Hopefully, you can begin to see how Bloomberg’s idea relates to the experiences many of us single adults encounter in our evangelical churches.  Consider the parallels between trying to pigeonhole and marginalize singles in rental markets, and the ways our communities of faith may be unintentionally doing similar things. 

First, we singles are a fact of life, not only for planners in big cities, but also for churches.  We take up space, we’re growing in number, and sometimes, other people don’t know how to accommodate us.  They assume they know what we need and how we function, but those assumptions may not be accurate.  In the same way we might not want a 300-square-foot apartment because we like to entertain, for example, we might not like being relegated to a peer-specific ministry group.

Second, while it might seem easy and efficient to relegate us singles to our own space, it might not be the best solution for us, or the people around us who need to interact with us.  After all, one of the reasons traditional married folk in our churches may still feel uncomfortable dealing with us could be because we aren’t really in community with them, and they aren’t in community with us.  Yes, some churches have separate singles ministries that integrate well within the broader congregation, but aren’t those the exception?  Just by looking at statistics about singles, can we arbitrarily determine how to meet needs?  And whose needs are we really trying to meet, anyway?

Third, separating singles out of the broader community could further stigmatize us in the eyes of people who think we’re not worth the same resources they are.  Assuming we’re only here to work and play – with no long-term interest in our neighbors or neighborhood – could indicate to others that the time it takes to invest in us won’t be worth the bother.

Just as micro-apartments could contribute to a transience that keeps renters from setting down any roots, couldn’t developing ministry programs which limit our value in the eyes of others risk being detrimental to the broader viability of our faith communities?  

Consider, too, the history New York City already has with single-room-occupancy living quarters.  They’re called flophouses, and the city’s notorious Bowery used to be full of them.  Each “room” doesn’t necessarily have its own window, plumbing, electricity, or even permanent walls.  Bathroom facilities are shared, and ceilings of wire netting provide minimal ventilation.

Who lived in these SROs?  Mostly men who hadn’t been able to maintain a normal association with our “real world.”  They were people who, for whatever reason, had disconnected from relationships with their families and even faith communities.  Granted, some SROs developed their own insular communities, but relationships were generally based on unhealthy methods of interpersonal interaction, such as enabling behaviors, intimidation, or deception.

It’s often easy to forget that fellowship is a Biblical concept.  Not necessarily just being together, or sharing space in the same room, or hearing the same sermon, or singing songs together.  And some singles ministries manage to cultivate high degrees of inter-group fellowship, so the concept of singles groups itself isn’t bad.  However, if you’ve ever been involved in a healthy singles ministry, its vibrancy likely resulted from its involvement in other ministries of your church.

Mayor Bloomberg likely has no intention of creating isolationist zoning patterns with his micro-apartment idea.  He’s mostly trying to lower rents for New York’s burgeoning singles population.

Our communities of faith could take his as a cautionary tale, however, regarding the wisdom of putting any demographic in a box.

Even if it’s not 300 square feet.

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.

Publication date: September 25, 2012