Singles Segregation

woman sitting in church pew
A strong case can be made for churches having a singles ministry, but can having one unintentionally ostracize singles from the rest of their church family?

A strong case can be made for churches having a singles ministry, but can having one unintentionally ostracize singles from the rest of their church family?

I think it could. I think it does.

In my early twenties, I was an adamant supporter of churches having singles ministries. After all, where else would I have the perfect opportunity to find my Mr. Right?

I joined my previous church’s singles ministry fresh out of graduate school. I’d been a member of this church since my sophomore year of high school, so when I came back to town, I was eager to get involved.

The 20 Somethings, as we were known, provided a place for that. It gave me an opportunity to explore and grow in my faith alongside others in a similar life stage, and provided ample opportunities for game nights, Super Bowl parties and retreats. I also loved the two awesome couples who led our ministry and poured into us.

But after a few years, I started feeling antsy and awkward.

Hello, I’m (Still) Single

The best and worst part of having a church ministry dedicated to singles is that the ministry is dedicated to singles. And as “singles,” our brains are inevitability preoccupied with figuring out why we are still single — and how not to be.

It’s not necessarily a negative thing, but that maddening internal dialogue will start to wear you out, especially when you can’t find a satisfying answer (can I get a witness?). When you are in a church ministry with an emphasis on singleness, it can be even more difficult to get out of that mental rut since your experience at church revolves around being alone.

In other words, being single can haphazardly become your main identity, taking precedence over being a child of God. This mindset happens even in healthy, thriving singles ministries like the one I was involved in.

Goodbye, I’m Married Now

Change is an inevitable part of any church ministry, but especially in a singles ministry.

Let me tell you, it was not fun seeing others who started in the group with me couple up and “graduate” to the young married adults class. Even less fun was when people who started after me got to leave for the young married adults class (um, I was here first).

Can you imagine if other ministries operated that way, “promoting” their members to different life stage groupings like the transition from the nursery to Sunday school on Promotion Sunday? What if the married adults were separated into “parents” and “not yet parents”? How painful might that be for couples who are struggling with infertility? Separating Sunday morning classes or church community groups based on relationship status can seem just as harsh.

Come Together

There are two sides to every coin, and I can see and have experienced how having a singles ministry can be beneficial. But I do believe that at the end of the day, if it’s the only way a church is enfolding and ministering to single adults, it can become divisive. I would be willing to bet that most singles in church already feel isolated and like second-class citizens. That’s magnified when we are herded together and away from the rest of the family.

When I decided to explore other churches, I had a firm idea that I wanted and needed a church with a singles ministry. The church I ended up at does not have one.

When I visited my church, a friend of mine who already attended went with me for brunch after service. She told me she enjoyed the church and didn’t feel the weight of her singleness because the emphasis wasn’t on her relationship status. She also told me, to my horror, that the church was predominantly made up of young married couples.

To say I was hesitant to go to a community group was an understatement, but I did, and was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming everyone was. Yes, the majority of people there were married, but there were also college students and another single woman around my age. The mystery of the people in the young married class was stripped away when I discovered that they are just normal people like me, and we can indeed do life together.

When we talk about diversity, the conversation often revolves around race. But what about other potentially divisive factors like relationship status or even life stage? It’s certainly a subject worth exploring, and the body of Christ would benefit from us revisiting it.

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