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Church singles ministries are often unhealthy because they are isolated from the rest of the church. Many singles also feel individually isolated, like the church has abandoned them.
Have you ever felt isolated in a Christian singles ministry?
The Modern US Church: A Nuclear Family Institution
Modern churches in the US offer families a wealth of ministries. Married members can choose from multiple classes, womens and mens events, family social events, sports teams, and marriage and parenting classes.
Few of these church ministries are open to singles, especially if you are over the age of 25. If a singles class exists, it may be led by a leader who doesn’t really feel led to teach, or by a succession of temporary teachers. If there are no singles classes, often I can find at least one women’s class, but there aren’t always classes for men. The women’s class may be focused primarily on marriage and parenting, or targeted at a different age group. Other classes for the single’s age group tend to be closed to singles and are for married couples only.
Recreational leagues appeal only to those interested in that sport. Women’s ministries frequently focus on marriage and parenting, though men’s ministries might offer classes on studying books of the Bible. If there are special events, they are family-oriented, such as Trunk-or-Treat or Family Fun Day.
When it comes to volunteering, singles are often limited to working in the nursery, greeting, or leading the singles’ class. Around where I live, most churches have dropped music ministries with choirs, orchestras, handbell choirs, and other groups that members can join. Worship teams tend to be small and with limited openings, or they are for professional musicians only. Audiovisual teams hire professionals. I’ve worked with youth groups, but I’ve had several singles tell me that the youth pastor refused single volunteers in favor of parents and married couples. While working in the nursery and greeting are valuable, crucial ministries, where do singles without those giftings or other interests plug into the church? What if they want to work in the nursery AND study the Bible AND participate in music?
And it’s not just singles that suffer from isolation in the church due to strict ministry formats, but married churchgoers whose spouse does not come, married couples without kids, single parents, those divorced or widowed, and even those retired with adult kids.
Isolation as a Group from the Rest of the Church
Isolation can be seen as beneficial by some singles, especially younger ones. They enjoy newfound freedom from family structures, and view a singles group as a place to explore that freedom. Singles groups also make it easier to find friends, romance, or a spouse. After all, where else can Christians efficiently meet peers who are equally lonely and looking for friends?
Another reason singles choose to isolate themselves may be due to the church’s callous attitude towards singleness. Let’s be honest — most churches view singleness as a condition to be suffered. Comments like, “You’ll find your mate when you’re mature enough” or, “God will give you someone when you stop looking.” Neither of these are necessarily true or helpful, or even applicable to their own lives!
How do you think the church of today would have treated the apostle Paul? “Well, he’s not allowed to preach, not allowed to teach, and we have to get him married off as soon as possible?”
More than once, I attended a church that immediately tried to match me with someone. This is awkward. Don’t do that unless both single people ask you to.
It’s not just singles who fuel this isolation, though. A bulk of married couples don’t want to be around singles either. I remember a women’s ministry conference that I didn’t just attend–I was signed on as one of the worship leaders. The only person who made an effort to converse with me was the speaker, who was from another church. If I sat down at a table, the women seemingly pretended I didn’t exist. The only substantial topic at mealtimes was pregnancy.
Let me just say to married women–I believe you are much more to God and humanity than this one phase of your life!
There is another, though far less common, reason for married couples to exclude singles from their fellowship, and it astounds me! Some claim that the mixing of singles with marrieds would threaten the relationship of married couples. Personally I have never seen the integration of singles and married couples lead to adultery in the church any more than the the regular fellowship of married couples with each other. A healthy marriage should have safeguards and boundaries, and a healthy single person will respect those boundaries.
I don’t see isolation modeled in the church of the Bible anywhere. And I believe women and men of all ages and marital status can have much in common if the effort is present. Don’t isolate your Christian singles ministry from the rest of the church. Singles are useful, and integral tools of service within a church.
