By CaReese Rials
Most churches strive to be a place where anyone can come and feel welcome. Churches have greeters and entire ministries designed to make people feel welcomed and wanted. But as a person who has been attending church her entire life, I often don’t feel welcome in church. In fact, there are times when church, my own church, can feel like hostile territory. It’s not because I am at odds with other members or because I have doctrinal differences.
It’s because I am single.
I am a big believer in the local church. I believe that the church has so much to offer its members and the world. We are the body of Christ and as such we are carriers of God’s love, grace, and power. I think that everyone should be a part of a local church. The problem is that this can be hard to do.
I feel like singles are the most overlooked group in the church. Most churches aren’t built with singles in mind. There is plenty of programming for couples and families. There are small groups and special ministries. Even single moms have a place in our churches. Noticeably absent from many church calendars are events that minister to single adults. There simply isn’t a place where singles can belong.
Church can be a scary place for a single person, especially if you’re new to that particular church. There are certain anxieties that a married person simply cannot identity with. Little things like where to sit in a worship service where everyone else is coupled or grouped. It can be a discouraging experience. It can be a painful experience. This is a real thing. It has been so intense at times that I have gotten up and walked out on church services because the pain of sitting there alone was just too much.
As a single 30-something, I have been a part of a lot of churches. During this time I have seen singles routinely ignored. I don’t think that any church would come right out and say that singles are second-class citizens; most churches would verbally affirm that single Christians are just as important as married Christians. However this is not borne out in their actions. Take a look at the church activities. Listen to the sermons that are presented. That will tell the real story.
There are many ways that churches can begin to minister to Christian singles and several ways that churches can better equip them.
I am privileged to be in a church that values singles. Our pastor makes it a priority to let singles know that he is aware of us. A little acknowledgement can go a long way. Address single people in sermons. Use single people in sermon illustrations. It is discouraging to sit in church as a single person and feel as though the preacher is only talking to or only aware of the couples. When you lead, make sure that you address everyone.
Churches need to actively engage singles—100 percent of the church population experiences a period of singleness; it follows then that 100 percent of the churches should have a place for singles to belong. Is there a singles ministry? If not, why not? Not every church has a large enough population for that, but surely most churches can offer a small group. Any church can host a monthly game night. Every church can engage single members in some way.
Some churches mistakenly think that women’s ministry adequately ministers to single women. Let me tell you that this is false. While it does provide some opportunity for fellowship and learning, often these gatherings are dominated by married women. The conversations inevitably turn into exchanges of husband and children stories and the single person sits there looking around the room trying to figure out how to make a polite escape.
Singles face intense challenges. There should be a place to address these challenges.
Singles need to be equipped for many things, including marriage and ministry. Many single adults will eventually marry. It would be extremely valuable to learn about godly dating and preparation for marriage. It is important to talk about what to look for in a mate. It is important to discuss how to use the period of singleness well so that a person is in a good position to marry when the time comes. So often I hear people say what they wish they had known before they got married. The church is in a prime position to share this with its single members and equip them to not only have successful marriages but fruitful single seasons as well.
The church has a real opportunity here. Many churches don’t allow single people to occupy leadership positions, as if marriage confers a special ability and singles do not have as much to offer. Single Christians have gifts, talents, and callings too. We should not be penalized simply because we haven’t found mates yet. We must be allowed to participate in the building of the kingdom alongside our married counterparts.
But we need to be included outside of the church as well. We need dinner invitations and opportunities to spend time with people. We don’t have families of our own, and it can be healthy to see family dynamics. We need to know about the challenges because many of us desire to be married with families one day.
Married Christians should also make an effort to include singles in conversations. A time of only trading spouse/kid stories will not elicit much participation from a single person. Make an effort to provide opportunities for everyone to participate.
Sometimes when a single person is new to a church, it can really help to introduce them to other single people. This works two ways. It can be helpful to introduce them to members of the same gender for camaraderie. Everyone needs good friends. But don’t be shy about introducing singles to members of the opposite sex. I am not suggesting that anyone make it their mission to marry off every single person. But sometimes a simple introduction can be helpful.
The reality is that we singles do life alone. This is where the church has a real opportunity to shine and be the body of Christ. Churches could help single women with home or car maintenance. Send a single person a birthday or Valentine’s Day card. Small details mean a lot to someone who doesn’t have anyone else.
Pray for us constantly. Life as a single person has unique challenges. Pray that we navigate them well. Pray for us to find mates. Singles can get really discouraged and feel a range of emotions. Pray for our strength and wisdom. If you are unsure of what to pray, boldly ask a person how you can pray. That is a step that will go a long way in letting a single person know that you care.
Life as a single person can be incredibly lonely. This is a place where the church can really make an impact. There are ways that the church can serve single members on Sundays and throughout the week.
Single people support our churches. We attend. We serve. We give. It’s time that our churches support us as well.
CaReese Rials is a program specialist and freelance writer from Chicago, Illinois (@CareeseSmiles).