(Click the “more” link below to see the rest of the links)
If you examine the rest of my blog, you will find other posts by me where I explain and opine about how many churches neglect and insultingly stereotype older singles who have never married.
Here I would like to upkeep a list of links about the topic. (If you know of any others, please post the link in a comment below this entry, and I can add it to this blog post.)
Singles make up an increasing proportion of the Church. But are we ignoring their needs and contributions?
We’re told that for every single man in the Church, there are two single women. By the age of 40, the ratio drops to one man for every four women; by 50, it’s one in six. The fact is that many of us will remain single, whether we like it or not. And with a lack of opportunities for Christian single to meet, many men also never meet their life partner.
With singleness on the increase, inside and outside the church, one might hope leaders would be looking for ways to support single people and tackle the issues that face them. Sadly, though, many Christian singles report feeling unsupported, ignored and even belittled in their churches.
“The Church doesn’t know what to do with single people,” says Nadine, 44, from Somerset. “I’m divorced without children. My congregation includes widows, single parents, and those who’ve never married. We all have different issues – but the church seems to think that if they lump us all together in the occasional social event, that’s the ‘problem’ sorted”.
Most churches rightly put an emphasis on supporting married couples and parents. But the assumption that marriage is the ‘norm’ can make singles feel like a sub-class.
“The focus on family life makes me feel very isolated” says Beth, 42, from Hampshire. “I was in one service where children were told to sing one part and ‘mums and dads’ the other. I felt utterly invisible. Upholding an ideal should be valanced with supporting those who aren’t fortunate enough to have achieved that ideal. I’m sure this attitude is driving people away from the church.”
“In my last church, I often felt like a half-person who’d only become a whole adult once I’d dragged some chap down the aisle,” admits Claire, 37 from London. “There’s nothing wrong with ‘family’ services or teaching on marriage, but this obsession with nuclear families makes the rest of us feel like freaks. It’s ironic that Jesus wouldn’t even have recognised the Western nuclear family, so far is it from the first century Middle Eastern model of family.
“I’m now in a church where single people, divorcees and so on are mentioned as often from the pulpit as married people and parents. At last, I feel like a full member of the club.”
Although Christian singles events and websites are springing up all the time, these largely focus on dating, so still emphasise coupledom as the norm. Many singles feel churches should encourage a wider variety of relationships – and it isn’t just women who feel the pressure.
“Walking into church alone is awful!” admits Daniel, 31, from Oxfordshire. “One of the first questions people ask is, ‘Are you married?’. It makes me feel so uncomfortable that I rarely go to church any more. I recently accompanied a female friend to her church and she commented on how many more people approached her because they thought she was part of a couple. It seemed beyond some people that two friends could go to church together.”
“That pressure can make people rush into marriage too quickly,” adds Shane, 42, from Gloucestershire. “I have friends who got married young because it was expected. Some are not divorced or in unhappy marriages”.
In a dating agency poll, only 2% of respondents said their church was an ‘excellent’ place for single people. Forty one per cent said there was no recognition or affirmation of singles; a further 40% said that although their church was ‘reasonable’, there was nothing specific for unattached people.
“Most churches have mother-and-toddler groups, kids’ groups, youth groups, ladies meetings, men’s breakfasts – but no singles groups,” says Beth. “Even if it was in conjunction with other local churches, surely it could be done?”.
There are certain times when being single is even more difficult.
“I found Mothering Sunday particularly tough in my old church,” admits Claire. “My own mum is dead, and I’m worried I’ll never be a mother. The services just rubbed this in. It makes me appreciate my current church, where the service acknowledges women who want to be mothers but aren’t, mothers whose children have died, and our own mums, alive or dead. The children present a flower to every woman in the congregation, and I leave the service feeling noticed.”
Some singles report feeling frustrated by the assumption that they’re unfulfilled and desperate – when they may be content with a partner, or happy to take their own time finding the right one.