I attend a church now that mixes married and single members, and it’s a very healthy ministry. I doubt I will ever join a church again that isolates singles from the rest of the church, even if it means going to a church that only has 10 people!
Isolation as Individuals from the Rest of the Church
In this day and age, many single Christians do not reside near their family. Where I live, after about the age of 25, most individuals have transitioned into couples and marriages. This means they are often too wrapped up their affairs to spend time with singles.
The church can be a resource to soothe the isolation of single Christians. But it often views singles as a burden–as some other church’s demographic. And singles groups are thought to be an unnecessary ministry that consumes money and traffics people away from family ministries.
The church forgets that singles are often lonely, and need people who care about them. I think I’m probably tougher than most, but I struggle with loneliness constantly.
I lost my mom when I was a teenager. She was the only other Christian in my family. The rest of my family still refuses to go to church. To top it off, my mom’s birthday was Christmas Day. I have a very hard time around the Christmas holidays, especially in church services. I love Christmas, but it just makes me miss my mom, and I am often left wishing my family would give God a chance. Thus, I am one of those Christian singles that truly needs a church family.
Some time ago, I attended a church because I really felt like it was where God wanted me to be. I learned some amazing things during this time, but there were also some people in this church who I found very challenging. This church claimed to be highly family-oriented.
During this time I felt intensely isolated. This inclusive atmosphere proved to be depressing during the holidays–a time when I always sat alone. Church members would openly tell me, “Holiday services are family time. You can’t sit with us.”
During one Christmas Eve service, I actually ran out crying before the second song.
Sure, I would love to have a family that sits with me at church. But I don’t, and haven’t for many years. The church I attend now is wonderful when it comes to reaching out to me, but this is rare in my experience.
Isn’t a church supposed to be a family? A family in Christ?
Abusive Ministries and Isolation
I feel it’s necessary for Christians to understand the consequences of isolating singles from the church body as a whole.
I’ll use the example of an unhealthy parachurch ministry located in my area–one that I believe is targeting the displacement felt by singles, and using it to manipulate them. This group targets singles in particular because they are more likely to feel insecure about their value in a church environment. This makes these singles more susceptible to abuse.
In this specific parachurch ministry, I’ve heard the pitch from no less than five people–attempting to coerce me, or someone near me, to join. They claim that churches don’t want singles and are leaving them out on purpose. They tell singles that unless they are attending Bible studies, under the accountability of leadership, they can’t be good Christians. Three people went so far as to say that all singles who aren’t under the leadership within their ministry and actively participating every week in full-weekend events, are likely living in sin.
Because singles feel so isolated by other churches, they may fall prey to such “evangelism” tactics, and become tangled up in groups like this.
In the future, I plan to do a series of posts regarding how to spot an abusive ministry, with copious resources.
What is your experience with Christian singles ministry?
Have you felt isolated in church? I imagine it happens often, between married and single people alike.
Is your Christian singles ministry isolated from the rest of the church? How open are other church ministries to singles? Please share in the comments!
There tend to be a few key problems with singles ministries, but overall, poor leadership is the number one problem I see with most church singles ministries.
Lack of oversight is at the foundation, even if there is a deacon or pastor over the group. I’ve been in churches where the pastor who oversaw the singles never once made contact with anyone in the group, or they had one young friend or relative, and took that person’s opinion as the opinion of all the singles.
Let me share with you some of the things that have happened as a result of poor leadership in groups where I’ve been a member. I would say I’ve been in 8 singles groups. One was group-led, seven were led by a single, and one was led by a couple.
First, in all but one group where a single person was chosen by the church to lead, that person developed or wanted to develop a relationship with someone in the group. I am not necessarily against this, but all those who became couples either dropped the group or their wants dominated all the decisions for the group, and nothing in between.
Furthermore, most of the singles who felt uncomfortable by this were treated like they were against the couple, when what they were really against was:
- Having a leader that didn’t care about them
- That their group would be dropped without warning and they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go
I don’t blame singles for wanting a mate, but even Christians act like idiots for love, and a little honesty about that could go a long way.
