Singleness in the Church, Part 2: Involving and Including Singles1
In my last post, I addressed how the American church has often hurt singles, especially through inaccurate teaching on the "gift" of singleness. Both singleness and marriage are seasons of life given by God to be used for his glory for as long as a person is in that season.
In this post, I want to think about five ways the church can improve at welcoming and including singles in congregational life.
1) Don't ask newcomers about marital status.
This is a painfully obvious point, but some people (usually those not gifted in the area of tactfulness) still persist in asking it. The place to collect this info is through a visitor card or registry, not during a conversation. Many singles already feel somewhat awkward in the church environment, and bringing up the subject only puts a sharper point on their loneliness. Plus, it's never necessary to ask about marital status to learn about someone. Ask about work, hobbies, sports, or church background. With a little practice, there's almost unlimited ways to develop a conversation and make someone feel welcome.
2) Invite singles over for lunch after church.
It's true; inviting people over for lunch should be done all the time, and not just with singles. Sitting around a table and sharing a meal together is one of the most important ways that human beings in general build relationships. However, just think about that for a second. Singles don't regularly have that experience. Mealtimes are usually spent alone, especially on Sunday. Contrast this with the biblical example in Acts 2:46, where the early Christians worshiped together in the temple and then broke bread together in their homes. They recognized that they were one family in Christ, and it's second nature to eat with your family.
Just to be clear, this isn't a "feel sorry for them" action, but a genuine act to start a genuine friendship. That should be your goal when inviting anyone from church. That person isn't a project, but a brother or sister in Christ and a potential friend.
3) Vary illustrations and application in sermons and teaching.
I'm guilty of this, and I suspect many other pastors are too. As we teach and preach, we're constantly thinking about how to illustrate and apply the Bible to our congregations, but our current set of circumstances can cause us to easily overlook singles. Most pastors are married and many have children. As we think about illustrations and application, our tendency is to tailor them to fit people like us—married people with similar struggles and temptations. This is a call to intentionality. Ask yourself how singles in your church will hear this example, that story, or these points of application. How does this passage speak to their season of life?
4) Provide opportunities for service.
Singles are typically treated as if they're in a holding pattern, just waiting for (real) life to start. However, treating them that way ignores the obvious: God has given them unique talents and spiritual gifts for the building up of the entire church. Some singles might be gifted musicians. Others might have speaking and teaching gifts. Still others might be involved in construction or landscaping or interior design—these are the kinds of people you should consult with when renovating the church or adding a new building!
5) Involve singles in inter-generational small groups containing various marital statuses.
I'm a big supporter of inter-generational ministry, especially to youth. God grows and matures the church as one generation passes along its faith and wisdom to the next one (Deut 6:7; Ps 145:4; Titus 2:2-6). This principle doesn't just apply to children's and youth ministries, though; it also holds true for singles.
The tendency in today's church is to segregate specific demographics from the rest of the church. This can be helpful sometimes, but when everyone's in the same season of life and the same type of situation (e.g., career singles), the group is impoverished. By being cut off from the rest of the church body, singles can't glean from the struggles and wisdom of those who are older and those who are married. For example, how did that godly older widower wrestle with singleness before he was married? How does he wrestle with it now?
Plus, if singles are cut off from the rest of the body, how can the rest of the body benefit from them? The young don't just learn from the old; the previous generation can learn from and be refreshed by the vitality and vision of the younger generation. If we are indeed one body in Christ, everyone is necessary—there's no spare parts—and we all benefit one another.