Frequently asked questions

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.

When you say 'single', what do you mean?

There are many kinds of singleness. People naturally tend to think in terms of the traditional stages of life – moving from singleness in early adulthood through to marriage; then to children; and finally widowhood later in life. However, whether we like it or not, the shape of families is changing in UK society. 

Divorce is much more common now than it was a generation or two ago. Many people marry two or more times within their lifetime, and some choose to cohabit and never marry. The number of people choosing to live in ‘non-traditional’ relationships and family structures is increasing. The range of situations in which people find themselves single varies considerably. These include the following: 

  • Never married – no children
    The number of people who have never married (and are not cohabiting) is increasing. There are more never-married men than women, because men appear more likely to marry sequentially, reducing the number of never-married women.

  • Single parent – never married
    Nearly a quarter of families with dependent children are headed by a lone parent, and 86% of them are women. Single parents often face great financial and practical pressure trying to support their children alone. Some may have support from a co-parent, but many do not.

  • Separated
    Although they are a small percentage of the population, separated people are often particularly vulnerable, as they are usually still sorting out their emotions, legal matters and living arrangements. They are legally married but living as single.

  • Divorced – no children, not remarried
    Being divorced without children can make it easier to move on, as people can cut ties with their former spouse more easily and be open to a new relationship. However, divorce can be the end of a dream to have a family, especially for women, so can come with added grief.

  • Single parent – divorced
    Being divorced or separated with children is a very different experience to being divorced and childless. There are responsibilities and demands on both former partners, and an ongoing relationship is required for co-parenting the children.

  • Widowed
    Many widowed people do not consider themselves to be ‘single’.  They say they are married, but that their partner has passed on.

There are two more groups who aren’t included in our 40% figure but are important to remember! 

  • Living as single in practice   
    There are some married people who have to live as if they are single. For example, their spouse is away for long periods of time, or their spouse is in long-term care and may no longer recognise them.

  • Married but single in church  
    When considering who is single in church, we must also consider those who are married but attend church alone, who encounter some of the same challenges in church as those who are single. 

This variety in people’s circumstances means that single people often don’t recognise themselves as being in the same category as others. For instance, a single parent does not share a similar life story or challenges as an older widow(er) or a college-leaver looking for a partner. This is one reason why so many singles events fail. It’s also the reason why so many church leaders say they have few singles in their congregation, but when they look closer, they realise there are more than they thought. In fact, one in three adult churchgoers is single. For every couple, there is a single person – across all denominations and types of church.   

Being able to address the issues faced by single people will rely heavily on listening to individuals in your congregation, as well as those who have chosen to leave, and those in your locality who have not yet come to faith. 

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.

How can we better include single people in our church?

It's easier than you think! We've come up with 5 Steps to becoming a Single Friendly Church. These cover 5 key areas of church life that you should think about:

  1. Who is single?
  2. Language
  3. Welcome
  4. Teaching
  5. Leadership

The simplest way to work through these 5 Steps is by using our 5 Steps Audit tool. The audit will help you to recognise the things you are already doing well for single people, and identify areas where changes could be made to better welcome and include them.

The main criticism we hear from single people is that they 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 or ignored. Many also feel that church is not relevant to them, because teaching is aimed at those in marriages or with children, and the language used is very family-focussed. Overcoming this can be a significant challenge, but the 5 Steps are a great place to start and we are here to help as you go through this process.

Will my church grow in number if it becomes a Single Friendly Church?

40% of the UK adult population are single. If your church becomes a place where they feel welcome and included, considering these numbers, we would expect more single people to want to come. Many don’t currently come to church because they don’t feel welcome, or it doesn’t feel relevant to them. You may find childless couples or couples with children who have left home also prefer a church environment that is not purely focussed on families and children.

Churches who complete our 5 Steps Audit and commit to making changes can appear on our UK map of Single Friendly Churches. We are frequently contacted by single Christians looking for a church where they will feel welcome and included, so this may help encourage people to find and attend your church.

If you think your church is already a friendly place for single people, that’s great! Please register to become a Single Friendly Church - we would love to support you and highlight your church on our map. 
There are many drivers of church growth however, and it can be a very complex issue.

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

  • Many people want diverse churches. It’s okay for churches to have a particular focus or strength, but many Christians say one thing they love about church is that they can have fellowship with people of all ages and backgrounds – this includes single people and families together. Many single people want to join diverse churches attended by people of all ages – you can still do excellent work with families if you also recognise that not everyone needs to be married or a parent to attend.