Jealousy can be a problem, but I find the couple often way overestimates the jealousy of the group. Usually, if there are people who are truly jealous, it’s just one or two, and the reason for the jealously is that person already liked one of the people in the couple. And in most of those cases, that person left not long after the couple announced their relationship. But often the entire group is treated like they are jealous, when this is not the case. This does definitely not make for a healthy group.
In one group, a leader liked a new girl who had just started coming. She was someone I knew well, and I knew that she did not like him at all. I invited her to church because she had not attended in many years. He immediately made her the leader of the women, a position which he created just for her. He knew nothing about her except that she was pretty and outgoing. She intentionally caused some trouble, one of the pastors caught her doing so, and the leader refused to believe it happened and insisted she remain in her position. So the pastors asked him to step down.
Until that girl walked into the group, this man had been an excellent leader. He was organized, good at teaching, and he made everyone feel welcome. He let one woman, whom he really didn’t know at all, pull him in a direction that was bad for the group. He did this only because he was attracted to her, with very little thought or prayer.
If you want to know how bad it can get, at another church, a leader stalked all the female members of the group, and any new female that visited. The guy stalked me for months, calling my cell phone repeatedly at work, as a teacher, leaving me long ranting messages that I had to pick up and talk to him because that was my “duty as a Christian”. If I did pick up, he wouldn’t stop talking for at least an hour, and usually I had to hang up on him to get him to stop. Me telling him no, that I wasn’t interested, and to stop calling me, had no effect on his behavior or his expectations. He’d yell at me in the crowded hallway at church that I was horrible for avoiding him. I saw him corner and rub up against two other women.
I went to the pastor in charge of the singles and asked for him to be removed. He told me, “We don’t have anybody else.” I don’t think he believed that this guy was as bad as I said, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to try to find someone else. I asked him to come observe the group, and he said he didn’t think it was necessary. He had a leader sexually harassing members and visitors, and he didn’t want to bother with it!
I wish I could trust singles to lead singles groups, but the truth is that I can’t anymore.
And if you are a church leader, and a woman or a man comes to you and says they are being sexually harassed by a leader in your church, if you don’t take it seriously, then I believe you shouldn’t be in ministry at all.
Treating Singles Like Kids
You know what? I’m 41. That’s right, I’m middle-aged. I have a job. I put myself through grad school twice. I’ve been in long-term romantic relationships. I’ve worked as a missionary in Japan.
I am not a kid. I am just as much of an adult as any married person.
I left a whole denomination because I couldn’t find one church that treated me like an adult because I wasn’t married.
The last singles “kickoff” that I went to at a larger church was another in a long-line of events where church leadership didn’t try to get to know the singles they were serving. The average age of the group was in the early 30s, and there were about 40 singles who came.
One guy told a 20-minute diarrhea joke, the moral of which was “You will find your perfect mate”. I wish I were kidding. I really think his heart was in the right place, and maybe it would have flown with a much younger audience, but it just left a lot of people horrified and afraid to come back.
But then, the new leader for the 25+ singles stood up, gave his name, then said he was only staying a month because he really felt called to work with the youth, and that was the condition of his coming to lead the singles.
I could understand if they found someone short-term because a permanent leader was finishing up something else, but they didn’t find a permanent leader until much later.
Did they think we wouldn’t notice that they presented someone who clearly didn’t care about us? How about that the group would not still be around even in a few short weeks?
I was at a table with four single moms, and all of them said they were not going to come back to the singles group. One said she didn’t think she would stay at that church because they didn’t have anything to offer her, despite being good for her kids.
How many came to the 25+ singles class the first day? 6. When I talked to a leader about that later, she just said “Well, singles just don’t want to be involved.”
When the church shouts at you that they don’t really care about singles, no, singles aren’t really going to want to be involved.
