Why Traditional Singles Ministries Often Fail
- Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Several years ago some singles in my church approached me about getting more involved with our church's singles ministry. I was torn because I saw great need, but I also felt that the traditional singles ministry model wasn't the whole answer because I knew many singles who were not attracted to singles functions. Yet, I didn't have any alternatives to offer.
I earnestly sought God in prayer for answers—surely the God of the universe had a plan that would work. As I sought the Lord, ideas started to come. Among those ideas, a key one was that instead of ministering to singles separately, God wanted to minister to singles by blending them more into the church community. He wanted to bridge the gap between singles and couples, and He wanted to heal the wounds caused by this separation. I truly believe that the changes I'm calling for are borne out of God's heart.
Before going further, I need to explain what I mean by a "traditional singles ministry model." Typically, various types of functions specifically for singles are offered through a singles ministry. Usually this includes Bible study groups or other types of small fellowship groups, a variety of large group functions, which often include purely social functions, and a range of other programs for and with singles such as planned outings, annual conferences or retreats and service projects. Some have the objective of raising up leaders from amidst the church's singles. While many of these types of functions are good, the model through which they are offered does not adequately meet the needs of all singles and should not be viewed as doing so. It may work for those in their early twenties, but it holds problems for those beyond.
Although this traditional model, in some ways, truly can address and provide for some needs of singles, it has certain inherent flaws. We need to reevaluate this model, extract from it what is helpful and let the rest go. We also need to supplement the model with new approaches that more effectively reach the diverse spectrum of singles in today's church, especially singles beyond their early twenties.
We need a paradigm shift, not merely a program shift—a whole new approach, not a whole new program. This requires a new way of thinking, not merely a new way of doing. As hard as this might be for some to recognize or acknowledge, I believe we need to lay aside the idea that a church can adequately minister to all singles through the traditional singles ministry model.
As with all steps of faith, it is risky to suggest something new. It is also risky to explain why the existing model does not work for all singles. I think many people tiptoe around this issue because they don't want to offend anyone. I sincerely don't want to offend anyone either. People with great intentions and hearts of gold have worked sacrificially to put together singles ministries in their churches. Those who have done so have a heart for singles and are to be blessed, honored and commended. The paradigm shift I'm suggesting is not meant to take away from what they have done and are doing, but to come alongside them.
We want to reach the same end objectives—for singles to be cared for, to be blessed and to be a blessing. What I'm calling for should complement the work of existing leaders. If your church has a great ministry going, that's wonderful! But many churches do not have a vibrant and dynamic way of ministering to singles, and even among those that do, there are singles who do not feel comfortable in their church's singles ministry. They too need to feel like a true part of the church and should be valued and cared for whether involved in singles ministry or not.
It is not my intention to cause division by bringing this up. My goal is unity. By getting this issue out in the open, I think singles can become more unified. We won't have to distinguish ourselves as singles who support the singles ministry vs. those who do not involve themselves. Instead, we can be singles doing our unique part, whatever it may be, to serve and unify the whole church. It is tragic if we wound or discourage each other as if we are on opposing sides just because we have a different perspective. My sincere hope is that those who are devoted to the traditional singles ministry model will simply be open to my explanation regarding the perspective of other singles in the church.
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