Last week I wrote a blog sharing four reasons churches should pay attention to singles. This week I’ll share 8 things churches can do to include singles. Next week I’ll share 7 things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.
These ideas really aren’t my own, they are the ones I’ve picked up from friends (singles & marrieds), blogs, books, and preachers that have stuck with me. I would really like to hear what you would add to this list.
1. Preach positively about singleness – Leaders let’s consider how we can affirm single adults in our preaching topics and in our illustrations/examples. We need to make sure to include examples that apply to the life of singles throughout our messages and in the application. If your examples tend to all start with “So, in your family..”, “In my family…”, “My husband/wife and I…” Change it up and try “with the crowd at work…”, “with my/your friends…”, “with the folks at your gym…”, “at the coffee shop…”, “In class…” When you’re thinking of examples of how to help families and couples live out your sermon/devo during the week also think of examples for single parents, widows and singles.
Furthermore, messages about marriage, parenting and families are quite common, but when was the last time you heard a sermon on the high calling of being single? Singleness is a reality for many people and needs to be discussed just as other important topics need to be discussed in our churches.
2. Don’t segregate singles –Singles do not want their own subculture, they want to be a part of the church, just like married adults are a part of the church. The operative word is adult, not single. Plus, we’ve all heard the terrible stories of singles/young adult ministries that turn into a dating service. This insult singles, turns the goal away from pursuing Christ, and reduces singles to a problem to be solved. Treat singles like adults. The 35 year old single likely has more in common with the 35 year old couple than the 18 year old single (and vice versa).
So, intentionally invite and include them in all the other adult activities around your church. This also is a reminder to take a look at what you are doing for adult discipleship beyond Sunday Services – is it discipling people from all walks of life?
3. Establish groups that cross demographic lines – Where can you encourage connections across demographic lines in your church? In small groups? In volunteer teams? Mission teams? Intentionally encourage connections across demographic lines. I know small groups that have experienced such a blessing and grown so much in their faith by being a mix of people from different demographics, ages and backgrounds. This is how we grow in grace together. In these groups risk being vulnerable together and learning from each other. Just because you’re married with kids, don’t assume the single can’t sympathize with you. Just because you’re single, don’t assume the married folks can’t sympathize with you.
4. Shorten the walk to a seat – Singles say no matter how long they have been doing it, it still takes a lot of courage to go to church alone. It’s easy for singles to talk themselves out of going to church and instead find an alternative way of doing church at home, this is especially true if they’ve made all the effort to get themselves to church sometimes and yet have found it so hard to find friendly connections or community there. We are all way more likely to stay connected to a church if we establish friendships there. So, shorten the walk to the seat. Not literally, figuratively. Ease the route from home to parking lot and parking lot to a seat in the sanctuary. How do you do this? - be friendly, say “hi”, offer a seat, make small talk, offer to pick them up and go to church together, seat them by others and introduce them around, or let them know you’ll save them a seat by you in church.
5. Put singles in positions of responsibility – Make sure your leadership teams, boards etc. reflect the broad demographics you want to have in your church. One way to affirm the value of any group is to ensure they are well represented in positions of significant responsibility in your church. At the same time, don’t abuse singles. Sometimes it is assumed singles have more time, less responsibility and more money. This is not necessarily true. Singles often carry various responsibilities on their own. Have singles been trust with positions of responsibility in your church?
6. Pay attention & include, include, include – notice the singles among you, and take time to connect with them and listen to them. Make sure to include in your informal chats after church and other gatherings. Singles have clearly received the message that dating couples, marriages and families are important, so can be very hesitant to intrude on couple or family time. Singles can get tired of always feeling like they have to ask to be included. So, couples and families, you’ll have to do the work to include them and make sure they know you value their presence. Reach out and invite them into the chaos of a family meal at your home, invite them on a group outing, invite them out for coffee. Note: This is not the same thing as a once a year sympathy invite or inviting someone over to set them up, which most singles have horror stories they can tell you about! Most singles can smell a sympathy invite a mile away. A sympathy invite is when you just want to get the check-mark off your list of having invited someone in once or twice, or when the single person feels like your project. Both singles and marrieds, be open here, what may start off feeling like a check-mark on a list can turn into a beautiful friendship. We all want genuineness, this is a human thing, not a single thing – we all want conversation to be two-way and for people to take an interest in us as people, as adults, not just as singles.
