What can church leaders do and be?


Single Christians identified 12 top actions – ranging from talks on relationships to groups for singles – that church leaders could take to help them. They also wanted church leaders to provide encouragement and advice.

When asked if they had ever discussed singleness with their church leader one-to-one, 26 % said yes at their own request, while a further 26% didn’t feel confident enough to ask.  

In response to the question on whether or not church leaders taught that Christians should only marry within the faith, 47% agreed strongly.

It is clear that what happens in one place may either be inappropriate or not work in another. Nevertheless, there are many actions that people find helpful, such as:

  • attitudes and attributes
  • practical actions
  • things that happen in 'church'
  • things that happen socially.

Below you will find the full list of what leaders should do, together with their attributes, plus our analysis of respondents' comments on whether they can talk about singleness and what church leaders preach about marriage.

Top actions that leaders take

1. Talks on relationships

Talks or series in church about relationships that include single people (44/343). However, if the talk was about singleness, many wanted a single person or someone who had been single a long time giving the talk.

Seven people also suggested separate talks for singles workshops, weekends away or conferences.

In particular, four mentioned the value of SMS text Q&A in these, so people could ask honest questions anonymously from among the congregation (preferably through an intermediary, so also anonymous to the church leader).

2. Social and fun

The second most appreciated was organisation of social events (not necessarily by the leader as an individual), whether for singles (annual/monthly) or all adults (mixed married and single).

3. Hospitality

Single people appreciated hospitality, for example Sunday lunch or feast days (Easter, Christmas) when they might otherwise be on their own. However, they didn't want to be treated as a 'single' in doing so, but simply included with others in a family setting.

4. Models of Christian singleness

What sustained many single Christians was seeing a leader with a 'well-lived single life in action'. Ensuring that leadership includes such a person, including those who may have been divorced, is greatly encouraging to people as to how to live their own lives as a Christian.

5. Praying

Praying – personally or in church – about the issues facing single Christians.

6. Inclusion in church activities

Organising church activities so that everyone is involved, and singles and marrieds are treated in the same way.

7. Groups for singles

This might take a number of forms: either a temporary group, or ones specific for certain types of single person, women, support group for single divorcees, or single parent ministry.

8. Keeping in contact (SMS text, email)

Very favourable comments were made about church leaders who keep in touch and contact by using texts or email to check how people were. Whereas contact is sometimes maintained with one member of a family being asked how the others are doing, single people have to be asked directly and value being so.

9. Practical help day-to-day

Some issues about singleness are not about not being married. Some practicalities valued included:

  • not travelling alone at night
  • being visited when ill
  • dealing with divorced partners.

For example, one person appreciated the welcome and acceptance given to her non-Christian divorced husband in church because he was father to the children attending. Another commented on the leader's creation of a network of support for her in the church.

10. Practical help in looking for a match

There are many times when single people feel they have reached the limit of what they can do in seeking a partner. Some leaders offered to look out for an appropriate partner. Others suggested that any person could bring their date to church to be checked out (viewed positively)

11. Knowing about and recommending singles events and groups

Practical help can be offered in terms of knowing about organisations and networks that can offer events and holidays to single Christians, without it being a dating venture.

12. Seeking the single person's viewpoint

Four spoke of how their pastor sought a single person's perspective or viewpoint and included them into talks, which made them feel included and valued.

Personal attributes of the leader

We analysed the positive words specifically associated with individual leaders. Some ideas may be implicit, implied or included in other words. However they were are not presumed, only the frequency of words actually written were analysed and now described here.

Block 1 (most frequently used)

  • Encouraging
  • Giving good advice
  • Arranging to talk about singleness/relationships and doing so

Block 2

  • Listening
  • Accepting/non-judgemental
  • Open and honest (particularly about leader's own past experience)
  • Showing interest, care and love

Block 3

  • Supportive and helpful
  • Inspirational (as a leader)
  • Understanding
  • Compassionate and empathetic

Block 4 (least frequently used)

  • Realistic, practical
  • Respectful

Talking about singleness with a church leader

When we asked respondents whether they had ever discussed singleness with one of their Church leaders on a one-to-one basis, they said:

  • Yes, at their instigation – 8%
  • Yes, at my request – 26%
  • Would have liked to but didn't feel confident to ask – 26%
  • No, have never wanted to – 41%

Some comments analysed qualified their 'yes' or 'no' by explaining the outcome of talking to their Church leader or of why they do not do so.

Below is a selection of the comments.

Outcomes of talking to leaders

When single adult Christians had discussed singleness with someone in church leadership, there were over three times as many negative words used as positive (65 to 18).

However, some described their leader or leader's wife or elder as helpful.

'My church leader is very supportive of single people and helping them with relationships.'

'One of my previous pastors who had been divorced and then remarried was very helpful and supportive to me when I was widowed two years ago and visited me regularly for support. This was unusual – on the whole, most churches don't know how to address it and at best would be helping you to cope rather than suggesting that there are any alternatives for the future.'

'My pastor and his wife have both encouraged me and prayed for me. I recently had my heart broken, and my pastor's wife in particular has been supportive.'

The word most often used to describe their experience was 'unhelpful'.

'Massively unhelpful. He told me that maybe getting married and having children wasn't going to happen for me and that I should look into adopting as a single person. I was only 30 at the time! It was the worst experience of pastoral care that I have ever experienced.'

