Single Adults Why They Stay and Why They Stray (from church) Book Excerpts
Note: several questionable people have roles in this book, in the form of editing, or as contributors, such as…
-neither is “biblical counseling,” yet Edward T. Welch, who is a “biblical counselor” also had some kind of role in this book,
– a gender complementarian, Wayne Grudem; gender complementarianism (Link): is not biblical
-C. J. Mahaney – accused of being involved in a ten year cover up of child sexual abuse at his churches,
so I offer this link with a caveat.
The author of the particular chapter I am quoting seems okay, and I don’t see too much that I disagree with in his chapter.
What is really funny is that this book (I’m not sure when it was published, I am just now finding it today), echoes many of the things I’ve said on this blog before.
Edit: this book was published in 2003, but this is the first I am seeing it, or reading excerpts from it. It is incredible how the author noticed most of the same disturbing anti-singles views and trends that I have in this blog the last three years.
As I am a NEVER MARRIED woman, I am not going to present the full section under “divorce” in the chapter. You can visit the link to read it if you want.
The following is available for free on Google Books (this particular book is entitled “Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood”) :
(Link): Single Adults in Your Ministry: Why They Stay and Why They Stray
by Dick Purnell
… Do you know how many single adults sit in your congregation each Sunday? Recently I was speaking in a church to three thousand people. I asked for all the people who were unmarried and twenty-two years old or older to stand up. Over a thousand people stood up! The audience was surprised and gasped at the large number…
Do you realize that the number of single adults in America exceeds the total national population of all but eleven of the world’s 192 nations? How shocked would you be to discover that the number of single parents is greater than the entire population of Colorado and Tennesse combined?
According to the 2000 U.S. census 40 percent of all adults eighteen and older (forty-eight million) are single. We are seeing a tremendous shift in American social values.
The median age of a first-time marriage is now twenty-five among women and twenty-seven among men. The fastest growing family type is single parents.
If your church is in an urban area, the percentage of single adults near you is much higher than a rural area. Singles gravitate to the cities for jobs, things to do, and others to meet. They are searching for connection and community.
They are often afraid of loneliness, commitment, and isolation. Most of those under thirty have never been married. The average age of a married person’s first divorce is thirty-four. That means after years of marriage, they are thrown back into the dating scene. They feel awkward and unprepared. They face the same relationship challenges that teens face, but they feel out of place.
One woman said to me, “I am now single, but I feel married. I don’t want to be single, but that was forced on me.” They have been out of the dating world for so long that they have very little idea what to do. And no one is helping them or even having a discussion about some of these issues.
Most singles are invisible to churches.
… They represent every economic stratum you can imagine – everything from presidents of major corporations to the unemployed and all in between. Fifty-three percent of all unchurched adults are single.
But our churches are built on a mind-set of marriage, and singles are often neglected. They are the “Great Invisible Mission Field.” However, businesses are very aware of singles. If you look at the advertising on television or in magazines, you will find that a huge number of ads are geared to attract single people.
Sports clothing, beer, cell phones, and a myriad of other products are marketed to singles. They have the largest amount of discretionary income. But the church in general has a difficult time attracting them and capturing their attention and commitment.
Many single adults believe that the church excludes and ignores them. They feel like the church is either neglecting them or is just not interested in them. So single adults vote with their feet. They come to church for a few months or years; but when their needs are not addressed or they never hear a sermon addressed to their unique issues, they fade away and go somewhere else – or stop going to church altogether. They hear sermons preached on topics such as “How to be a Godly Husband” or “Becoming a Godly Wife.” But they have never heard a sermon on “How to be a Godly Single Adult.”
… [Singles] don’t stay because there is no emotional glue to keep them there. They are not the “squeaky wheel” that is going to ask the pastor to give a sermon directed toward them or to pound on the door of the budget meeting pressuring for more funding. They just fade away.
Are you desperate to attract single adults to your ministry and get them involved? Here is my top ten list on “Why Single Adults Are Turned Off by the Church.”
Number 10: Frivolous jokes degrade the single lifestyle.
Grandparents, pastors, and married friends all have jokes about singles. All the married people laugh, but the single buries the snub under a weak smile.
I was single for forty-two years. When I served as an assistant pastor in my middle thirties, I heard lots of good-natured jokes, but often the ribbing was not funny to me. “Hey, are you afraid to take the responsibility for a mate?” Here I was in charge of several significant ministries in the church, and they tell me I’m afraid to take responsibility?