7. Take the attitude of a learner – Admit that singleness is complex and that you know little about it. Married people sometimes mistakenly believe that they know something about singleness, when in fact they know very little. Most single folks I know have received more than enough advice! (There is a very long list rolling through my head right now!) A lot of people seem to treat singleness as if it’s the farm team to the NHL team of marriage. Singleness isn’t the farm team to marriage, it’s an entirely different sport! If you haven’t played it, you don’t understand it and you certainly haven’t mastered it. The average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. If you got married before this age, then your experience and understanding of what it is like to be single is naturally, below average. Being single when you were in your early twenties, when most of your friends were single too, is not the same thing. In other words, you don’t know a lot about singleness. This calls for humility. If you’re married, treat singleness as you would any cross-cultural experience, take the attitude of a learner. Realize you know little and seek to learn and be careful to not speak on what you don’t know. Watch those assumptions we talked about last time. For example, sometimes married people make the assumption that singles must know very little about relationships, which is an unfair blanket assumption. Research actually shows singles tend to have more, stronger, longer lasting friendships and they take better care of their friends. (From: “Marriage: The Good, the Bad and the Greedy” (2006) and “Single and Unmarried Americans as Family and Community Members” (2011).) This is not to try to create a one is better than other attitude or discussion, remember both singleness and marriage are equally awesome options. This is a reminder to please not sell singles short. Listen and hold-off on the advice.
8. Watch what you allow to be idols in your church, camp or youth group – Ok, I am about to make some bold statements which I’m presuming will generate discussion (which I welcome). I fear in some cases we have made an idol of marriage and family, and even given permission for family loyalty to trump loyalty to Christ. We do not question when someone says “for the sake of my family.” It certainly could be, but we should be able to ask, are you sure that is what Christ wants for you and your family? Let me give some examples, so you understand my concern.
Example 1 – For the sake of their family a Pastor is refusing to move even though their time is clearly up in a ministry. We’ve let that be O.K., family loyalty trumping what God could be saying. If you have a family God has called you to serve them and He will take that into consideration, but your number one loyalty is to be Christ. I’m not saying the Pastor should always leave in this scenario, but they should watch their idols, their loyalties - are they really allowing themselves to listen and obey the voice of Christ, who will also look after their family? The scenario does not even have to be moving, if “family” is given for a reason, it is often not questioned. Hear me here, if you are married and/or have a family that certainly has to be a top priority in your life, but it cannot be an excuse for refusing to follow God’s leading. We rarely allow singles this same permission to give their communities ties, friendships or church family as a reason for not doing something. Whether married or single we must be careful to not let either of those states become an idol for our decision making.
Example 2 - There are churches that run along family lines instead of following God’s will. If there is a strong godly family, often for a number of generations, that helps your congregation hear and obey God’s will that is wonderful! However, if there is a family where it has become more important for the church to do what that family wants, that is not good. You have an idol in your church. If the family is keeping your church from moving forward in living God’s calling for your church, you have an idol. Family loyalty is trumping loyalty to Christ.
Example 3 - I recall overhearing a youth group (middle schoolers) being dropped off at a large, Atlantic Canada wide event one time. As the youth were getting off the bus the leader said "remember you could be meeting your future spouse here this weekend." I must admit, I wanted to scream. Marriage was just made an idol. The point of the event is to help students take a leap forward in their journey with Christ. The point of the Christian life, and youth discipleship, is not to get people into marriage relationships! It is to pursue Christ and fall more in love with Him and His ways. Shouldn't we be saying something like "Listen for God's voice this weekend. God is going to be speaking to you and challenging you this weekend."
Singles certainly can fall into idols too, and also should be asking, where is my number one loyalty? –Trying to find someone or living for Christ? Or even is it the idol of marriage, thinking when you get married that’ll solve all your problems? (ya, right?!)
Married or single, can you say your number one loyalty is Christ? This is the journey we are on together in our church families, helping each other make Christ our number one in all areas of our lives. Leader, if you are helping people do that, wherever they are in their journey of life, demographics and backgrounds, you are doing well! Thank you!
So the advice here, on watching our idols - have honest conversations with others, asking questions like: where is your loyalty in this? What does loyalty to Christ look like in this season of your life? Is this honouring your family, as you should or is this not trusting God to lead and take care of your family? What does loyalty to Christ look like during singleness, separation, divorce, single parenthood, marriage, kids…? What does loyalty to Christ look like in your finances, your time, your free-time, your relationships etc…? Whoever we are, may we be loyal to Christ above all.
I hope you recognize in these blogs that I fully support marriages and families, and especially welcome the work so many of you are doing to equip families to experience and live out their faith during the week. My hope is simply that not only do we help marrieds and families be equipped to live out their faith where they live, work, study, play, but that we also help singles, youth and young adults live out their faith where they live, work, study and play. So that together, as all God’s people, from various walks of life, we can join God in changing Atlantic Canada (or wherever you are) one neighbourhood at a time.
-Anything you’d like to add as advice for churches as they seek to include singles? -Anything you agree or disagree with in this post? Comments are welcomed.
Next week I’ll share things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.