All across North America, thousands of unmarried Christian adults have just graduated from college. They are either returning to their home churches with a fresh diploma in their hands, or they’re heading out to their first post-collegiate job in their brave new personalized world.

Either way, however, despite the heady reality that they’re now college graduates, another reality has likely begun to sink in: for the first time in their lives, they’re considered “single.”

Ugh. The dreaded singles ministry. Has it come this? I should’ve worked harder at finding the “right” spouse in college. Then I could transition right into post-collegiate church as part of a married couple amidst a sea of family-centric programming.

Are you—or somebody you know—fresh out of college, single, and waffling on returning to church? This is a pivotal point in many peoples’ lives, where the individuality you’ve discovered in college appears to be hanging by a thread if you return to your parents’ church. You have your own identity now, and you’re apprehensive about going back to being defined as so-and-so’s child. And church-shopping as a single seems even worse.

Suddenly, the allure of skipping Sunday services in college because you didn’t study Saturday night risks becoming an entrenched habit. 

Obviously, if you’re saved, the Holy Spirit should be compelling you to find a Christ-centered congregation where you can worship and fellowship with other saints, regardless of your marital status. But while that doesn’t mean it’s an easy task, it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it may seem. At least, not if you consider incorporating these seven ideas into your church search:

1. Understand that singlehood isn’t weird.

Not being married is the moral and legal prerequisite for eventually being married. And yes, most people do end up getting married at some point in their lives. Fortunately for you, our culture today doesn’t automatically view singlehood with the same suspicion or skepticism as in the past. So take advantage of this opportunity to continue expanding your horizons, learning more about your Creator, and who he created you to be.

2. Don’t assume marriage is the solution to singlehood. 

Unfortunately, many people assume singlehood is matrimony’s waiting room. It’s too easy to forget that if you’re barging on into marriage without first developing a healthy identity as a follower of Christ, a member of your gender, and a productive individual, you’re not doing yourself or your spouse any favors. This doesn’t mean that the longer you stay single, the worse a mate you’d have been if you’d married earlier. But it does mean that you understand marriage will not make you perfect or content. Which will give you a more realistic appreciation for what a healthy marriage is all about.

3. Beware of meat-market church singles groups. 

Singles fresh out of college are heavily recruited by churches boasting slick, hip singles “ministries.” Granted, most new graduates who aren’t already in a significant romantic relationship soon hope to be, and looking to date somebody who shares your faith is a logical strategy for finding a spouse. But meat-market singles groups that play on this mixer mentality tend to thrive on style over substance. Remember that your primary goal isn’t to get married, but to continue on your path of sanctification. A path in which marriage probably—but not inevitably—will play a key role.

4. Resist the urge to serial-date. 

What’s the rush when it comes to dating? Remember, marriage isn’t the cure for singlehood. Singlehood doesn’t need a cure. If you find an eligible dating partner in the first church you visit after college, then by all means, see if this is the person God may have for you. But serial dating isn’t as effective as you may think. Not taking the time to get to know another person can be disrespectful to them, and the desperation it can suggest could marginalize your suitability as a spouse in your date’s eyes.

5. Don’t let older singles scare you. 

You’re in your mid-twenties, fresh out of college, and the church singles group has a disproportionate number of old people in it—people in their thirties and forties. And even some old bachelor in his fifties. Some of them are divorced with kids. But don’t look at all of these aging unmarrieds as deprived or dysfunctional. Remember that with age comes experience—hopefully!—and who knows what you could learn about life, love, and faith from people who’ve been in your shoes?

6. Don’t peg your church decision on the qualities of its singles pastor.

Many large churches are reorganizing their adult programming, and singles ministries are becoming passé. Which means the singles pastor is becoming an endangered species. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with your church leaders expecting you to mix well with other adults of other ages and stages. Many churches still have breakout programs for singles, but probably not a paid staffer for those programs. So consider this your opportunity to step up to the plate and do some volunteering at church. Like other things in your new life, you’ll find that getting into the volunteering habit early will make the many more decades of your church experience that much better.

7. Don’t get desperate. 

Even if you incorporate these other six steps, and you find yourself acclimating to singlehood even better than you could have imagined, there will come a day when you realize that all of your friends are marrying off. There they’ll go, two by two, down the matrimonial aisle, and out into the world of new homes, babies, minivans, and T-ball. And suddenly it will hit you like a ton of bricks: What have I been doing? Wasting my time? I’d better get busy! And you’ll panic. And you’ll envision yourself eighty and alone, in some retirement home, while all of your friends luxuriate in the lavish care of their progeny. It’s such an easy fear to justify: look at how America treats our senior citizens! And we’ve been taught that romance, families, and grandchildren are such validators of a life well lived that we forget about the God who makes it all possible to begin with. Yes, romance and marriage and grandkids are all good gifts from God, but they are not substitutes for God himself—God, who is sovereign and the giver of peace. So when you suddenly panic about not being married, be still. Don’t get desperate.

Live all of your singlehood—however long it may be—for God’s glory. Enjoy what there is to enjoy, and learn from what there is to learn. Trust in God for everything, just like your married friends should be doing. And don’t look to marriage as your purpose, solace, and reward.

Pray that God would make himself to be all of those things to you. After all, what did the commencement speaker tell you during your college’s graduation ceremony? That life is all about learning, right? Learning doesn’t stop just because you’re leaving college.

But who came up with that idea first? Not any commencement speaker, but the One who commenced all things. And continues to commence new things in each one of us. 

 

From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.