As the United States entered the last millennium, married adults made up nearly 95% of the adult population - singles accounted for only about 5%. Today the single population outnumbers the married-adult population by about a 60 to 40 percent ratio.

Today's church has a rare opportunity for dynamic ministry among singles but only if it seeks to understand them. A place to belong, people who care, wholesome activities, and positive Christ-like role models all make the church attractive to singles.

Four basic groups of singles:

  1. Never married. They may hold that status by choice or by circumstance.

  2. Formerly married/spouse alive. These may be those who are separated or divorced. High divorce rates do not indicate disillusionment with marriage itself, but the desire of disenchanted spouses searching for the ideal marriage, somewhere else, with someone else. They may be permanently single, or only temporarily single until the next marriage occurs. Single parents face unique problems of relating to marrieds with children.

  3. Widowed. These people may be widowed because of death by natural causes (the spouse died at an appropriate age and with reasonable warning) or widowed prematurely at an earlier age.

  4. Spiritual singles. These are people whose spouses are not believers. They come alone to church, to Bible study, groups, and service opportunities.

Four great needs:

  1. Acceptance. They don't want to feel handicapped because they are not married. Churches must affirm their single state as not only normal, but biblical.

  2. Loneliness. Singles can connect for jobs and careers, but often have difficulty making the kinds of social connections they need to keep them from becoming lonely. Singles constantly look for ways to fill a void in their lives - created from lack of intimate relationships, or not being significant in the life of another. Related to this is depression.

  3. Self-worth. The recently divorced and the elderly widowed suffer the most. Divorced singles face the problem of guilt and blame, and the elderly widowed discover that their concepts of self-worth were so heavily tied up with the other person that the loss of that person lowers their esteem to dangerous levels.

  4. Integration into the church. Each congregation must design its own procedures for dealing with singles, incorporating them into the church family.

Four congregational responses:

  1. Recognize its legitimacy. Churches should stop telling single people - consciously or subconsciously - that they have to be married to walk in God's will. There is plenty of biblical evidence that singles are necessary for the work of the church.

  2. Develop relational support systems. Discipling, mentoring, and small-group opportunities all provide some kind of support group to help meet needs. Few churches have targeted ministries for singles and often do a poor job of advertising them.

  3. Affirm the value of singles. Show singles how useful, valuable, and important they are in the ministry of the church. Don't allow them to become an isolated clique, but find ways to incorporate them into the life of the church.

  4. Develop spiritual leadership. People grow in the Lord proportionally to the way they get involved in ministry. Social programs are relatively easy to design, but Bible study - requiring more creativity and effort - produces lasting results.

From Ministering to Today's Adults by Kenn Gangel. Copyright (C) 1999 by Word Publishing. Used by permission of Word Publishing, Nashville, Tenn., 1-800-933-9673. All rights reserved.

Dr. Kenn Gangel, executive director of the Graduate Studies Program at Toccoa Falls College, Toccoa Falls, Ga., formerly served as vice president of academic affairs, academic dean, and professor of Christian education at Dallas Theological Seminary. During his more than 40 years of teaching he has written 37 books and more than a thousand articles for Christian and academic periodicals.