  • “Single” includes single parents. There may be single parents who attend your church with their children but feel excluded from certain parts or overlooked because they are not married. Also, it is important to consider couples without children, and what happens to parents when their children grow up – will they still feel included in church activities and relate to the teaching when they are no longer raising children? If a church is very focussed on young families, you sometimes find that one or both parents tend to drift away from church once their children stop attending. 

  • Issues single people face are relevant for all. One of the major ways to support the married people in your church is to address the issues singles face. For example, we all feel alone at some point, so we all have elements of singleness. This may be at work; in families, when other members don’t share our faith; when dealing with unwanted childlessness, especially if everyone around us in church has children; and in marriages, when the couple is struggling with relationship problems or want very different things, leaving one or both partners feeling lonely. Teaching around work and finding purpose in your life are particularly important topics for single people, but can be equally relevant and helpful for those who are married. 

I'm married - do I need to get involved?

Yes! Here's why...

  • Your voice matters. As a married person, your voice is extremely important in this conversation and carries a lot of weight. Church leaders and other members of the congregation are much more likely to take notice if married people are talking about the subject, and single people feel so encouraged if they know that their needs and their inclusion is being supported by people in the church as a whole.
     
  • Your actions matter. When married people make a concerted effort to welcome and include single people and encourage others to do the same, it will make a huge difference to the culture of the church. We have lots of ideas of how married people can help their church become more single friendly in our resources section.

  • A Single Friendly Church will benefit you too! Many of the issues single people face are also relevant to married people. And when churches start to welcome single people, churches will change and grow and perhaps become more exciting places to be.  

Where does your '40% single' figure come from?

The 40% figure comes from a socio-demographically balanced survey that YouGov plc ran late in 2014 of 7,212 people (three times higher than their standard 2,000 samples, which are widely reported in the media).

If you include all those never married, along with the divorced, separated and widowed, who are not cohabiting, then YouGov found the numbers just over 40% and the latest Office for National Statistics just under 40%.  

Within a percentage point, 50% of adults are married, 10% living as a couple (either never or previously married) and 40% single.

As many over-40s as under-40s  
One would expect that the most numerous singles are those below the average age of first marriage, 30. In fact, half the single people are aged over 37.5, with the fastest growing being the 50-64 year olds, who often choose not to remarry after divorce or widowhood. 

Where can I find the data myself? 
Data from the YouGov survey is available on our website: singlefriendlychurch.com/research/yougov 
The Office for National Statistics now produces annual estimates on marital status and living arrangements, this is where our data comes from. 

Why is singleness increasing in the UK?

The number of single people is increasing in every age group, growing fastest with 50-64 year olds. The move towards singleness is a large and long-term trend in society:

  • More are choosing to remain on their own.  
  • Each year people are marrying later.  
  • More remain single after divorce.  
  • Living longer means more people are widowed.  
  • Over age of 50, more single people are previously married  
  • The number of those who never marry or cohabit is rising, but also the divorced or widowed. Around the age of 50, the number of the latter are greater than the never married.    

Where does this campaign come from?

Our work started more than five years ago as the result of a piece of research commissioned by Christian Connection, focusing on the experiences of single people in church.  Receiving over 3,000 responses from single Christians, overwhelmingly the findings highlighted common themes of people feeling excluded, hurt, isolated and unwelcome, to the point that some had left church altogether. We realised that something needed to be done, and Jackie Elton, Dr David Pullinger, and Joff Williams formed Single Friendly Church.

For the first five years Single Friendly Church focused on providing resources and guidance for single Christians.  We have commissioned articles, written guides and advised single people, and through this have built up a wealth of resources, many of which can be found on our website.

At the beginning of 2020 Single Friendly Church embarked on a new mission to equip churches to become places where single Christians feel welcomed, valued and included. We launched our 5 Steps model that identifies 5 key areas of change needed for churches to becoming single friendly. Simple changes in these 5 areas can make a big difference to a single person's experience of church. 

How are you funded?

We’re a Community Interest Company seeking to help single people in Great Britain, whether already attending church or currently outside. We receive grant funding from charitable trusts.  We seek and receive some sponsorship from relevant companies such as Christian Connection.