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!