Articles

Why do single Christians struggle to fit in at their church? What are the best ways of making the most out of your single years? 

The articles included here will attempt to provide the answers. In the first, Katherine Baldwin talks about feeling excluded in church, while a US campus minister gives his top 10 tips for living solo. Jacqui Wright, who runs Bedford Christian Singles, has written a series about about singleness for Evangelicals Now. Below you will find an introduction of each of the topics she covers, with a link to the relevant column. Finally, there is a refreshing piece from pastor John Pavlovitz in which he apologises to the single community.

 

Spouseless and struggling to fit in

The results of an extensive survey on Christian singles have shown Katherine Baldwin that her own difficulties are widespread in the Church.

Despite my respect and affection for the vicars at my church, I can’t help but feel a little excluded when they refer in their sermons to their wonderful wives and gorgeous kids. And while I’m sure courses on marriage are helpful, I’m often left wondering where singles fit in. Then there are the cooking rotas for parents with newborns or a hospitalised spouse. Has anyone ever asked whether busy, working singles would like a casserole delivered now and then?

If you’re single and can relate to the above, you’re by no means alone. More than four in every 10 churchgoing singles feel their churches don’t know what to do with them, new research has found, and more than a third feel ignored.

Disillusioned single Christians are voting with their feet, giving up on church because they feel lonely, isolated, left out or think they’ll never meet a mate – and the problem looks set to get worse, says Dr David Pullinger, an independent researcher and writer on singleness issues.

'The Church is simply failing to look after the most vulnerable people in its congregations,' Pullinger says, pointing to statistics that show that single people (Christian or not) – have less wealth, worse physical and mental health, and die younger, on average, than those in relationships.

'If the church doesn’t get this right, single people will leave – in fact, they’re already leaving en masse,' he adds, noting that one in three adults in society is single, a number that’s on the rise.

The age of 30 is a turning point when many unmarried Christians abandon church life. But older people – the widowed, divorced or those who’ve never married – also feel left out, according to a survey of 3,000 single churchgoers by online dating site Christian Connection (www.christianconnection.com/uk).

What’s going wrong?

The survey wasn’t all bad news. Many singles said they felt accepted in their churches and praised those that made no distinction based on marital status.

'Some churches are very good and really are inclusive, but other churches are not,' says Pullinger, who’s passionate about taking best practice and applying it to churches where single people struggle.

So where are churches going wrong, according to survey respondents?

Many make no space for single people to become leaders and there are no positive single role models amongst the leadership; sermons and talks are too family-focused; social gatherings are geared around couples with children; courses concentrate on preparing for marriage or getting the most out of family life; and rarely are there any discussions for singles on online dating, dating non-Christians or sex. Singles attending evangelical churches feel the most left out.

'The message, particularly in evangelical churches, is "though shalt be married" and "don’t go anywhere near the opposite sex in case you do something inappropriate",' said Pullinger. 'But what’s inappropriate is undefined and there’s a lack of practical support and encouragement around how to date, how to form relationships, and what’s appropriate and what’s not.'

Singles are not seeking special treatment, the survey found, but how about holding a "relationships course" rather than a "marriage course", given we all need help with healthy relationships? Or we could try to build trust in couples so married people aren’t as wary of welcoming singles into their lives, says Pullinger – survey respondents said some married people see them as a threat.

As a 43-year-old woman without children who’s been single for most of the last six years – since I went back to church – and who recently rekindled a relationship with a non-Christian ex, I agree that family-focused churches can be tough places for singles and leaders could do more to tackle the challenges faced by a growing portion of their congregations.

Let’s talk about sex

Many singles I’ve met feel the same, particularly women, who would like to see the church do more to bring in men and would like leaders to move with the times on issues like dating and sex.

'I’ve never heard a talk aimed at single older Christians about how to deal with not having sex or dating. I think the vicars just turn a blind eye to it,' says 43-year-old designer Charlotte, who admits she’s struggled for a while to attend her church’s morning service because it seems everyone is married, engaged, pregnant or talking about kids.

'As a woman in the church with not enough men for each of us, it would have been good to have heard positive support and ideas on dating non-Christian guys over the years.'

The survey found that 42% of singles would marry a non-Christian rather than stay single, while 57% said they would only marry within the faith. It also found that 78% of singles think sex belongs only within marriage, even if some respondents said they found that hard to live by.

But the church needs a way to cope with the fact we live in a highly sexualised society and we’re marrying much older than we did in the past.

'There are grown-up Christians in the church who don’t have a life partner and still believe sex should be kept for marriage, but leaders need to come up with a different message to the one they use with teenagers,' says Phoebe, 31, who’s been a Christian all her life.

Churches also need to find a way to value people whatever life stage they’re at. 'Marriage is held up as the Holy Grail in evangelical churches – like it’s something you’ve got to achieve and if you haven’t, there’s something missing,' adds Phoebe, who works as a communications manager for a charity. 'But it’s a life stage we’ve all got to go through so it’s about valuing everyone.'

To read the rest of this article, look out for the January/February issue of Families First in your local newsagents or WHSmith or purchase online!

10 ways to maximise your single years

Here’s 10 short suggestions by US Campus Minister to make the most of the solo life as a young adult

This short article is copied from youngadults.lifeway.com

Singleness is neither a disease that needs to be cured, nor is it a carpe diem season of life. From the proper perspective, singleness is very strategic in God’s economy — whether for a season or for a lifetime.

