Singles Need Church CareMany churches across the country are starting to recognize the need for single-adult ministry, but there is still a long way to go.
The evangelical community, faced increasingly with issues such as divorce, abortion, homosexuality and cohabitation, is working hard to uphold traditional family values—and well it should. The flip side of this is that single adult Christians often are left with the sense that they need to be married to be "okay."
… many churches are reluctant to begin single adult ministries … "The perception is that these are people with a lot of problems … ."
The challenge for churches today is to adopt a balanced biblical approach to marriage, one that emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships while also acknowledging—without being patronizing—that singleness is given as much value in the Bible. The Bible indicates that marriage is God's general will for human beings (see Genesis 2:18)but it also affirms the single life (1 Corinthians 7).
Many churches across the country are starting to recognize the need for single-adult ministry, but there is still a long way to go, according to the experts. Ruth Stockdale, executive director of Canadian Single Adult Ministry (formerly Single Adults Alive) in Oakville, Ont., says that churches are becoming more sensitive to the need for single-adult ministry. "It's beginning to be in [people's] thought processes," she said.
Sam Moorcroft is 35, single and president of ChristianCafe.com, a Toronto-based Internet meeting place for Christian singles around the world. He says that churches in general are not ministering to single adults very well. "I have lived in Vancouver, London and Toronto. There are so many single Christians, and nothing organized for them. Fifty percent of adults in Canada and the United States are single or single again," he said. "That's a huge group, and many of them are not 21—they are 31, 41, 51." He says that churches often push singles toward meeting someone but don't have anything set up to enable that, and those that do don't usually cooperate with other churches. "To me, churches need to work together."
Al Saunders, national coordinator of adult ministries with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada in Mississauga, Ont., says he wishes all PAOC churches were involved in single-adult ministry. Only 13 percent (or 110 churches) are. "Those who are active in single-adult ministry are doing a great job. Apart from that, there isn't a lot of intentionality." He advises churches: "Have a look at Canada today and recognize the number of single adults and that this is a great mission field."
Saunders says that many churches are reluctant to begin single adult ministries because, basically, it's not easy. "Many of these people have been through divorce and have a lot of hurts. The perception is that these are people with a lot of problems. The truth is they don't have any more problems than anyone else." Saunders cautions against stereotypes and suggests that churches, more than anything, simply lack understanding of the needs of single adults.
Are some churches holding back because they fear that a single-adult ministry will turn out to be a singles "club" or a matchmaking opportunity? "Yes," Saunders answers. "If that's their thinking, then do away with youth groups," he says, pointing out that young people often end up pairing up and dating, and if churches don't have a problem with that, then there shouldn't be a problem with activities for single adults. Most single adults are not trying to find someone when they attend events anyway, he suggests, because so many of them have come out of painful relationships—they simply want fellowship with people who understand and care.
The PAOC is looking at a proposal for a Bible college course on single adult/single-parent ministry and has on hand statistics that seem to support the need for a greater emphasis on single-adult ministry among churches in Canada. Traditional nuclear families (biological parents and children) represent only 27 percent of families in Canada, and that figure is expected to drop to 20 percent this year. In contrast, 47 percent of families are blended (created primarily by divorce and remarriage), 14.5 percent are headed by a single parent and 11.5 percent are common-law (the last two figures are expected to rise by about three percent).
"Between 1995 and 1999 there has been an 18 percent increase in singles in Canada, compared to only a 10 percent increase in the general population," said Stockdale, referring to a May 2000 article in Macleans. "It has to do with the breakdown in families. [Role] modeling, security and confidence are being lost," she said. "Rather than go through that hurt, people are deciding to remain single."
Moorcroft says, "A lot of it has to do with society—divorce, abuse, adultery. Many people are single again … a whole group that was never there before." He points out that with a greater focus on education lately, people are getting married later than before. As well, many young people have been raised in dysfunctional families and have difficulty relating to the opposite sex and understanding the concept of family. Saunders says that many single adults "have come through homes broken by divorce. They're leery. They need relationships but are scared to make a commitment."
According to Stockdale, many singles feel marginalized and need acceptance. "A lot of them have lost their dream, or their spouse through death or divorce," she says. "They need healing." She says that divorced people are often not accepted in church and that "Christians need to be like Jesus with the woman at the well." She also points out that widows and widowers often lose the married community they were once a part of. "We have to recognize that singles' needs are no different than married people's needs. They need prayer, they need to serve, to be accountable and to have fellowship. They don't need a baby-sitter or to be felt sorry for," she says.
Another area that churches seem uncomfortable with is the whole idea of the sexuality of single adults. Church leaders prescribe celibacy for Christian singles with little discussion and little recognition that singles have as great a need for intimate relationships as anyone else. And because extra-marital sex almost seems to be regarded as an unforgivable sin, it is difficult for singles to go to their church and ask for help with their struggles. "There is no recognition by the Church that Christians have sexual drives," says Moorcroft, adding that churches need to deal with this issue.
There are a number of misconceptions about singleness that need to be confronted before effective single-adult ministry can happen. Singles are not "incomplete" without marriage, for example. "Two become one," says Moorcroft," but that doesn't mean you're lacking something if you're single. [Your partner] rounds you out but doesn't complete you. That person shouldn't fill the void in your life. You need to be complete first." There are many benefits to being single, the most obvious one perhaps being the freedom to come and go as one wishes. "You can do whatever you want on Saturday!" says Moorcroft. He adds that singles can "live in the present and enjoy the moment. There's no down side, really." Stockdale points to the opportunities to develop one's relationship with the Lord and to interact with many people. "You can serve in areas where you couldn't if you were married and had a family," she says.
Don't feel guilty about being single or not living up to societal standards.
Some tips for singles from Moorcroft: "Number one, turn to the Lord. He's the one who knows who your future mate is. You need to be inwardly focussed instead of having a shopping list. Use this as a time to prepare yourself. Recognize that there are a whole lot of others facing the same issues. Get out and participate in events—not primarily to meet someone, but simply to participate. If you come across as desperate, you will turn the other person off." Moorcroft adds that many singles need to develop their relational skills. "We hear that we need to do this, but we don't act." He also says that singles need to "bug" their churches about having a single-adult ministry and then get involved. "We go to organized events, but we don't' organize them."
Stockdale advises: "Don't feel guilty about being single or not living up to societal standards. Don't be consumed by worrying about the future—live each day to the fullest. Try to do something positive every day. Be honest all the time and feel comfortable about saying "no." Take responsibility for doing what's right for you. Get out of ruts; break out of routines. Don't allow others to define who you are."
To Saunders, the most important thing single adults can do is "concentrate on learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Get involved in the life of a church that is focused on discipleship."
Singles can be happy, fulfilled and effective Christians if they are encouraged to celebrate the gifts God has given them and are accepted as an important part of their church families.
See the related article: Resources for Singles and Ministry Leaders.
Ann-Margret Hovsepian is a freelance writer and editor in Outremont, Que. Her web site is: www.annhovsepian.com/.
Originally published in Faith Today September/October 2001
Used with permission. Copyright © 2003 Christianity.ca.