“Maybe you are just too picky. Are you looking for a perfect wife?” In other words, if you lower your standards you may get somebody.
“You’re not getting any younger, you know.” That was supposed to pressure me to get moving? Sometimes I would get the big one: “What are you waiting for?” Like I better hurry up before I miss the “right one.” But isn’t there a sovereign God? His timing may not be my timing – or the timing of the people who ask me to hurry up.
In trying to encourage me, people would give what I call romantic testimonies: “I finally gave everything to God, and six months later I found the right one.” But I was forty years old and had been a full-time minister for over fifteen years.
Was there something I had not given up to God that some married twenty-year-old ha already given up to God? All the marriage formulas that people give singles may be individual experience they had, but those formulas are not normative for all believers. Why should I seek the holy grail of marriage if God wants me to be content in every situation?
After four years as a pastor, I resigned from my church. Even though I was no longer was the pastor, I continued to attend the church. A single female friend of mine from Kansas came to our city one weekend to visit some of her college buddies. I brought her to the 11 A.M. church service. As we were walking down the aisle, an elderly usher led us to a front row for seating. The organ was softly playing and everybody was kind of quiet. When we stopped to turn into the row, he handed my friend a bulletin and said to me loudly so most of the people could hear, “Hey Dick, when are you going to marry her?” I wanted to die right there, but first I wanted to punch his lights out.
These kinds of jokes will not attract singles to your church! No way! They degrade single life as if the only bright future is for married people. That idea is not found in the Bible. Even the apostle Paul stated that an unmarried person can have undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32-35). He did not consider singleness a joking matter.
Number 9: Church leadership is mainly interested in the interests and needs of married people.
The pastor and leaders are usually all married with very little significant empathy or understanding of the unique needs and concerns of single adults.
Single Christians are rarely eligible to be members of the governing board. There are very few single senior pastors. The silent criterion of marriage eliminates singles from serving in many aspects of the typical church. If you carry that to a logical conclusion, the Apostle Paul would not be qualified to be a pastor or elder. Even Timothy would be shut out of the opportunity for leadership.
After four years as an assistant pastor, I wanted to become a senior pastor. I had a total of fifteen years experience in the ministry and two Master’s degrees. However, when I sent in my resumes, not one church ever asked me to candidate, because I had to write on the front page of the resume my marital status: “Single.” Who wants a senior pastor who is single?
It was a bitter experience. I was unqualified to be a senior pastor of a church because I did not have the “Mrs.” degree. Many men graduating from seminary have tremendous pressure put on them. If they want to rise above the level of youth pastor, they must be married. Why is marriage the unspoken golden key that unlocks the door to pastor advancement?
Number 8: Budgeted funds for single ministry are usually inadequate or nonexistent.
Many churches don’t budge anything for singles. When the churches that have budgeted some funds for singles ministry must cut the budget somewhere, the singles ministry often is the one that gets the ax. “Singles are adults – they can handle it,” the budget committee says. But the message that gets across is, “You are not as important as other people in our church.”
… The message the singles hear is loud and cleaer: “You are the lowest on the totem pole. Your needs come last. You are not worth our paying a minister who can meet your needs.” Therefore, singles respond with their feet. They say, “I’m out of here.”
Number 7: Singles feel the church neglects them.
They feel like barnacles on the side of the church ship – there but forgotten. Marriage is espoused as the norm, and singles just don’t fit the model.
I have conducted over three hundred single adult conferences throughout America, Canada, and twelve other countries. Yet only nine senior pastors stopped by to observe and/or greet the crowd.
The even was in their church, in their building, and these are adults. I remember each of the nine because they are so rare….
Number 6: There is a perception that single adults are morally loose.
If a person is not married by mid-twenties, there is something wrong, it is generally thought. A particular church was in the process of trying to hire a youth pastor. Since they could not find one for over a year, they held a congregational meeting to explain the progress they were making. The elder in charge presented all kinds of reasons for the delay in locating the right person for the position. At the end of his explanation, I stopped up and asked, “Does the person you are looking for have to be married?”
You could have heard a pin drop on the carpet. People gasped. It was the unthinkable question. The elder hemmed, and he hawed, and he slithered all over the platform. All I wanted was a yes or no. He was very obviously unnerved by my question. Finally some lady in the very back said, “What we need is a role model for the young girls. So I think he should be married.”
