Poor Leadership — Problems with Singles Ministries

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.

Couple Trouble

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:

  1. Having a leader that didn’t care about them
  2. 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.

Unrequited Feelings

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!

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Comments 4

  • I wish “singles” ministries wouldn’t focus on the shortcomings of being single, i.e. those selfish disadvantages we have like being *gasp* lonely. When I go to Bible study, I want to study the Bible. When I come to church to worship, I want to worship God. Why does every “singles” group have to be a party mixer?

    Instead of treating singles like a problem to be solved, I wish churches would recognize that we have a lot to contribute to the Church. We have freedoms that harassed mothers and working fathers don’t have. We have a heart that we can give completely to Christ. Why does that have to make us the pariahs of the community? I don’t understand.

    What I wish more than anything is that the church would make an effort to equip us to be better soldiers and handmaidens of the Lord—not better mates…as if that were the entire purpose of human lives.

  • On the leader who stalked/harassed you, are you sure you’ve never lived in Dallas and have been to my former church? I remember 10s of girls who showed up once and never came back – something was creeping them out. In my experience, all it takes is one moron who loves patriarchal maniacs like Mark Driscoll or Doug Wilson to ruin everything, especially when he’s a leader.

    • I’ve only been to Dallas once on a weekday business trip, and so it wasn’t me, but I wouldn’t doubt it. And I’m pretty sure this happens more often than people in the church might believe.

      This guy wasn’t a Calvinista, and I’m not even sure he had a basic grasp on theology, but he was really desperate for a girlfriend.

      • Oh OK, I see what you mean.

        Before I was a Christian, I was an exec member of a large and secular student organization. Every now and then, a guy who just didn’t know how to act showed up and caused problems. It’s a very difficult situation because the guy wasn’t bad, but we had to protect the organization. It’s very easy to wish it away or say it’s the members’ problem.

        At church, I’ve seen a similar situation – perfectly sociable guys who act unusually, but consistent with a belief that all Christian women submit to all Christian men. One can only imagine what the private interactions they have with women are like.

        I’m a little older and navigating single Christian life in Dallas, so thanks for the posts, and I’ll be taking an interest.

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