'They weren't very helpful. Their answers always began with ''well, when I met my wife'' or ''before I met my husband...''.'

The most commonly used word thereafter was 'no understanding'.

'They just don't understand, or don't want to understand that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. We all have needs; even the Apostle Paul recognised this. The leadership often simply ignore the problem and hope that it will go away.'

'My church leader married at 21, so – while sympathetic – there was little understanding of the difficulties.'

This was followed closely by 'no action'.

'There was a talk on sex at church which I said I found quite difficult. Spoke to leader about that and he said we need to do something for singles. Six months later he has not followed up on suggestion.'

'They were uncomfortable, listened, but took NO action. Pretend they want change and agree, but never do anything about it.'

'My vicar listened and had some wise advice but it doesn't seem to permeate to the church plans and policies.'

There were many illustrative stories.

'My Church leader said that he was aware that my husband had left me, that was a year ago, he has never contacted me since, has not approached me when I have been at Church, never made eye contact. Leprosy comes to mind.'

'Was given the usual scripture about waiting for God's timing but little about how to wait well.'

'I was told my feelings of isolation were nonsense!'

'I occasionally mention the loneliness. My church leader looks scared and lost.'

'They questioned my sexuality, i.e. whether I was gay and that being my reason for being single, which was not very sensitive or helpful!'

'Yes. I got told ''some people are mothers, some people are teachers, some people are Pastors and some people just work long hours to provide for the Church''. Guess which one he had me labelled as?!'

'Some of them will try to understand, but most church leaders married very early in life and don't have a clue! Some get angry (as a guy, I should be taking my responsibility more seriously and finding myself a wife – why am I 'messing about'); some are patronising, treating me like a 13 year old; most just glaze over and act like I'm not there trying to talk to them.'

'Some of the leaders' (older men) views are that if you are single it is because you are a) inadequate, b) gay, c) too picky or d) asexual.'

Reasons for not speaking to church leaders

The reasons for wanting to speak to a church leader but not doing so included:

  • Not confident in raising issue
  • Not confident in that the leader's not in a position to understand or empathise or take action
  • They're male and/or married, so not appropriate to advise single women
  • Not confident they would be helpful because one could anticipate the kind of response

The largest number of reasons given related to expecting leaders to have no understanding or interest in their situation (33). Of these, one third explicitly mentioned that leaders were male and/or married and so would not understand a single woman's situation.

'None of these answers is correct for me. I have not discussed singleness with one of the church leaders on a one-to-one basis, but this was not because I did not want to, nor because I didn't feel confident to ask. The real reason I have not discussed it is because I doubt they could help me very much. All the ministers I know are married, so what exactly would they know about being single?'

'No, there's nobody I really feel would be able to help me.'

'Very difficult to have a one-on-one conversation with a church leader (all of which are male) when I am a single female.'

'My Church leaders are fantastic but all male, so as a single female would not necessarily feel comfortable discussing relationship issues with them.'

On the personal front:

  • Ten said that they had no need to do so or issues to discuss.
  • Eight qualified this by explaining that they talked to their friends, so saw no need to address it with leaders.
  • Seven reported being embarrassed that they were single and felt – if they were to discuss it – that they would appear not to trust God.

'I think if I wanted to then I could ask and they would provide the guidance and point the way, but it's never been an issue.'

'I would feel selfish and self-pitying to talk to a Church leader about how desperate I feel being single, how sad I am not to have children and the fear that I am running out of time. I am afraid that the Church would frown upon such self-indulgent thoughts.'

As a separate point that is implicit in responses to other questions, but made explicit here, one person wondered if singleness is a punishment for not being Christian when young.

'The issue of not being unequally yoked is a big issue for me. There are significantly more women in the church than men, therefore if we are not to be unequally yoked then singledom is likely to be for life. It's almost like a punishment for not being a Christian when you were young, when you would have met a Christian partner.'


Have you heard your church leader(s) teach that Christians should only marry those who share their faith?


Some added comments that:

  • it wasn't preached, but should be
  • it was preached, but shouldn’t be
  • some preached marrying, irrespective of whether the partner was a Christian or not.

Explore our analysis of respondents' comments:

Not heard preached in the church

10% hadn't heard it preached in their church, but had assumed that was the view of the leadership. They filled in 'don't know' because they had never heard them speak on it, but if the leaders did preach then they would strongly assert marrying only Christians.

There were 7% who noted that they considered that their church was very caring towards non-Christian partners and accepting of them.

Preaching with practical support

Others noted that if leaders preached that you should only marry those who share your faith, then they should encourage dating and support those who were single in their dating.

Preaching possibility and positively

A few noted that the preaching on these lines could either be very rule-based and negative, or based on possibility and positive.

Other reflections

Some wrote interesting longer reflections, covering the following.

Dealing with issue honestly: for example, marrying a Christian was no guarantee of having a good relationship, which is what is sometimes implied.

Dealing with issue consistently: for example, are there differences and behaviour for those coming to faith while already married and those choosing a partner while not married?

Dealing with issue sensitively: there may be congregational members who are married to non-Christians.

Dealing with issue in integrity: for example, if the church preaches this, then it should be prepared to act to support their single people marrying other Christians.

Dealing with issue spiritually: what does it mean to say to their congregational members that you should remain single (and possibly lonely and bitter) rather than marry a non-Christian and have children?