Lifelong singleness or getting married later in life may be more culturally acceptable today, but in some churches singles still struggle with finding acceptance and community. This is especially prevalent in family-centered churches. Families may think singles don’t want to hang out with them, but unless you’re constantly leaving your kids with the singles in your church for some free babysitting chances are they actually want to hang out with you and your family.
“This was never the life I imagined. My friends and I often sit around wondering how we got here. What boys did we pass up? What mistakes did we make? What routines did we neglect, leaving us sleeping alone while the ticking of our biological clocks lulls us into fitful dreams? I don’t feel equipped for singleness. All the youth group dating advice was predicated on the idea that marriage was in my future, that if I made all the right choices, kept myself pure, and sought after God, he would reward me with a husband. I’ve only recently gotten to a place where I can ask myself, But what if he doesn’t?”
The church needs singles just as much as it needs married couples—just as much as it needs children, young people, the elderly, the disabled, the healthy, the sick, the street smart, the book smart, and so on...there is no part of the body that the church does not need. In 1 Corinthians 12:15-18 Paul writes,
“If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”
Gina Dalfonzo, a lifelong single, has written a book after countless hours of research and interviews along with her own experiences titled One by One: Welcoming Singles in Your Church. Smith relays,
“But for Dalfonzo’s book to make a mark, we have to first acknowledge a foundational truth: Many churches are proudly family-centered, and while this purpose aligns well with the American dream, it does little to welcome those of us who don’t fit the same mold.”
What happens when you no longer fit the family mold: widows and widowers, divorced singles, single parents, lifelong singles, singles who desire marriage and so on. Oftentimes when we’re faced with something uncomfortable we turn the other way. Even though it might be uncomfortable to bring a single into your group, converse with a new widow, or befriend the divorced single parent in your church…it’s worth it! Even if you say the wrong thing or if you’re unsure if you said the wrong thing…ask. Let the person know you’re trying to grow in an understanding of their life stage and that even though you might not say or do the right things all the time, you want to be around them and you love and appreciate them as God’s chosen child. God arranges the members in the body…how boring would it be to have a church full of feet!
Part of this inclusion of other parts of the body starts with the church and its members looking at the programs and the language used. Smith expresses,
“We have built a church whose programming and language seek to include the six-year-old son of a busy mother at Bible study while extending no invitation for the single woman who teaches his Sunday school class. We have married pastors planning the few events for singles, often mixers designed to marry us out of the singles’ class. We try to fix singleness with indiscriminate advice like “God will bring someone when you stop looking” or “Maybe you need to put yourself out there more.” We throw around clichés instead of offering comfort, and we rarely allow room to acknowledge the suffering that comes with longing to be married.”
Dalfonzo’s book seeks to engage those who have either forgotten what it’s like or who have never known the struggle of being single. Dalfonzo provides examples of what it’s like to sit alone in a pew, have no one to talk to during coffee hour, and to be expected to serve in every ministry because you don’t have a family. These circumstances can be true for singles trying a new church as well as singles who’ve been at their church for years. Dalfonzo wants people to understand how words might sound to a single:
“The next time you hear a Christian equate marriage with godliness, or say something about marriage and children being the best things in life, or express the thought that “you’re not complete unless you’re married” . . . stop a minute and consider these ideas from the perspective of a person who’s single and childless, and not necessarily by choice. Imagine how brutally they might fall on your ear if you had no spouse and no children.”
Dalfonzo’s book is not about pointing fingers and making all married couples or families feel bad; she uses humility and goodwill in her writing to expose shortcomings in the church and humanize experiences that non-singles may have trouble relating to. She points out that the church has ushered in a culture of courtship, making it seem like if you just wait long enough, or if you write enough letters to your future husband, pray enough prayers, sign enough purity pledges…you will receive the reward of marriage. But that’s not how it works. There are godly women and men who have prayed, who have written letters, who have remained pure in their hearts, who have waited, and yet they remain single.
What does the church have to say to them? How will they encourage them, appreciate them, and come alongside them? Not all singles needs to be set up, but all singles need to be valued in the church. The church needs single people…a healthy population of singles in the church should not be deemed as a failure. Churches aren’t rewarded for how many singles they can marry off, but there is a rich reward when churches live in true community embracing all of the different aspects.
Smith hones in on Dalfonzo’s reminder that:
“Singleness is not the problem—inability to see God’s sovereignty in singleness is.”
Dalfonzo’s conclusion is that single Christians and married Christians can grow together in learning to live counterculturally in a world that calls us all outsiders. If all Christians are outsiders in the world, then we need to come together rather than segmenting into familiar groups. When we have diverse groups of Christians meeting together we get rich perspective and more relational community; though someone may not have the exact same experience as you they can probably relate more than you think. Diversity among Christians also means that we will challenge each other, and in order to grow we need to be challenged to look outside of ourselves.
“A good friend of mine is in the middle of a years-long struggle with infertility. The other day she was describing her frustration and anxiety, along with her ever-growing desire to start a family. As we wept together, because I share that same unmet desire, my friend choked out a teary, ‘I didn’t know it was like this for you too.’”
This reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote from The Four Loves:
“Friendship ... is born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
As Smith points out, though our lives may look different we carry many of the same burdens. Not all singles are the same, but all singles should be respected and honored in the church. It’s the worst feeling to be a single in the church and feel that people suspect you of something or worse that they pity you as something broken to be fixed. The notion of unity in the church needs work…both singles and marrieds have to realize that they are all sinners growing in grace but that God has made each of them whole regardless of their life circumstances. Though complete and utter unity in the church will only be realized in heaven, there are goals to strive for while we are here on this earth. By breaking down walls and sharing burdens the church can continue healing. Paul wrote,
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. …And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” –Galatians 6:2, 9-10
Our Design Editor, Rachel Dawson shares these tips for including singles:
- Invite a single friend to sit with you at church on a Sunday morning, and offer to take them to lunch, coffee, or dinner after the service. While you might have a spouse to talk about the sermon with on the drive home, often single people are left wishing they had people to debrief and celebrate with, so invite them into quality time together!
- Send a message to a single friend during the week, letting them know you’re thinking of them and asking how you can be praying for them. This speaks volumes to singles, letting them know they aren’t alone when their lives can feel lonely.
- Open up your small group to include single people of the same age -- even if it’s just for a potluck gathering or a fun social event, extend invitations to those who might otherwise not have a chance to gather in community like that.
- Include single friends in your family’s activities. Often, married couples or parents can feel like singles don’t want to be around their families since they don’t have one of their own, but it can be such a sweet thing to be invited into the life of a family. Invite them over for dinner, or for family game night, or for a weekend adventure in your town to let them be part of the family fun.
5 Ways You Can Love and Encourage Your Single Friends
5 Things Singles Wish Married Couples Knew
How to Overcome the Fear of Singleness
5 Gifts I've Found in My Singleness
4 Ways Singleness is Harder Than Marriage
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/kadirdemir
Publicaiton date: June 8, 2017
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.