“When I visit my old church, the first question I’m asked is, ‘Have you found a nice man yet?’ says Claire. “It’s embarrassing to keep admitting that ‘No, I still haven’t’! Then people try to fix me up with any single man they know, as if anyone will do! If you do start dating someone, people immediately want to marry you off, which can put enough pressure on a blossoming relationship to kill it altogether.”
“The older ladies at church tell me they’re praying for me to find a nice man,” says Sally, 38, from Essex. “ I appreciate it, as I’d love to marry – but it piles on the pressure! The truth is, I may never find Mr Right – but the Bible tells me I’m complete through Jesus, not through marriage.”
“In retrospect, I realise I relied on my ex-husband for emotional security,” adds Nadine. “Now I rely on the Lord, who says I’m whole in him. I enjoy the freedom I have as a single person.”
PREACHING AND TEACHING
In another, 67% of respondents said their church’s teaching on singleness was unhelpful, irrelevant or simply absent.
“I never hear teaching on issues facing single people,” confirms Sally. “Dealing with isolation, sex outside of marriage – I’d appreciate guidance on these things.”
“Marriage and parenting are talked about all the time, but I’ve never heard a sermon on singleness,” agrees Beth. “It’s occasionally alluded to as the ‘gift of singleness’ – but it doesn’t feel like a gift to me! I’ve learned I have to deal with my loneliness with non Christian friends – people inside the Church just don’t want to hear about it.”
“Maybe we have to be the answer to our own prayers,” suggests Shane. “Married people teach on marriage; perhaps single people should teach on singleness.”
Nadine agrees: “There’s a certain smugness about married people. The best person to teach about the single life is a single person.”
Worryingly, it’s suggested that negative attitudes to single people could even be sabotaging Church outreach efforts.
In my area, 51% of people live alone,” says Sally, “but that isn’t reflected in church life. Many newcomers simply can’t see themselves fitting in.”
‘RADICAL RETHINKING IS REQUIRED’
The Evangelical Alliance has made the following recommendations:
We need to recognise the calling of single people to take their equal place within local and national church leadership.
Churches should foster a depth of relationship among members, and avoid isolating single people or pressurising them into marriage.
Churches should give a greater level of pastoral support to single people going through major life changes, and those caring for adult dependants.
Churches should actively seek to integrate single parents, separated, divorced and widowed people into the church community, e.g. through hospitality, social activities and discipleship groups.
Radical rethinking is required of the concept and practice of ‘family’ services.
Preachers should remember their congregations include single people.
Increased efforts should be made to recognise, develop and direct the gifts of all single people.
Shared holidays between married couples and singles could be encouraged.
A lot of older single Christians, who didn’t expect to be single at this point, admit to feeling lost. “They thought they would be married by now, or if they’re divorced, they never expected that to happen to them,” says 33-year-old Lori Smith, author of The Single Truth: Challenging the Misconceptions of Singleness with God’s Consuming Truth.
“They often feel less Christian because the church emphasizes family so much that singles are left with the impression that good Christians get married and have kids. They wonder if God has forgotten them. Many are depressed about being single and don’t know how to change the way they feel.”
‘Like a person without a country’
At 32, Camerin Courtney, the managing editor of Today’s Christian Woman (a sister publication of this magazine), says she never expected to be dating at her age, let alone writing a singles column for ChristianityToday.com. Though she’s had a few long–term dating relationships, she says she still hasn’t found the right guy. And reading e–mails from hundreds of singles, she’s convinced that she’s not the only one who isn’t dating much. She speculates that there’s not a whole lot of dating going on inside the church today, particularly among older singles.
….In the search to find their soul mate, many Christian singles find themselves struggling with being content. Michelle McKinney Hammond, 46, is co-host of the syndicated TV talk show Aspiring Women and author of Sassy, Single, and Satisfied and several other Christian books on singleness.