“You mean to tell me, in this entire congregation there is not one woman who’s a role model for the girls?” Silence.
“I tell you what I think the real reason is. You are afraid that a single pastor would be sexually frustrated and have sex with one of the teenage girls. Out of all the pastors I have known personally, four have had affairs and left the ministry in disgrace. Each of them was married. Almost all the other pastors I have read about in magazines and books who have committed adultery were married. True, married people do not have a corner on the market in becoming immoral. But you should not be prejudiced against a single adult simply because he is single.”
I tried to tell them that some of the best youth pastors in America are single. I wasn’t a very popular guy after that. The elders eventually hired a youth pastor. Yes, he was married.
Some churches won’t allow singles to teach Sunday school for fear these men and women will succumb to sexual temptation. That is unfounded fear. We all need the power of God to overcome temptation. Don’t single out single people as the most likely to succumb. That is unfair and inaccurate. Single adults want to be respected and trusted. Let them show by their faithfulness that they have a genuine relationship with God.
Number 5: Marriage is portrayed as normal for everybody.
If someone is not married by thirty something, there must be something wrong with him or her.
I have heard pastors say, “If you have the desire, then God has someone for you to marry.” But is that true, or is it simply an assumption? The Bible never says a word about that. In fact, many of the biblical characters were unmarried, or at least nothing indicates that they had a spouse.
Here are some of the singles in the Bible:
Jesus, Paul, Timothy (probably), Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Jeremiah, Hagar, Ruth, Naomi and Anna (and countless other widows), Simeon, the Ethiopian eunuch (and all the other unmarried eunuchs in the Bible times), Jephthah’s daughter, and Tamar. Vashti was dumped and divorced because she was honorable.
Isaac did not get married until he was forty years old, and Moses followed his example. Nothing is mentioned about Nehemiah, Daniel, and Mark having families. The Bible does not portray marriage as the norm. If it did, all of the above would be abnormal and unappreciated.
I desired to be married throughout my twenties, thirties, and into my forties, but God didn’t bring anybody into my life whom I cared to spend the rest of my days on earth with.
Some of my single friends are in their sixties, and they still want to get married. God just hasn’t brought anyone into their lives. The sovereign God has not revealed to me why some people do not get to get married. But marriage is not for everyone. Population statistics reveal there are more women than men. Not everyone will get married. Yet I believe a person can be fulfilled without being married. The message of the Bible is that Christ is our sufficiency.
Number 4: The emphasis on “family church” really means couples and kids.
Now I am all for a family church, but as far as I can see, it is the family of God church, not the family of married people church.
A church near my home placed a huge sign on the front lawn: “This year is the Year of the Family.” I tried to tell the pastor that the hidden message was “Singles unwanted for twelve months.”
Announcements are enthusiastically presented in the church service:
“We are going to have our annual family gathering. Bring your whole family.” The singles look at each other and say, “I guess they don’t want us.”
Churches annually celebrate Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, and Father’s Day. Flowers are presented to the mothers. Special sermons are given for fathers. People smile and giggle listening to the children’s choir. When are the singles celebrated and honored?
Number 3: All singles are lumped into the same category as “unmarried.”
But single adults cannot be put into a box like that. They are not a homogeneous group. What does a twenty- six- year- old- never- married person have in common with a woman who is sixty-eight years old, three times divorced, and a grandmother of fourteen?
On the other hand, married people are very homogeneous. The young newly married couples have things in common. All those who have little children have common interests and needs. Couples in different stages of married life have similar interests and challenges. So you can have a program that appeals to young marrieds without children and all the young marrieds without children will come.
But when a church starts a programs for singles, what group of singles does it target – never married, divorced, widowed, separated? To what age range will the appeal be made? A dynamic church will have to rethink how the people are going to meet the needs of people – all people, including singles. You can not take the marriage paradigm of a typical church and model a singles ministry after it.
How will the church endeavor to approach almost half of the adult population? The majority of single adults have rejected the church and are unaffected by the programs geared toward the married half of the population.
Open your eyes to the “Great Invisible Mission Field” and see the vast numbers surrounding your church. They live behind apartment doors. They live inside gates that isolate condos from the passing public. They work at the grocery stores, schools, hospitals, construction projects, and a myriad of other places that are within driving distance of your church. How are we going to reach them? How are we going to meet their unique needs?
Number 2: Divorced persons feel rejected.