Here are 10 ways you can make the most of your single years:

  1. Know that Christian singles are a gift to God’s church.
  2. Be content in the season of life God has placed you.
  3. Know that the ultimate goal of life is devotion to the Lord — not marriage, career, or fill-in-the-blank.
  4. Grow your affections for Jesus Christ through spiritual disciplines.
  5. Sacrificially give of your time and resources.
  6. Commit to and serve in a local church.
  7. Attach yourself to spiritual mentors.
  8. Invest your life into younger believers and make disciples.
  9. Grow in deep bonds with same-gendered believers who can encourage you in your faith.
  10. Take part in mission opportunities domestically and abroad.

Chris James is single and content in Christ. He is campus minister at UMASS Lowell and coordinator of collegiate ministries for Greater Boston. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi (B.A.) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div). He loves to read, write, run, and watch Atlanta Braves baseball.

Series on singleness in Evangelicals Now

Jacqui Wright, who runs Bedford Christian Singles, writes a column about singleness for Evangelicals Now. Link to the columns here.

September 2015: Facing our fears So not to get married (by choice or not meeting the right person), or to go through a divorce (usually as the innocent party), or to be widowed, doesn’t fit the stereotypical pattern. This makes us different and can make us feel marginalised or excluded from the mainstream norm of married families in the church. This can raise our fears and anxieties related to being judged, to our sense of belonging, even to our willingness to date in the church.

August 2015: Tears to Joy Although we have dreams and longings here, we know that they will only ultimately be fulfilled in Christ in glory. Even the very best of everything in this world comes with some disappointment. So we have to manage our expectations and our thinking, especially as singles who have the desire to be married.

July 2015: Apology to Singles?
Jacqui reflects on a recent blog post by a Christian pastor, entitled: "A Pastor’s Apology to the Single Community")

June 2015: Friendship and Dating
What can we learn when dating goes wrong? Eventually it can give lessons of how to date in a way that honours God.

May 2015: A Message to the Church Why do people treat single people differently, and how can we grow from this experience? Jacqui talks about her experiences.

April 2015: Single - for better or bitter?
Although singleness is not commonly thought of as suffering, if one applies the definition of ‘pain, misery, or loss (of what was hoped for)’ and ‘the state or an instance of enduring pain’ to those who strongly desire marriage but do not have it, they are facing suffering that affects them emotionally, spiritually and also physically. The first step to coping is to recognise that suffering. Undesired singleness has to be faced as with any other suffering.

March 2015: Sex, love and singles
We need to start by understanding God’s covenantal love for us in Christ; that is his promise of unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness in Christ. From this unimaginable gift of grace we worship, love, trust and obey him first and foremost. He is the ultimate bridegroom and the one who satisfies all our deepest needs...

February 2015: Research on singleness
This is due to the diverse range of people that make up ‘Christian singles’. There are those that have never married, or are divorced, or widowed. Some are single parents and others are not. Some see singleness as a gift, others choose it, but many desire to be married. The age span is across an adult’s life. This topic is often avoided in churches for fear of offending a particular subgroup...

January 2015: Hope for Christian Singles
Christian singles are a diverse group: never married, divorced and widowed, across all ages of adulthood. Some are single by choice but many are not. Those who desire to be married have a unique set of challenges on their spiritual journey. This series of articles aims to address this and help singles who struggle with their singleness...

Find out more about Jacqui in our interview

  

A pastor’s apology to the single community

From John Pavlovitz 

This is a message to all those who are single or who have spent any years in the Church as a single person.

As a pastor who has served in local church ministry for the past 18 years, I wanted to apologize to you on behalf of so many of us who minister and who too often have failed you.

I am deeply sorry.

I’m sorry for the ways we unintentionally distanced you from community; the times that we overlooked your deep needs and your unique challenges as we planned and prepared.

I’m sorry for the times we relegated you to the segregated ghettos of Singles Ministry, making you feel that was enough to hold you over until you eventually graduated from your relational purgatory.

I’m sorry for the times you felt like an afterthought in our worship services. 

I’m sorry for the times you felt unwelcome or extraneous in our small groups.

I’m sorry for unknowingly depriving you of the great richness of multigenerational ministry.

I’m sorry for the many times our sermon series lifted up Marriage and Family, and in the process ignored the awkwardness that might create for you.

I’m sorry for the way our programming and event schedules might have accidentally diminished your contributions and your worth.

I’m sorry for the way we so easily defaulted to lazy language that so often excluded you.

You need to know that this was never intentional, but even still I know it is incredibly painful.

You need to know that you are valued and treasured and appreciated, even when we have failed to let you know.

You are The Church.

You are not second class Christians.

You are not inferior members of our communities.

You are not worth less than those who have found married life a reality.

Your singleness is not a temporary affliction that you need to be healed of, or a sad fate you need to be rescued from.

It is not a sign that your faith is suspect or that your prayers are not earnest or that your goodness is at all in doubt.

It is not proof of your character flaws or your moral failings or your lack of value. 

It is simply this place and time in your story.

You may not remain single forever, however if you do, that is not a defeat and it is not a compromise.

You are a child of God. There is never wrong or loss or failure in that.

You are not currently incomplete, biding time, just awaiting to be made half of something else.

You are a beautiful whole human being, made singularly and perfectly in the image of God.

We in leadership in the Church have often failed to really see you or have fallen short of pastoring you well.

We may do it again, and for that too I ask for forgiveness.

Never ever doubt how priceless your life is.

You are deeply and fully loved; every single one of you.