She believes contentment is difficult because singles have been programmed to believe that you are not normal if you’re not attached to someone else.She notes that media and pop culture push the concept of couples, with many reality TV shows geared toward the hunt for love.
“We’ve reached desperate levels of searching with shows like The Bachelor,” Hammond says. “Even if you were a content single, you would think something is wrong with you because you’re happy!”
….For Christians this can be particularly challenging, because the model of happiness and wholeness portrayed in media often isn’t godly. “You have the Bridget Jones- Sex and the City message that says singleness is cool and hip and they’re assuming you’re bar hopping and living with your boyfriend,” Courtney says. “Then you look to the church, and it’s so family-centric you feel disconnected. It’s either Sex and the City or soccer moms, and many of us can’t relate to either one. You feel like a person without a country.”
…One of the biggest changes that needs to take place is in the church’s philosophy surrounding singleness, says Smith. She cites the story of a male friend who visited churches on his own and then together with a female friend. The friend said the difference in responses to a single walking into church versus a couple walking in was dramatic.
“I think if you polled most pastors and congregations today, and they were honest, they’d say they believe God’s best plan is marriage, and that singleness may be okay for some but is far from ideal. The Christian culture needs to change the way it views singleness – to see it as a God- given opportunity and a good gift for the time it’s given, whether that’s five years out of college or twenty. We need to view single Christians as complete Christians, as mature Christians, as people God can use in our lives and in our congregations in a powerful way.”
But much of the change will begin on an individual level. A lot of what it takes from going from surviving to thriving as a single can be summed up in attitude and outreach.
…Getting a (love) life
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy three step plan to finding a mate.
vCourtney encourages believers who are seeking a mate to make it a matter of prayer and continue to pursue God’s unique call on their lives. “We like formulas,” she says. “It’s easier. There’s the courtship model or the online-matchmaking modeling or the A-plus-B-plus-C-equals-marriage model. Part of praying about it is figuring out where God is calling you. I think that’s the harder path.”
Here’s an article by a Christian married woman who admits she used to have negative, unfair stereotypes about never married or older Christian singles, but she later changed her views:
Tips of people who head singles classes:
2. Accept them [the singles] as they are. None of us is perfect. While it is always our desire as teachers to lead our learners into a closer relationship with Christ, most singles have already experienced being told all that is wrong with them. They need to feel that they are accepted “as is.”
3. Let them know they are a priority with you. Call them. Visit them in their homes. Find out what is going on in their lives so that you can ask, “How is your mom?” or “Have your test results come back yet?” They need to know that you care.
4. Plan fellowships – at least once a month. The first year we had no budget, but, realizing that the Sunday School at our church IS the singles’ ministry, we have since been given a budget. This has been a tremendous help. Our fellowships have been as simple as a cookout and as complex as a weekend trip to Williamsburg, VA.
8. Eat together after church services. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Many singles don’t cook any more than they absolutely have to and are usually eager to get together for a meal and fellowship.
This discusses how many pastors and churches are obsessed with marriage and hardly ever acknowledge there are single people in their churches, or they treat the singles like second class citizens (this seems to be geared to younger singles, but if you’re a never married over 35 like me you will be able to relate to this):
Do you enjoy church, or has it become something you feel you have to do because you’re filled with guilt if you skip?
I can understand if you’ve come to dread it. Many pastors do not make their church a “singles-friendly” atmosphere. We’re treated like oddballs, like second-class citizens who are somehow to be pitied because we don’t have a spouse and a family. Even if that message is not overt, many singles feel awkward being treated differently from the rest of the congregation.
Pastors should know better, but many don’t get it. It’s been so long since they’ve been single that they’ve forgotten what it’s like. Older preachers, especially, may take a patronizing attitude toward the singles in their congregation. They may think all the “special attention” helps us enjoy church.
You’re single, but you’re not alone
If going to church makes you frustrated or even angry, you’re not alone. I hear this comment from singles quite often.
