I recently stopped being single. For several years I was involved in the adult singles ministry in my local church and I thought I would share of the problems I have experienced.
I am not having a go at my church in particular. I am not aware of any evangelical churches in my city with thriving adult singles ministries. Some of our problems seem to be almost universal in evangelical churches.
I believe the underlying problem is idolatry. Too many Christians’ sense of value and wholeness is not based on their relationship with Jesus who loves and died for them in spite of all their sin and who dwells in them making them fulfilled and complete. It is based on being married, having a successful family and other middle class values. These things are not necessarily wrong, but they become idols when we try to find in them when what we should be finding in Jesus.
When I joined my current church after a complicated divorce, struggling with shame and rejection, I didn’t want to join a small group full of happy married couples. There were sign up sheets for small groups so I picked the one with the least number of married couples. The couples in this group felt out of place and soon left, making it an adults singles group.
I came to develop the idea of singles group as a refuge. Married people may genuinely accept and not judge single people, but in spite of their good intentions, it can be hard not to feel like the odd one out. A singles group could be a place where single people can be with other people like them and not feel the peer pressure of having to be married.
On the other hand in A Call to Resurgence Mark Driscoll suggests that some single people do not mind being part of groups with couples and families because they see them as substitutes for the stable families they did not have.
I have noticed a gender imbalance among singles. I attend a relatively large church, yet there are hardly any single men between 30 and 50, but several single women in this age group.
This means that the single women in the church are going to stay single or they are going to find non-Christian boyfriends and husbands. I have seen some do this, stop coming to church and they say they are so happy. They have turned their backs on Jesus and eternal life but they are happy because they have got a man and they can be normal again. It looks like deep down they never truly believed their value and wholeness came from Jesus. Of course, the churches are full of married people who also don’t believe this. It is just not so obvious.
There is a book by Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Marrow explaining why women outnumber men in many churches. Being both a man and single is doubly difficult. They do not feel welcome in our churches – you know, guys like Jesus, Paul and John the Baptist.
A friend of mine in his 40s came along to church once. He sat in a row. No one else sat in the same row or in front. When it came to the time in the service when they say hello to the new people, he turned around and everyone behind him had also turned around, ignoring the new person. For some reason, he didn’t come back.
On the other hand, if he had come along with a wife and a couple of kids, people would have been falling over themselves to meet the new family (James 2:1-5). But who would have the greater need – a nuclear family sitting together or a middle aged man sitting on his own?
Still, we cannot blame the church for the problems of single people. Many single people are single for a reason. At one church when the singles group went to the cinema, the men would go off and sit together and the women would sit somewhere else. They were not a strict fundamentalist church where the sexes were segregated, just some evangelicals wondering why they were still single.
The reason some single people are still single is because they do not associate with other single people. I would have thought it was obvious that if we get a group of single people together, some of them will stop being single. Instead, many single people would rather sit at home by themselves, rather than get out and make friends with people they have something in common with.
(There is another overlooked category of single people with health issues. They are too sick to get out and meet people.)
Others are still single because they have an instant gratification approach. They come along to a singles group with the purpose of finding a husband/wife. They look around and if they don’t see someone they like, they don’t come back. It never occurs to them that their potential partner might come along in a few weeks, but they will not be there. They are not interested in making new friends or building community and supporting other single people. They are looking for a way to stop being single.
If you do not want to make friends with other people, you probably should not be married. Another role of singles ministry should be for single people to work on their social skills so they will one day make better husbands and wives.
Some single Christians seem to feel they do not have a legitimate place in the church and society, so they want to stop being single but they do not want the stigma of regularly associating with other single people. