Church is a quirky thing. I love the Church and yet I have wrestled with the Church until I grew limp. In my twenty-eight years of trying to walk with Jesus, I have been an active part of three churches – even being on staff twice at one of them – and I have learned so much from each one. Church is great. I love the Church.
But then, Church can be a bit odd. Like the awkward uncle who says totally inappropriate things at the holiday dinner table and you shake your head wondering how in the world you two can be related.
Case in point, the time recently when I found myself scouring church websites looking up information about DivorceCare groups.
Many of the churches made it abundantly simple for a newcomer to find the time and location of the next DivorceCare session, which was completely thoughtful and forward-thinking of them. When you’re in crisis and you don’t attend church and yet you are looking for a support group, easy access is key. So, thank you to all the churches that make it uncomplicated for us to connect.
And then there were the others. Oh my, were there others. On some websites, I was digging around so long, I just gave up. Good thing I was single and had nothing else to do on a lonely Friday night!
But this stopped me in my tracks on one of the church websites:
Because according to this website, Singles are a gender unto themselves. We get our very own category under Adult. There are Men. There are Women. And then there are the Others: the Singles. Not Men. Not Women. Something else entirely that you barely know what do with apparently.
I sound harsh. And snarky. And slightly unfair. Because I am sure that their motives were pure. I am sure that the website designers are probably all married. I am sure that they meant no harm. I am sure they probably thought they were making it easy for us singles to find our way around their site. And I am sure that they thought nothing of this.
Which is my point exactly: they thought nothing of this.
Listen, I know there are a thousand voices clamoring for attention in every congregation, that there’s a cause a day vying for someone to do something. I know that every sub-group has its list of concerns. And I get that if you try to please everybody, you will please practically nobody (I was on staff, remember? I truly understand this).
And yet singles aren’t just a sub-group. I’m not going to attempt to quote statistics here – mainly because there is much disagreement on this topic – but I will say this: there are a lot of us. Even in our couples’ culture, there are many, many Single adults in the Church – never married, divorced, widowed. We make up a huge cluster of people trying to follow Jesus without a partner.
I moderate a private Facebook group for Christian women who are separated or divorced. We are almost four hundred strong and counting, and I tossed out this question:
In your personal experience, how do you feel the Church handles Single Adults (not specifically divorced)?
I gave them three options:
1) Really well.
2) They don’t know what to do with us.
3) They do more harm than good.
Within moments, I heard back from many, and not one woman was able to honestly answer with “really well.”
Church, we have a dilemma on our hands. Many of our attenders are single. And I believe singles are an often misunderstood group. And when I say that, I mean even within the single population themselves.
For instance, I can be all upset that there’s no Singles’ Group at my church, but even if there were, I more than likely wouldn’t attend because of the stigma. We can be a tough group to serve, for many reasons. Because of our neediness, our loneliness, our past pain, our current sadness, and our competing desires to be both left alone and reached out to, the Church seemingly can’t win.
So, Church, what should you do with your singles? A few suggestions from a former Adult Ministry Director and a current Single herself:
1. If you’re not offering DivorceCare, consider offering it. There are so many hurting men and women out there and they need a safe place of support and a safe place to begin healing.
2. If you don’t have a Singles’ Group or ministry or class, consider starting one. Yes, even though I just said I probably wouldn’t attend. I’m not your target audience then. Someone would attend, and would very much appreciate the acknowledgment and community.
3. Though I understand the importance of couples’ groups in your small group ministry, consider offering groups that are mixed. Segregation can add to our shame.
4. If you’re not offering a ministry geared toward helping single moms, consider starting one. There are too many women just barely making it who would benefit more than you know from a free oil change or a handyman visit every six months.
5. Choose your words wisely from the pulpit. I was in a service once when the pastor was sharing about an upcoming event for single adults and he actually asked all the singles to stand up. It was mortifying, to say the least. Do not single us out, no pun intended. Include us.
This is just scratching the surface. We have a ways to go here, sweet Church. We know you love us. We know you don’t mean to hurt us. But you sometimes do. Let’s make a deal: we’ll work on being a tad less sensitive and you work on keeping our feelings in mind. That’ll go a long way.
Elisabeth Klein is the author of Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage and Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, speaks several times a month to women's groups, and is a member of Redbud Writers' Guild. She focuses her attention on women who are in hurting marriages or find themselves divorcing. She lives with her children in Illinois. Visit her online at www.elisabethklein.com or on facebook.
Publication date: March 20, 2014