By Don Hooper
I grew up in a great church in rural central Ohio. I spent summers participating in Vacation Bible School, trips to teen conferences, Christmas parties, and children’s and youth ministry—all of which moved me along in my faith.
All was good—until late 1978 when my parents decided to separate. My family struggled to deal with this new “normal.” So did our church. Our minister tried earnestly to counsel my mom through her hurt. Other church members, friends of my parents, did not know what to do with my mother now that she was single again.
After graduation from college my sister had one Sunday school option at our church—a class called “Pairs and Spares.” I know my home church was making an attempt to include single adults, but I don’t think any single person in our church wanted to be considered a “spare.”
Thankfully one godly man in our congregation saw what was happening and began a young adult ministry. One of the studies he put together was based on the book One Is A Whole Number by Barbara Sroka (Victor Books, 1978). This study spoke deeply to my sister, who remains single today. These were my starting points and introduction into singles ministry.
New Testament Singles
Jesus spent time with several single acquaintances. Among them were three siblings: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. The text does not suggest that any of the three had a spouse.
And then there is the apostle Paul who encouraged all singles (never married or single again) to a deeper level of sexual purity. At the very least, a host of other New Testament characters are not identified as married.
We cannot leave this discussion without mentioning the singleness of Christ himself, who was tempted with every kind of temptation— whether that which is commonly faced by those who are single or married. These individuals were leaders and innovators, all willing to use their status for kingdom purposes.
Current Single Standings
Recently Sperling’s BestPlaces.net listed the singles population of Ohio (my home state) at 51.14 percent and the nation’s at 52.98 percent. For the first time singles outnumber their married counterparts. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the fastest growing household type since the 1980s has been the single person.
The church I serve took note of this trend eight years ago. Looking at the singles we had in the pew (college students, 20-somethings, never married, divorced, or widowed), we decided to take a visionary step to begin a specific ministry for singles.
At the time I joined the staff, many of the singles ministries around our city focused on only the young adult/20-something population. At first that was our focus—until the Spirit opened my eyes to the myriad of disenfranchised Christians who were no longer in their 20s and were finding it difficult to call the church “home.” Little by little I was being swayed to go beyond the typical singles ministry and branch out into areas that at the time had been left uncharted.
The first Divorce Care group we held was mainly made up of men and women beyond 20 and 30. A recent study from Bowling Green State University documents the “graying of divorce.” This has shown us there is room for a segment of singles in their 40s and 50s and beyond that needs encouragement and the care of a church fellowship. We can no longer simply welcome singles to sit on the sidelines. We must free them to be active members of the church.
Let It Begin with You
Perhaps God is nudging you to begin a ministry to single adults in your church. This can be done regardless of the size of your congregation or community.
If you stand behind the pulpit, you know that everyone to whom you speak on a Sunday morning is not married. About a year into our singles ministry, our former senior minister was planning a marriage and family sermon series. I encouraged him to reframe the series with singles in mind as well. He received compliments from several of our single members for that. When our current senior minister planned a sermon series on relationships he included two messages about friends and work associates—something our single members could use. Your single members are listening!
My good friend Virginia McInerney wrote what I consider a primer for ministry with singles. In Single Not Separate (Charisma House, 2003) she makes a point about the use of time for singles. Many “never-singles” (meaning those who have never really had to live on their own for an extended period of time) do not realize that singles are the only ones to run their households—the only ones to do the finances, laundry, cooking, cleaning, yard work, and so on. And most do all of this while working full-time.
In addition, single parents must try to fulfill the role of both mother and father. One of our ministry leaders recently asked me why more single women weren’t participating in our weekly Bible studies. After listening to me and several of our single women speak to this issue, the leader had a much better understanding of what time means to our singles.
Single adults do not need warmed-over youth group games and entertainment. Like everyone else, they need to be challenged to grow in their faith. The church I serve has freed our singles to serve anywhere they feel called.
Singles operate our video screens on Sunday mornings. Other singles serve during VBS—in leadership as well as with the kids. They are Adult Bible Fellowship teachers and leaders. They are choir members, offering counters, administrators, children’s ministry workers, greeters, and more.
Ministry Takes Time
This did not happen overnight. It has taken years for our church to understand the needs of singles, to realize they are among those whom Paul says need to hear the gospel. And how can they hear if no one tells them? It has been a ministry that has taken some resources (time, money, and people), but in return we have gained members who love the Lord and recognize his love and faithfulness in some dark times of loneliness and heartache.
Our singles have seen the provision of the Lord in many ways and they praise him for it. If you choose to embark on this ministry as a church or a church member (and we have several faithful married members who have a passion for our singles who help with our ministry events), know you are being the very hands and feet of Jesus to this demographic. They desire to find a home within the church, not just as singles or “spares,” but as active members!
Don Hooper is minister to single adults with Worthington Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Singles and the Church
Single Not Separate: How to Make the Church a Family
by Virginia McInerney
(Charisma Media, 2003)
Single Focus: Understanding Single Adults
by George Barna
(Gospel Light, 2003)
A Match Made in Heaven: How Singles and the Church Can Live Happily Ever After
by Wendy Widder
(Kregel Publications, 2003)
Singles at the Crossroads: A Fresh Perspective on Christian Singleness
by Albert Y. Hsu
(IVP Books, 1997)
Reaching Single Adults: An Essential Guide for Ministry
by Dennis Franck
(Baker Books, 2007)
Baker Handbook of Single Adult Ministry
edited by Douglas L. Fagerstrom
(Baker Books, 2004)
Where Have All the Good Men Gone?: Why So Many Christian Women Are Remaining Single
by A.J. Kiesling
(Harvest House Publishers, 2008)
They Were Single Too: 8 Biblical Role Models
by David Hoffeditz
(Kregel Publications, 2005)