Why Singles Ministry Isn’t Easy
- Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Still frustrated with the singles situation at your church?
Maybe frustration is just part of doing church in North America. Especially if you’re a single believer.
We sure can learn a lot about grace, patience, and hope by not only living spouseless, but living spouseless and trying to get involved in a church!
Of course, regardless of our marital status, we Western Christians have developed high expectations for all areas of our lives. And if we’d admit it, we’re fairly spoiled, especially since many of us view church as just another service industry. Whether it’s cross-cultural missions, the music ministry, or even trying to find a spot in our church’s parking lot, we’re constantly evaluating things by asking “what’s in it for me?”
Granted, there is no such thing as a perfect church. Or a perfect pastor, or a perfect youth ministry, or a perfect worship ministry, or a perfect congregation.
Or a perfect singles ministry. And frankly, that may be partly by design. While some churches seem to have let singles-centric programming fade into the dustbin of unsuccessful ministry ventures, others have become intentional in expecting single adults to participate in the work of the church without regard to social categories by “age and stage.” Yet, still, for a variety of reasons, it can be easy for us singles to lament what we perceive to be our second-class status in many churches.
Demographically, the aloofness of church programming when it comes to singles appears counter-intuitive for churches that claim a desire for outreach into our society. After all, our cohort is growing – both by choice, as young adults delay marriage; and force, as divorce rates in churched America continue to mirror those in society at large (claims to the contrary by Focus on the Family notwithstanding). Indeed, if you didn’t know better, you’d think churches are doing to singles what society has been doing to marriage: marginalizing their importance.
However, before we begin bashing churches and their leadership teams for failing to support us, let’s look at the bigger picture. Should we single believers be so hard on them for how we’re integrated into our local faith communities? After all, have you considered all of the factors that make ours a surprisingly diverse and elusive group of people?
Here are some of the major trends and social forces that help to shape modern churched singlehood, and how they impact singles-centric ministry:
Urbanization. By now, we’re familiar with the unprecedented socioeconomic phenomenon of suburbanization and even exurbanization, as families continue moving farther away from urban cores in their elusive search for the best subdivision. Yet single adults – especially ones without kids – have begun moving in the opposite direction, back into city centers. This means that, particularly for big suburban megachurches, the trendy neighborhoods for singles are no longer those sprawling apartment complexes down the street, but gritty ‘hoods miles away, where, if there are any churches left, they’re disproportionately ethnic or mainline and liberal. During the last couple of generations, evangelicals have systematically abandoned the inner city, and singles moving back in will be among the first to have that reality slap them in the face. Meanwhile, singles who remain in suburbia are likely seeing their numbers stagnate, which means their clout at church may stagnate, too.
Technology. Time was, you either found work on a farm, or in a factory, or even in an office. Today, however, technology continues to unchain workers from fixed locations and allows increasing levels of on-the-job mobility. This means that it’s becoming easier for people to work where they want – and/or can afford – to live, so planning for neighborhood demographics has become more of a fruit-basket-turnover scenario instead of a neatly ordered – albeit often punitive – grocery shelving scenario. This means that single adults have even more flexibility when it comes to work schedules and work places, diluting their availability for church on weekends, but maybe opening up different days during the week. Now try finding common time for everybody to get together!
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