According to some recent studies, singles are on the rise and beginning to outnumber marrieds. The church, however, doesn’t reflect those numbers. “Your church should be filling up at least half of your pews with single people,” writes Joyce Chiu. “So what will get them there?”
What emerges is a portrait of an church that is still firmly family-centered even while the demographics within it have shifted. Single people make up more and more of the church body, which means forward-looking local churches benefit from understanding singles and incorporating them meaningfully into community life. Although single and married believers are in the same boat together, we’re all at church to worship and serve God, singles can be overlooked. They want to be visible–they want to belong. They have unique contributions to make in advancing Christ’s kingdom.
So how can your local church create a welcoming space for singles?
Recognize that single people’s needs may look different from yours.
When a single person talks about feeling lonely, it’s common for a married person to counter that he or she often feels lonely, too. However, studies show that singles are more likely than married people to feel lonely. And singles often experience a different kind of loneliness that includes physical as well as emotional isolation. The church needs to acknowledge singles, take them seriously, and listen.
If have you capacity, draw them into your family life, too. “Single people can feel invisible in the place they most need to be seen,” Micha Boyett writes. “You can invite single people to hang out with you at home, participate in family activities, and enjoy the occasional meal. Everyone, single and married alike, can learn something from putting aside preconceptions and simply being in community with one another.
Recognize their disadvantages.
Those who are single often find themselves “outside the system” of family-focused churches and face the awkward silence that ensues when they say they don’t have spouses or kids or grandchildren. They often end up sitting alone in the service week after week. They sometimes get overlooked when people are getting together socially. And they are often treated like misfits– herded off because no one knows what else to do with them.
It’s time to start rethinking how you look at fellow worshipers. A church isn’t made up of family units and spare parts—it’s made up of people, all of them made in God’s image and worthy of fellowship. As one single woman shared, “I wish there was greater understanding that we are not ‘strange.’” Or as Lisa Anderson put it, “Single isn’t synonymous with alien.”
Serve singles, and recognize that singles often serve without reciprocation.
The book of James encourages Christians to “look after orphans and widows” (James 1:27). Although contemporary single women (divorcees, never-marrieds, and widows) don’t face the same challenges as first-century widows, many experience significant financial instability, vocational disruption, and other notable challenges. In that sense, the church needs to come alongside.
Even small things matter. One woman told me that she didn’t mind caring for children in the church nursery, but sometimes she wished some of those parents would reciprocate by helping her with household repairs or offering other assistance. Think of the time and money spent on weddings and baby showers, yet no one spends such celebration, such time, such money on singles.
Of course, singles are called to serve the church simply because it honors God and others. But taking time to serve singles, recognizing, and celebrating their accomplishments is encouraging and kind.
As Paul writes, “If one member [of the body] suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26, NKJV). In other words, your calling as a member of the body is to recognize those who suffer, empathize with them, and make sured Singlee they have what they need to be fully functioning members. Similarly, their calling is to do the same for you. In doing so, we honor not just those around us—we also honor Christ, to whom we all belong.
(Enjoy more about the single expereince in Mary Haight’s blog post, “Singleness is My Only Companion.” Her blog, Thoughts From A Seasoned Single is linked under “Just A Taste” on the SALT’ homepage.)