One young woman complained that her pastor was starting a three month series of sermons on marriage. Now the married folks in the church may eat that up, but the sermon has become irrelevant to almost half the congregation–and for three months, yet! Show some common sense, pastor!
We all know that women do most of the work at church. Many of the older ladies are kind and thoughtful, treating young single women like their daughters. But they don’t have a right to keep asking if you’ve met an eligible man yet, or to treat you with pity because you’re not among the ranks of the married.
Women in their generation may not understand that many single women today are happy being unwed, so they can pursue their career and other interests.
It’s difficult to deal with these well-meaning folks. You don’t want to be rude, but on the other hand, you don’t need a second mother or pseudo-relative giving you the “unmarried guilt trip.” Yikes!
We just want to be treated like a person, not a single person. We have a right to enjoy church as much as married folks.
The dreaded singles’ groups
Church singles groups are well-intentioned but can have just the opposite effect. Not only can they make you even more aware of your singleness, they can put you in an awkward situation of being “eligible” with people you’d rather not be eligible with–if you know what I mean.
My friend Debbie Nicodem [who has a site for divorced people]… gave a poignant account of what many singles feel:
“I’ve known loneliness. The first time I attended a singles’ event at a local church I cried all the way home. Maybe it was just an unusually bad night, but the thought of my new single life being that dismal and lame propelled me to find other ways to make friends.”
Debbie went on to build her web site to help other divorced women and has also rebuilt her life to include a variety of worthwhile activities. I admire her for stepping out, with God’s help, to take a creative approach.
Some of these groups throw young singles, middle aged singles and elderly widows and widowers in together; the only two things they have in common being their church membership and that they don’t have a spouse. It sounds like a perfect formula for a lot of very uncomfortable people to me.
Just because your church may have a singles’ group doesn’t mean you’ll be arrested if you don’t participate in it. You can’t enjoy church if part of it makes you half-sick with anxiety.
It’s not Bible times any more, Pastor!
Here’s the deal. In ancient Israel, people considered it their duty to God to get married and have a large family.
As we read about several Bible women (Sarai, Rebekah, Rachel, and Elizabeth), married women considered it a disgrace to be childless. Because many children died in infancy, large families were necessary to sustain the tribe and the nation.
But it’s not Bible times any more, Pastor! Women are no longer denied opportunities in the work place. They can achieve anything men can achieve. They can provide for themselves and often out earn men. Our country doesn’t need big families.
It’s even all right with God for people to be single.So stop telling us marriage is the best state on earth. It may not be for everyone. Many widows and widowers will not remarry. The opportunity has passed some of us singles by. Is there a reason you want singles to feel bad?
Oops. Sorry. You’re not a pastor. You’re just a single person reading this. But maybe you should forward it to your pastor.
How to enjoy church again
- Your pastor may be clueless. It could be that your pastor isn’t even aware that he’s offending singles or making church difficult for them. Maybe you need to have a gentle talk with him, and if you can get other singles of a like mind to go with you, he’s more apt to pay attention. He may have fallen into the same pattern other married pastors have adopted. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt, but let him know. Don’t simmer in your anger.
- You may have to change churches. This is a drastic and last resort, but if there’s no sign that your church or pastor is going to change, it may be time to look for a church that treats singles more kindly. God wants us to enjoy church and worship with others. Life is too short to be miserable every weekend.
The URL is-
How have megachurches reshaped our thinking about church life?People want their needs met. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I was really attacked on a recent radio show for suggesting churches should be more willing to cater to some pretty obvious needs.Like, I was asked what singles – an underserved group if there ever was one in church life – need, and I said, “To get married.”Pastors in other countries, e.g. India, see matchmaking as part of their job description but here in the States, it’s every believer for him or herself. And there are record amounts of single Christians out there today, few of whom wish to be that way.I really got attacked for suggesting peoples’ needs should be met, as the typical churchgoer is supposed to be in this to be a servant, not to get their needs met.At least that’s what’s preached.That is nonsense, of course; parents walk in all the time expecting to have their children given Christian teaching in Sunday school, so that “need” is considered legit. People do need friends, they need fellowship, they need to hear from God. What is so bad about churches tending to those things?
