Over the years, I've helped launch a couple of singles ministries and have been in the leadership of a couple of more. I've learned several lessons from these experiences:

1) Pray and plan. The leadership team should spend much time in prayer—both individually and together—before launching the ministry. They also should spend time planning with the pastoral staff to come up with a goal and a mission statement. Understand exactly what needs you're trying to meet. Figure out if you want the focus to be meeting spiritual needs, emotional needs, or social needs and make that the emphasis. Once the ministry gets going you'll be tempted to move in many different directions. Establishing a mission statement beforehand helps you make wise decisions and stay focused.

2) Cultivate and protect your leadership. Singles ministries chew up leaders for lunch. One of the main reasons is that the leadership has to get their needs met from the same group they're ministering to. Choose leaders according to biblical principles: leaders with good character, who fear God, are mature, and truly look at the time spent on the group as a ministry and an honor. Once you have them, keep them in the Word and protect them from getting over-extended. Always cultivate new leadership. Some groups even have a policy of limiting the number of years anyone can be in leadership to avoid burnout.

3) Watch for "sharks." One or two people can affect the entire fabric of the group—either positively or negatively. I've seen one godly person turn a whole group from a little social gathering that's Christian in name only to a group that's on fire for the Lord. At the same time, you can't assume everyone who shows up is a believer or has good motives. Some people will show up solely to find a "good woman or guy," even if they're not necessarily one themselves. The leaders have to be shepherds when this happens. Enlist pastoral support for problems and needs for which you're not trained.

4) Be real. Singles are fickle and mobile. I've seen attendance drop from 30 to 6 in two weeks. People want their needs met. Figure out what the real needs are and focus on them. If I started another singles group it would focus primarily on meeting spiritual needs. Speakers on dating, relationships, and singles issues would be few and far between. The type of people you attract is dependent on the message you deliver. One of the biggest mistakes the church makes is treating singles as one homogeneous group. From a distance the singles ministry seems fun and exciting, but it's real life and the needs are sometimes messy. The first time you sit and cry with a single mother whose daughter has been killed or pray with a brother who has cancer, your perspective changes.

5) Guard your contact list (addresses and phone numbers). Never distribute it publicly. You'll thank me later.
—Dave

I started a social group at my church called Saturdays at Seven. It's very easy. All I do is plan an event every Saturday and whoever wants to participate can come. I collected a list of e-mails from interested singles, and I send them a message about our plans on Wednesdays. We go bowling, attend hockey games, go ice skating, take dance lessons, and a lot of other fun activities. I didn't realize there was such a demand for singles to connect with one another.
—Elizabeth

I had the awesome opportunity to help revamp my church's singles ministry. This group had begun to dwindle in number. Even the facilitator became bored with the monthly meetings. Seven months later, it's a thriving ministry of faithful, loving brothers and sisters in Christ. What's the key to this success? Besides lots of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, two things stand out to me: commitment to service and community.