I’ve noticed a theme winding through some of the conversations around these parts: Churches seemed to have dropped the ball when it comes to singles ministry. Consider a few comments from a recent post:
My biggest issue has been that the churches I’ve attended regularly never focus on adult singles older than college age. There are all kinds of official Sunday School classes, small groups, activities, etc. for college students, but once you get past the age of 18-25, if you’re still single, you’re basically on your own.
For whatever reason the church at large seems to want to deny that older singles do exist, and that not every person is married off by 22 anymore. … If they do try to form any group for older singles, it usually fizzles out after a few months because of lack of support … constantly putting other things ahead of it as more important … or getting people who are too busy with their own lives to be in charge of it, so Bible studies are constantly canceled every other week due to the leaders being too swamped to be there.
I’ve been a part of adult singles groups that formed organically on their own, but the lack of ‘official’ support from church leadership is somewhat disturbing. It’s like they basically don’t know what to do with you if you’ve graduated college & are still single.
It starts making those of us 30 or above feel like leftovers. The ones you shove into a different container every now and then because you don’t know where to put them. … Which [is] why many singles have given up on church.
I’m not really in a position to evaluate how effectively churches are meeting the needs of their congregations, particularly singles. I don’t have any real experience in church ministry beyond teaching Sunday school occasionally. I did marry into a family full of pastors, which over the years has made for a few interesting conversations at holiday get-togethers and family reunions, but it hardly provides me with even a casual education on the business of running a church.
Still, I can’t really get on board with sweeping conclusions that the church as a whole doesn’t care about a certain demographic. Sure, churches are staffed by flawed humans just like in the rest of the world, and I recognize the possibility and reality that some leaders may ignore the needs of certain groups, either through design or accident. Any 25 year old who’s stood outside a Sunday school room marked “young married class” would probably point out that churches are absolutely able to structure their ministries so that singles seem purposefully excluded. But I think, overall, that there are more boring, practical reasons involved. Many of you have probably observed that the “no singles group” issue often boils down to basic math. Bigger churches have more people, and that larger slice of the population means they have a better chance of sustaining any kind of ministry to smaller subsets of the congregation. (Larger budgets and more staff members certainly don’t hurt, either.)
But I wonder: Even if a church has the flock and the finances to sustain a dedicated singles ministry, should it do so? Is it within every church’s ministry objectives to subdivide a congregation based on marital status? Or should singles simply be enthusiastically welcomed into the broader tapestry of the church ministry, based on the goal that everyone in the church journeys through the Christian life together? Married folks, single moms, 60-year-old widows or widowers, 21 year olds who may benefit from the wisdom of older church members — don’t we all learn and absorb and need every member of the body?
Not long ago, Adam Stadtmiller, at Leadership Journal, examined this issue. For his article, “What Happened to Singles Ministry?” Stadtmiller spoke with a bunch of big churches who once had thriving ministries to singles, but have since shifted their resources elsewhere: “I discovered a cyclical pattern of failure and restart. … In the end, singles ministry had proven to be unsustainable for all of these churches, even though there was still an often-vocal single contingent clamoring for a ministry they could call their own.”
Why the pattern of failure? Stadtmiller found several reasons, but he did find one common factor that you may recognize: No one truly wants to be involved in a singles ministry. One may be thankful to have a group now, but it’s never in the long-term plan. The goal for every member is to leave.
I realize there are other angles to this conversation, and many of you may have even experienced awesome singles groups that buck the trend. So tell me: In your mind, what would define a fantastic singles ministry? Would it even be labeled a “singles” ministry? What specific spiritual needs do you feel would be fulfilled by a singles-only group — needs that are not met through other avenues of your church’s ministry?
What do you want from a church singles group? Is it something more than the opportunity to meet a mate?