Singles in the Church: The Ghost Demographic
- Tuesday, March 23, 2010
How many singles pastors do you know who are married? Which church in your city is the official meat-market for single adults? Whenever your church's children's ministry needs more workers, do they ask the singles class first?
With all of the misconceptions people hold about us, we singles exist as the ghost demographic in most churches, don't we? Many churches simply hope we get married so they don't have to figure us out. Some treat us like conscripted laborers. Others view singles as mysterious peculiarities needing either coddling or discipline. Meanwhile, many of us wonder why we're being pigeonholed by marital status anyway?
When it comes to singles in the church, a lot of apprehension tends to guide both our church leadership teams and ourselves. But should integrating singles into the overall ministry of one's church be so complicated?
Singlehood in the Bible
Genesis 2 depicts an unmarried man created in God's image to honor him. God sees that the man needs a human partner, so he creates woman. We all know the story, but should we assume that since God determines Adam needs a "help-meet," that his plan for the first man applies to all singles? Did God have a bunch of narcissistic, twenty-first century singles in mind when he created Eve, using her to tell us our singlehood is deviant?
Throughout the Bible, God uses people regardless—or in spite of—their marital status to accomplish his purposes. Look at Hosea 1 and Gomer. True, theirs was a divinely appointed marriage to portray the relationship of God to us immoral creatures. But don't you wonder if Hosea might have preferred singlehood if he had a choice? The grass is always greener, and what makes you think the trials of marriage will go any easier than the trials of singlehood?
And then there is the Apostle Paul, who actually reveled in his singlehood, because it freed him to more fully serve God. Perhaps you've already scoured 1 Corinthians 7, his treatise advocating celibacy, perplexed by its counterculturalism. Indeed, many pastors relegate this passage to the long list of scriptures that never serve as sermon texts. Who wants to hear that marriage could be considered the consolation prize for people needing to satisfy sexual urges?
Through the prophets, the Gospels, and all of the Bible's parables and historical accounts, we don't see many characters singled out because of their solo marital status. Even Christ Himself, the Holy Bachelor, never spoke at a singles conference, did he? Does all of this relative silence concerning marital status convey something significant about singles in the church? Or does it simply mean that neither married folk nor singles are second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God?
Singles by Category
Many churches don't really know how to handle singles. And as cohorts, we don't help them much, do we? Consider the variants in our demographic:
- Single, never-married
- Divorced or separated
- Widows or widowers
- Successful professional
- Recent college graduate or no college
- Senior citizen
- People who have emerged from same-sex relationships
- Any of the above, with kids
Wow—compare all of this to many pastors and elders who by biblical precedent are usually men who've been married to the same women forever, and you can see right away how there's a cultural disconnect, if nothing else.
Now, some members of our demographic flourish in church whether it has a singles ministry or not. But some say they need a divorced minister to understand the complexities of divorced Christians. Mid-career singles with high-powered jobs find it condescending to be in the same group with baristas from Starbucks. So well-intentioned singles programs often get derailed quickly.
Should we even assume that single people automatically need a singles ministry? A common temptation is assuming that our marital status alone defines us. If your church doesn't have ministries for married people by age and stage, should the singles expect such programs? How much stratification within the congregation can occur before community gets weakened? How much of what singles want is biblically legitimate?
Another temptation is to suspect that we singles attend church to become un-single. Some churches actually exploit the sexual tension, cultivating a meat-market mentality among singles by winking at the beautiful people syndrome. Puh-leeze! Don't single adults have enough on their morality plate without having to deal with sly social networking machinations in church?
Unfortunately, many singles unwittingly perpetuate the very stereotypes that contribute to the church's marginalization of us. Sometimes it seems the reasons people think we're not already married—that we're petulant, self-indulgent, and indecisive—are the very reasons singles programs generally have short life cycles. Instead, we should be gracious toward those in authority in our church, even those who view us skeptically. Encourage your church leadership in addressing your congregation's demographics and their relevance to your community of faith.
Try This Perspective
Regardless of your marital status, have you ever appreciated the fact that you're alive today so God can use you for his sovereign purposes? Before time began, he ordained that you would be at this precise point in his history of creation. Your mission—if you choose to accept it—is to seek his will for what you should accomplish and take a leap of faith into it. See past your singlehood at what God may be trying to do in you and through you for his glory.
Remember the Apostle Paul—do you appreciate the extra time and freedom from concerns your singlehood grants you? It's a hard concept to digest, but if we're more eager to get married than we are to be like Paul in ministry, maybe that helps explain why we're neither.
Not that marriage should dangle like a bauble at the end of your singlehood ladder. It's not the reward for being a good single person, for volunteering all those years in the nursery, changing diapers for the kids of all of those married people.
Our purpose and future is Christ alone. And his Kingdom has no ghost demographics. Or married people!
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.
**This article first published on March 23, 2010.
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