… As tragic and horrible as divorce is, it is not the greatest sin. Even adultery and immorality are not the greatest sings. The greatest sin is rejecting Jesus Christ.
… However, the reality is that couples will divorce. Yet in our response to the tragedy of a broken home and broken vows, people in the church often ostracize the husband and/or wife. To effectively reach out to the divorced, the church mus repair shattered lives with love, concern, and biblical teaching.
Number 1: Singles often feel left out.
Bottom line: Thousands never enter a church because there is very little there that relates to them. Sure, you can point to the few who attend your church to “prove” that you are attracting single adults. But what about the thousands who live within a few miles of your church? Even many of the ones who attend your services feel misunderstood, out of place, and isolated from the mainstream of the church. Unless a person is married, his or her place in the life of the church is questionable.
At a Sunday service in a particular church of which I was a member, the pastor announced the status of the building program financial campaign. In his presentation he displayed a chart on a huge screen depicting the results. The title was, “Giving by Family Units.” At the conclusion of the service, I approached him with this question: “What do you mean by the phrase ‘giving by family units’?”
“It means the average amount a family has given,” he replied.
“Do you want single adults to give to the fund-raising program?”
“Well, they do not consider themselves family units. By dividing the church into family units, you have excluded all the singles. They feel like the church does not want their contribution. You made it pretty plain that you don’t want them at all.” He huffed as he walked away. He never got the picture, and neither did the elders.
Single adults are a vital part of the Body of Christ. They want to be accepted and appreciated on an equal basis with everyone else. They want to be challenged to give their all for the sake of Christ. They have time [though not necessarily more time than marrieds], education, experience, talents, and finances to help expand the church.
How can the church utilize and motivate this vast resource? There is an invisible glass wall around the church that keeps single adults out. It needs to be smashed to the masses can come in.
What will attract single adults to your church? What will motivate and challenge them to participate and lead? Here are fifteen simple ideas that you can incorporate into your ministry to show the community you are becoming “single friendly.” Without spending on dollar, you and your ministry can open the doors to over 40 percent of the adults in your area.
1. Emphasis the family of God church.
The church is for all people, not just those who are married. When it comes to really understanding and reaching single adults, the people who know the most about singles are the singles themselve.
Churches need single adults on their governing boards. They want to participate in the whole life of the church and become examples for other singles to get involved in every aspect of the church. When singles hit a brick wall of indifference before they even begin, they will probably lose their desire to become involved. Challenge them to total commitment to Christ. Motivate them to go on mission teams and volunteer for ministry opportunities.
[Disclaimer from never married Christian Pundit on this point: you need to find a balance here.
Do not over-use singles or abuse singles. Do not treat them like slaves or work horses for the church. Singles actually have less free time than married couples, not more, but this author is upholding the stereotype that singles have oodles of free time, which many do not.
Find tasks that the single is interested in – don’t just assume they should jump at any and every task you have]
2. Ask God to open your heart to reach singles for Christ.
I know people ask you to pray about lots of stuff. But I am amazed at the lack of passion that pastors and laypeople demonstrate for reaching singles.
We get passionate about needy people in foreign lands or the plight of little children. But singles leave us cold. They are just as needy, but they don’t tug on the heartstrings. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see the fields already ripe for harvest in the “Great Invisible Mission Field.”
Singles are desperate for relationships. They want to be connected.
… Many singles are seeking loving relationships but have very little idea how to get them. They may feel comfortable in front of a computer, but not in front of a person of the opposite sex.
Here they are, adults in responsible positions in their work or profession, but they don’t know how to build a love relationship that will last.
The church could become a beacon light to thousands of people. Singles want to be a part of a family – the family of God. And they want to meet other godly single people. They are tired of the bar scene. If the church begins to understand how to appeal to the heart of single adults, your church will experience an influx of people who are looking for a community in which to get involved.
3. Institute an annual Singles Day, similar to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day, Secretary’s Day, and every other kind of special day.
Ask several singles to give testimonies of what Christ means to them and how He guides their lives. Do some special things for them that make them glad to be in the center of God’s will for their lives.
4. Preach one sermon a year especially toward single adults.
Teach about Paul’s admonitions in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul said, “I wish that all men were as I am” – that is, single. Why would he make a strong statement like that? Proclaim the standard of fulfillment found in Christ. Motivate singles to godly living in the midst of a perverse world.
