This is the last post in a series about what it might look like to make the church unmarried friendly. We’ve talked about why this is so important for the future of the church and why it matters in the big picture. Last time we talked about the theological side of being a church that welcomes 66% of folks who don’t go to church – the unmarried. Today I want to get practical
The question you need to ask is what is the user experience for a single at your church? Here’s what I can tell you experientially; I was single until I was nearly 41 years old and one of the hardest places to go was church. The experience was mostly not good.
So what does it look like, or maybe a better way of saying it, what could it look like?
Some years ago at a church I attended, the pastor asked me and a co-laborer in this subject for a do’s and don’ts list. To their credit, the pastors did implement much of this. I’m going to share some of that list and then list a couple of other things that have made me feel welcome.
We told the pastors:
- Talk about singleness from the pulpit. Use examples of single people and scenarios that are faced by singles, vs. always using marriage and family examples/issues.
- Talk to singles as much as mairreds during meet and greet times at church (eg. end of service, social gatherings, etc). Look for, and train others to look for, people who are by themselves.
- Identify different groups (ie not yet married, widowed, divorced, celibate, etc) of singles instead of lumping all singles together.
- Recognize singleness for those not called to celibacy as a type of infertility (ie. on Mother’s and Father’s Day)
- Recognize the lack of clarity as to why someone is unmarried and how they become married. It could be good to ask people to consider why they are single, but don’t assume the why.
- Talk about the role of attraction in finding a spouse. Talk about what is actually attractive. Don’t act as if it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. It does and everyone knows it.
- Emphasize the need to find our identity in Christ not a relationship with someone else. This is good for everyone.
- Involve singles in leadership – including up front.
- Talk about both the hard and good of singleness and marriage.
- Recognize that the context is 2019 not 1950. Unmarried is just as normal as married. Whether that is good or bad is beside the point.
- Talk about celibacy as actual offer. Honor those called to it.
- Honor single people’s time in the same way you would a married person’s.
- Admit what you don’t know – be it individual conversation or from up front.
- Do call singles to sexual purity – but for their relationship with God and witness to others, not for their future marriage that you can’t promise.
- Use stats or other means to suggest that most people will get married in order to calm anxieties of those that aren’t. You don’t know they will get married.
- Say that “God has someone better” in response to the end of a relationship. God MAY have someone different.
- Speak about any formula as a means tour the end of marriage. There is no formula.
- Talk about singles as being immature. Some are. Some aren’t. There are plenty of immature married people. Marriage and maturity are not the same.
- Use language that has anything to do with “the one“. Use any sort of Reformed Romance theology.
- Ask people to be content in their singleness. Content in the Lord yes. But not in context. This can actually bypass growth that comes from suffering and/or keep people from acting.
- Shame men in front of women or vice versa. Just stop this now.
- Promise things by accident. (God has someone for you, God will bring you someone in His timing, If you wait for marriage sex will be awesome. etc ad nauseam).
- Talk about guarding the other persons heart.
- Talk about how hard marriage is without talking about how good it is.
- Tell singles to enjoy this time of being closer to the Lord or better in ministry. At best this is patronizing. At worst it sets people up to choose between Jesus and a spouse and can mess up married people as well.
- Say that wherever you are at is God’s best for you right now. Maybe. Maybe not. Avoid blanket statements like this in general.
- Make the nuclear family and idol. It is not the foundation of the world. The family of God is that. Don’t be the church for families. Be a family.
Here are a couple of other thoughts.
- Find lots of ways to combine singles and married people. Small groups, ministry opportunities etc should all be mixed. Don’t segregate singles and marrieds (or really any other group – including youth – that’s for free).
- Think in terms of ministry to singles vs singles groups or ministries.
- Have a marriage event? Then have an unmarried event. Doing a marriage sermon series? Do a singleness sermon series.
- Teach your people to be welcoming. This can’t be overemphasized. The person sitting alone should not spend the whole service, event, small group, etc that way. That should never happen. That’s culture.
Here’s a bonus idea – have an after church plan. One of the reasons I went to one church for 10 years as a single was the culture of going out after church. People organized it and invited people. I’m convinced that one of the smartest thing you could put in your church budget is money for this. Have a group of people at your church who you hand $50 to each week and say take someone new to lunch. But regardless if I walk in by myself and then get invited to a meal, I’m coming back. So simple.
This is a great article! Thanks for sharing these tips.
You have good ideas, but you’re actually just trading one dichotomy for another. By that I mean…you propose to eliminate the “idoluzed families vs the poor singles” dichotomy (which is fine). But then you replace it with “marrieds are okay and singles are okay, we’re just all called to live out the gospel differently, and here’s how.” How ‘bout eliminating the dichotomy altogether as in
“hey, we’re all human beings. Some of us will be married for awhile until we’re widowed or divorced (and maybe lots sooner than we’d like to think). And some of us, even if single, may actually raise a family of our own before we get married or without ever getting married. But the important point is that we’re all just people. Just human beings, NONE OF WHOM will be married or divided into nuclear families in heaven. So how ‘bout we start the whole brothers and sisters in Christ now and just de-emphasize this whole married/single dichotomy for good?”
I get what you’re saying. I can see how reading this one post vs. the blog as a whole (which no one has probably read – Ha!) I’ve written a lot about how we need to be the church family vs. focusing on the nuclear family and how the kingdom includes everyone and how we won’t be married in heaven. So I agree in general.
However, at the same time, people are looking for instruction from their contexts and there are some different biblical instructions based on the contexts. My point as far as church, would be though that we should talk about all of it, or none of it. Not just part of it. I don’t think as a whole on this blog I’m offering the dichotomy that you suggest I’m offering. But I guess I can see how you could read some of it that way. It is is a blog about singleness and the church. But both of those fall under the Kingdom as a whole
These are excellent. I would add:
Find a way to provide safe spaces for all unmarried people to discuss sexuality and sexual frustrations. Understand the church’s obligation to support abstinent individuals.
More 2.0 but necessary. The church has to face the realities of dating in 2019 and beyond and realize that there are people who would otherwise be in relationships but completely avoid dating as a means to avoid sexual sin.