The megachurches have set themselves to identifying felt needs and providing the staff and programming to meet those needs. They’ve brought marketing into the equation. I am not a megachurch attendee, as I like to know my pastor and have my pastor know me, but I can see the attraction.You say that today’s churches are set up to minister to whole families, but not so much to singles and women. What are singles and women experiencing at church today?Women are slotted into childcare jobs and maybe ushers or the choir – or the worship team, as it’s called today. But women like me, who are seminary-educated, are given no place to teach. The offer is never extended. Ditto for other women who are lawyers, accountants, etc., who know things that could be of some benefit to the body of Christ. These women are underused at best. Or they are told they can only minister to other women.When you’re used to be treated equally in the job market, it’s like entering a time warp when you go to church and are told that who you are is dependent on who or what your husband is. Women whose husbands are elders or ministers have more freedom to exercise ministry, but all other women aren’t given much of a chance.What’s also galling is how so many women are treated like sexual temptresses. I get tired of pastors telling me they cannot be alone with me and can’t meet me for coffee somewhere, while it’s OK if they get together with a male parishioner.Thus, I never get to network or exchange ideas with the pastor – I (and other women) simply lose out. We have to reply on our husbands – if we have one – to advance our cause in church.As for singles, there’s 100 million of us out there, and we are the largest unreached demographic there is. Most churches tolerate us but do not want to expend any time or money ministering to us. Any extra funds goes toward youth ministry.The singles over 35 are especially unwanted – and this is a group that earns substantial income, but also has some real needs.Yet, they never hear sermons pertaining to their station in life while getting hit 24/7 with all sorts of spiritual attacks, ranging from depression or loneliness to unmet sexual desires.Many churches focus on threats to the family, but they never consider the battles so many are facing to even form a family.A lot of singles are waking up and walking out of churches that only minister to couples with children (the church I left was one of those), but many others are still lingering at their churches, praying that some godly mate will show up. Walk into your typical evangelical church and you will find next to no single men who are, say, over 30. They don’t exist.They’re either married or not in church.It’s a mess out there, but your typical parish priest or minister is totally clueless to the hellish choice most Christian single women face: Either marry someone who is not a believer at all, or stay single.Or even if the clergy are not clueless about this situation, they don’t care to help resolve it.For as long as I can remember, evangelical churches have been stressing the need to be “relevant” to American culture. You say they’ve failed on this front–that they are out of touch. How has this happened, and what can be done about it?Relevancy means speaking to the true battles people are facing in terms of depression, exhaustion, joblessness, inability to connect with God, etc. I do not see most pastors at all in touch with how the majority of their listeners have no idea how to hear from God. This should be a top priority.Relevancy is understanding what your typical parishioner goes through; everything from killer rush hours to family breakdowns. One wonders if pastors lead real lives. I think many are isolated from what the rest of us face; thus, I rarely if ever take notes in church any more, because there’s rarely anything insightful in the typical sermon.Part of the problem is that pastors do not want to admit that much of Christianity does not work. So many of the promises in Scripture simply don’t come true, and people cannot wrap their minds around that contradiction. Now, there are ways around this, but it’s the rare pastor who gets it that people are struggling with what their lives are like and what the Bible stays – and the wide gulf in between.Speaking to those hard spots would be so helpful.Unanswered prayer is so huge an issue yet very few authors – Philip Yancey, Bob Sorge – address this. After a while people think they must be awful Christians because the system is not working for them, so they drop out out of sheer discouragement. That does not need to happen, yet this goes on all the time. Folks hate being part of something in which all they do is fail.