5. Plan special things for single parents.
[omit details / suggestions]
6. Speak to the singles Sunday school class or evening class.
[omit details / suggestions]
7. Develop and train single adults to become leaders in your ministry.
Make it a part of your discipleship process to actively prepare mature single adults to become elders, deacons, Sunday school teacher, small group leaders, and mission team captains.
Select a compassionate layperson, pastor, or elder to shepherd the single adults.
[omit further examples]
8. Discourage jokes about single adults needing to get married.
If you hear people making jokes, pull them aside. “Do you know how singles are affected by jokes like that?” I am not going to go around telling people, “Don’t joke. No laughing.” Have an atmosphere of fun, but don’t say things to put others down.
9. Incorporate sermon illustrations that apply to single adults.
When you talk about resolving conflicts, bring up the topic of dealing with a roommate or an ex-spouse. Use the same principles as interacting with a spouse or coworker.
Sermons on holidays need extra thought. The three hardest days for single adults are Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day. These are special holidays for lovers and families.
If you look at all the statistics about psychology and depression, more people get depressed at Christmastime than any other time during the year. Everyone talks about and sings about warm, nostalgic relationships.
But many singles don’t have a family, or their family is spending the holidays with their ex-spouse. You can help them deal with feelings of loneliness, rejection, and discouragement.
When you speak of Mother’s Day, include all categories of women. Preface your remarks by saying something like, “Today is Mother’s Day, and we are going to honor mothers; but I know there are women in this service who do not have children. Some of you are not married and wonder if you will ever have a husband and family. God loves you. Just because you don’t have a spouse and children doesn’t mean you are forgotten by God. In fact, there are women in the Bible who were single and childless – for example, Martha and Mary. God has your future in His hands. Others of you are married and would love to give birth to a child but cannot for some reason. God loves you too. Hannah, Sarah, and several other women in the Bible had struggles in this area. They trusted God, and so can you.”
If you say something simple like that, you will win the day with every woman in the audience….
[Christian Pundit note: except maybe for the Child Free, who are not the same as ‘Childless’ or Infertile. CF are people who deliberately chose to forgo children, they do not want children.]
10. Encourage singles to get involved in every area of your church.
Give appeals that are directed particularly to singles. Motivate married couples to invite single adults to their homes for Sunday lunch. Put together a planning group where singles and marrieds discuss how to reach their entire community for Christ.
11. Publish a list of ministry opportunities that single adults especially could fill
12. Present sermon topics and Sunday school class subjects that attract single adults.
If you want to get some ideas, visit my website (www.DickPurnell.com) for more than one hundred topics, books, and other materials singles like….
Some of these topics include financial planning for singles, single-parent issues, adult dating, sex and the single adult, resolving conflicts, how to care for elderly parents, and finding the right one.
Put together a panel discussion on an interesting or controversial topic, such as dating vs. courtship. …
13. Give sermons on building a marriage before you get married.
14. Highlight single adults in the Bible.
… Preach a sermon on eunuchs. The Ethiopian eunuch is a good one to start with. I know that doesn’t sound like a popular topic. But in Matthew 19:12 Jesus speaks of “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” which seems to speak of men who decided, because they loved God so much, that they were going to remain unmarried (and thus remain “eunuchs” figuratively, not literally become castrated), so they could serve God only. Elevate their committment – the Bible does so.
Isaac was single until he was forty or so. What pressures did he face? Jeremiah was a very powerful single. John Mark was the young single who went on a missionary trip with Paul and Barnabas but chickened out when the going go tough. But later he turned his lfe around and ventured out again with Barnabas.
Joseph, the single prisoner, did not get married until he got out of prison. For all those years he was alone, though the Lord was with him. I think his singleness added to some of the difficulties that he faced.
[omit further examples]
15. Conduct brainstorming sessions with single adults on how to develop a powerful ministry to singles in your area.
Listen intently to their good ideas for activities and publicity that would attract other singles. Get several married and single people to discuss how to do things together and utilize everyone’s gifts and talents.
All the ideas above don’t cost any money. However, here is an idea that will. But it will give you great returns: Increase your annual budget for singles ministries to at least the level of your youth ministry.
Make the singles program alive, attractive, and encouraging. It will be an investment in the lives of people who can give back tremendously in leadership, missions, evangelism, prayer, time, and finances.
Related post(s) this blog:
(Link): Why Do Churches Treat Singleness Like a Problem? via Relevant Magazine