in our cities. People who do get married are waiting longer to do so, the average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. Is your church connecting with singles and giving them a place to belong?
As we seek to be missional churches, our church should increasingly reflect the demographics of our surrounding communities. If we are to be missional churches, we have to pay attention to this demographic. If we are to be a people that love and respect all people, we need to pay attention to this demographic.
2. We’ve got some repair work to do. Many singles have been unintentionally hurt by churches attitude towards them. A number of singles have said “I feel more valued outside the church, than inside”. In churches’ good desire to support people in their marriages and families they have sometimes subtly and not so subtly devalued singles in their midst. This is not to say we should in any way deemphasize supporting marriage and families, they need lots of support, but let us also aim to treat singleness as an equally valued option and in equal need of community and support. This can slip subtly into teaching, in who is invited to church events, or who is given attention in the social time after church.
Let me explain more about the attitude that singles have picked up from some churches. Church leaders and marriage books never argue that marriage is a good thing. That is presupposed. They accept the reality that marriage is good, but even good marriages do have problems and struggles. Therefore preachers and leaders look to help marriages get stronger and deal with their challenges within marriage. But, often singleness is treated differently. It’s treated like singleness itself is the problem to solve. Leaders instead instruct singles on how to bide one’s time until the right person comes along or how to make sure they are being the right person to “catch” someone. In other words, they imply that the solution to the problem of singleness is to get married. They treat singleness itself as the problem, instead of treating singleness as good, with certain challenges and opportunities. The underlying message singles receive is, singleness itself is a problem. An underlying assumption in many of our churches, that gets communicated in subtle and not so subtle ways, is marriage is good and singleness is bad. I know that is not that message we want to be sending.
God’s goal for all of us is our sanctification, to make us more like Jesus. God can use singleness for that and God can use marriage for that. Yes, marriage can be a refining tool, as you see yourself up close in another. BUT, singleness can also be a refining tool God uses. Let’s make sure we show marriage and singleness (whether for a season or lifetime) as both equally wonderful opportunities with blessings and challenges in the Kingdom of God.
As I talk to my single friends, it is these subtle attitudes that come out towards them that can make them feel alien in their church family. These unintentional hurtful comments and attitudes that assume there is something wrong with them, that others can meet someone so why can’t they, that marriage is somehow the goal of Christian life, that they must be lonely all the time, that couples/families don’t have time for them…
So church, let’s take a look at the direct and indirect messages we are sending single people.
3. The church, over the last decade, has often done a lousy job of including singles.
I’ve watched as singles have been excluded from small groups because of their singleness, or I’ve seen singles who have been searching for a small group for three years, while a couple has one within months. I’ve watched as singles get completely missed on Sunday morning. I know how easy this is to have happen, it’s a lot easier to notice the family with three kids in tow coming into the church. I’ve seen singles overlooked for leadership or sometimes the opposite, singles are sucked completely dry because it is assumed they have a lot more free time and can give it all to the church.
I get that at times we all need to be around those that more closely share our situations, joys and challenges in life. But, in the church, these should be the exception not the rule. And these times of “segregation” should send us back to the full family of God more able to embrace one another in the life and community of the church. These times should strengthen us for loving others better and more compassionately.
Watch your announcements, watch who shows up at your events, watch who is in your small groups, watch who struggles to know who to sit with on a Sunday morning, watch who connects after the services…are singles being included and embraced in community? Examine your assumptions and fears around this topic – they could be keeping you from getting to know some really great people.
4. We need each other
God did say, it is not good to be alone (Genesis 2:18). It is not wrong, not sinful, to feel alone. God created that need. God created us for companionship and community. The problem is the church has often reduced the solution of “aloneness” to marriage, whereas the New Testament solution is to make believers family, brothers and sisters in Christ, across all the differences. Marriage may be part of the solution but it was never meant to be the full solution nor the only solution. In Christ we are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to one another, all in the same family. The gospel demolishes dividing walls and makes us one family. In a family differences are either able to divide us or help us have greater compassion and empathy for each other. For example, you don’t feel like your grade two child that is getting bullied, you don’t have the same challenges and joys as them, but you sympathize with them and you seek to understand. They learn from you and you learn from them. As marrieds and singles we may sometimes walk in different shoes, but in the body of Christ, we are family – we need each other, to learn from each other, to share each other’s joys and struggles, to empathize with each other, to disciple each other…
I have needed my church community to be my family in so many ways. They have been such a blessing to me, I truly don't know what I would do without them - they are my grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children... I hope I have been a blessing to them as well. We are family, in it together - yes, sometimes I disappoint them and sometimes they disappoint me, but we work it out because we're family. I realize I need them even more to be my family.
Let’s remember: The Bible treats singleness and marriage as two equally awesome options. If anything, you could say the Bible favours singleness over marriage for the sake of the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Yet, walk into the majority of our churches and it does not feel this way. Marriage and family is clearly treated as the most awesome, and singleness is clearly the lesser option. I know this is not the message we want to be sending. Wait a second – lesser? Paul was not deprived, was not “lesser”. Jesus, fully human, fully God, was single. You do not need to be married to be fully human and to be living life to the full in the Kingdom of God. Being single is in no way, shape or form sin. The only sin is when the church fails to be the community, the family, it is called to be.
OK, friends, I’ve started the discussion, I’m opening this up – Am I being fair? Is it just me? What do you think of singles in the church? Where have you seen the church fail at this? Where have you seen the church do well at this? What can we learn from each other?
And come back next Thursday for practical things churches can do to include singles. And in two weeks time for things singles can do to build bridges with the church.