Tell Us About Your Problems with Singles Ministries
Have you had an experience with poor leadership in a singles ministry? What about other problems with singles ministries? Please share it with us in the comments below!
Over the next few weeks, I will be outlining the problems I see with singles ministries, and what churches can do to fix some of those problems and strengthen their outreach to singles. I believe that incorporating singles via mixed ministries or singles ministries is important for a balanced, healthy church, as well as an outreach to a demographic that is traditionally marginalized by the church.
Over half of the population over age 16 is single in the US, but I find churches often completely ignore singles over the age of 18 or even actively reject them from fellowship. Furthermore, I’ve had ministry leaders at a number of churches blame the singles, when they would not do so for other groups in the church, and when they were clearly not really invested in reaching out to singles.
How am I qualified? I’m a single in my 40’s who has traveled around quite a bit and visited many churches. I’ve been a member of a number of singles ministries, sometimes because that was the only group that would have me. I am single by choice at this point, and I am fairly content with who I am. I have an undergraduate ministry degree, and I’ve worked as a missionary and as a church ministry leader.
What’s the Problem with Singles Ministries?
Some of these posts might be a bit painful to read. They were a good bit more painful to live. And lest you might think my experience with singles groups is unusual, I’ve talked to countless singles who’ve had similar experiences. I’ve just been single for some time, and since I’ve moved around a bit, maybe I’ve attended a few more churches.
Here are some things I heard just in the past two years during a search for a new church when discussing where I could plug into their church:
- “Singles aren’t really interested. We tried a singles ministry once, and it didn’t work out.”
- “Our church target group is married couples with children. We want to cater everything in our church to kids.”
- On asking about a Sunday School class marked for my age group: “This class is for married couples. We don’t want singles in married couples classes.”
- “We don’t have anything for singles here. But we need people to babysit during the service because it’s more important for married couples to go to worship together.”
Now you see why it took me two years to find a church! I would avoid singles ministries if it wasn’t sometimes the only group in the church where I was allowed.
However, I want you to know that while the first set of posts will be hard to read, I think there are some easy solutions, and they are really summed up in treating singles as just an important of a group as you would any other group in the church.
Here are some articles on being single in the church that you might find interesting or useful:
Are Single People the Lepers of the Church? by Gina Dalfanzo
Singles Ministries: Yea, Nay, or In Between by Adam Holz of Boundless
Why I Want to Leave the Church by Camerin Courtney
Where to go from here?
How many singles does your church have actively participating? Is it even close to half the population?
I did encounter some good things, and churches who are reaching out to singles, but I plan to discuss those in another post, so just hold on for that.
I would like to ask those of you who’ve been in singles ministries and had similar experiences to leave a comment, even if you are now married.
I’ve been fascinated with survival shelters and primitive shelters lately. What if I one day was in a situation where I needed to build myself a survival shelter? How would I make it? What materials could I use? What kind of foundation would it have?
And, I don’t know about you, but the idea of a snake crawling in with me freaks me out. Would elevating the shelter a little bit keep out most snakes? What about bugs?
Okay, if I were honest, I’m not sure I would survive even with a survival shelter.
Where is my foundation?
God has been speaking to me a lot about foundations. It keeps coming up in Scripture as I read it. It also has come up in church, in random things people post, and in discussions I’ve had on and off-line.
I just finished Romans, and am now into 1 Corinthians. This morning, I read:
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1. Cor 3:11, NASB)
The gospel is so simple:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Can I trust my foundation?
” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:5-6)
I’m an imperfect human. I don’t get things right, and my brain is small. There’s no way I could ever have a perfect understanding of God.
But I can seek Him. I can search for Him. I can ask for wisdom.
And I can trust my foundation, that Christ loved the world, came to save it, and in doing so He fulfilled God’s plan. I submit myself only to Christ, to see things through His lens.
In knowing Him, I find the Way.