The Great Disappearing Singles Ministry?
- Thursday, February 16, 2012
At first, it seems counterintuitive.
Just as the number of singles is rising in churches across the country, churches across the country are axing peer-specific singles ministries. Only about 20% of North American congregations still have one, ranging in scope from the rare, full-blown worship services exclusively for singles, to more common weekly home groups, to monthly mixers.
Of course, it’s not just singles ministries being downsized—or eliminated. Just a few years ago, segmenting congregations into a maze of sub-groups was far more appealing a practice than it is today. However, as the trending pendulum has begun swinging back, it seems that churches have particularly lost their eagerness to maintain singles ministries, leaving us once again to our own devices.
The story of our lives, right?
In fact, definitive statistics on church singles ministries are practically non-existent. It’s almost like single adults are the one people group churches know the least about. All statistics referenced in this article have been estimated by reports on a few denominational websites, several studies by the Barna Group, and ministry descriptions on the websites of churches across the country.
Is this yet more proof that the evangelical church still doesn’t know how—or want—to deal with singles?
Or, might this simply be an indication that the community for which evangelical singles say we’re looking shouldn’t be based on marital status?
After all, the fact that more and more singles are attending church means that a lot of us are staying, even after discovering that our church may not have a dedicated ministry for us anymore. Which may suggest that integrating singles with worshippers of other demographics isn’t the first step to our disenfranchisement after all.
Evolution of the Singles Demographic
Part of this peer group retrenchment by churches may be due to our nation’s sagging economy. Ever more limited resources means that church programs can’t be all things to all people like we used to assume. But most of it may be due to complex logistics from the same social dynamics that are causing our singles demographic to grow in the first place.
For example, the demise of marriages among evangelicals has created an array of life-stage cohorts, from separated or divorced without kids to separated or divorced with kids.
Then add the never-marrieds with kids, plus the traditional never-marrieds, widows, and widowers. If you’re basing a ministry on the needs of a specific group, you can see how diversified—and complicated—a singles-centric outreach could quickly become.
Then there’s the issue of today’s twenty-somethings. Our society has developed a surging band of young professionals who are intentionally deferring marriage and family. These people tend to relocate a lot as they navigate the first rungs of their career ladders, and this transience makes for instability in conventional singles ministries. In addition, unlike traditional singles, many unmarried Millennials are simply so busy dating for fun that they hardly have time for church singles groups anyway.
Indeed, it’s become a well-documented trend across North America. Millennials are most noticeable in church by their absence. Perhaps no generation before them has “abandoned” Christianity in such significant numbers. Many evangelicals seem bewildered at the scenario, with program-driven churches stunned that the culturally-relevant methods they’ve been using for the past several decades to attract young adults have suddenly become ineffective.
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