Single-friendly churches: your questions answered

As a church leader, you may wonder why the Single Friendly Church campaign is necessary, and what it has to do with your church. Perhaps there aren’t any singles in your congregation, or you assume that the unmarried people in your church are just fine. However, the situation may be more complex. Here are some of the most common questions we get asked – and why we believe considering the needs of single people will benefit not only them, but the whole Christian community…

‘Why should churches be concerned with being single friendly?’

  • Although the church is dominated by married couples and families, you may be surprised to learn that married people make up only 47% of the UK adult population, according to our YouGov survey, and 40% of adults are unpartnered - neither married nor cohabiting. The remaining 13% comprise the cohabiting and separated. Why would a church choose to ignore so many of the adults in its local area?

  • Many single people are crying out for community – reaching out to them helps to counter the endemic effects of social isolation and loneliness in our society. It’s worth considering that many of the most inspirational figures in the Bible – including St Paul, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, and Jesus himself – were single. How would these people experience the church today?

  • Single people are vital for the future of the church. The sad fact is that the church is declining in numbers. Meanwhile, there’s a socio-demographic shift towards singleness in the general population, and by ignoring that growing section of society, the church will inevitably continue to decline. Research shows that churches are much more likely to retain members who have grown up in the church than to gain new members through outreach. The most natural way to keep numbers up is through single Christians marrying and bringing their children up in the community of faith. But to do that, we need lots of single people in our churches!

  • Your congregation will also benefit from the gifts and ministries of single people, who may have more time and flexibility to contribute to church life, compared to those with children.

‘Our church is welcoming to singles – so why don’t they come?’

  • Many church leaders report that they don’t have many (or any) single people in their congregations, despite the fact that they’re welcoming. However, our research shows that while many singles say their churches are wonderful, many do not. Some leave the church because they don’t feel included. The older people are, the less likely they are to say that church is a good place for singles. Something is not working for unmarried people, and your church may not be as inclusive as you think.

  • The main criticism we hear is that single people are not fully included in hospitality or social events, and in some cases aren’t even acknowledged or spoken to. There appears to be a ‘club’ of married couples with children, and others may feel left out and ignored. Church members may need to be reminded to think of those on their own when arranging or hosting social events.

  • We also hear how sermons and talks frequently focus exclusively on families, outreach is often targeted at families, and events programmes include little suitable for single people. The term ‘family friendly’ when applied to churches often appears to mean ‘family focused’. Even if that’s not the intention, that’s the message that is often received (you can read more about this issue here. If we want our churches to be inclusive, we need to think through every aspect of church life and how it appears to different types of people.

‘Our church is for families – it’s what we do. What’s wrong with that?’

  • Most churches believe their ministry should include serving their local community. In fact, in the Church of England, the incumbent is the ‘curate’ responsible for the cure of all souls within the parish. That includes everyone in your locality, not just one group. You may want to check the population demographics for your local area  – what’s the percentage of married and single people, ages, races and socio-economic levels? Being aware of the make-up of your area will help you serve and reach out.

  • Although it’s okay for churches to have a particular focus, many Christians say one of the things they love about church is that it’s a place where they can form friendships and have fellowship with people of all ages and backgrounds. It also helps to provide role models – how will single people learn to be good spouses and parents without being among those who can model and show God’s grace within their own relationships?

‘How can we better include single people in our church?’

Single people report a number of ways in which churches can help them feel more welcomed and embraced. These include:

  • Ensure that examples used in sermons and talks apply to those of all marital status, not just those who are married with children.
  • Address issues that single people face, such as relationship dilemmas, building good friendships, managing work/life balance, Godly management of finances, the pain or fear of missing out on having children, and so on. Many of these issues are relevant to married people, too – it’s about being aware of the variety of experience within your congregation.
  • Practise hospitality. The community of faith is as much a social community as it is a worshipping community. Remind church members to bear singles in mind when arranging social events or inviting people round for a meal.
  • Help people make links. Singles report that the biggest encouragement to attend church is having someone to go with. You may want to think of ways to help facilitate that, such as linking them up with an existing member.
  • Have leaders serving within the church who are single themselves, and can model what a well-lived life as a single Christian looks like.
  • Find ways of presenting family celebrations, and days such as Mothering Sunday and Fathers Day, which include everyone.
  • Use our resources. Single Friendly Church offers a wealth of suggestions, information and guidance for making your church more inclusive of all people – married, single, divorced and widowed. We’d love to hear about your efforts to be more single friendly, and what other resources you’d find helpful.
David Pullinger, 24 March 2018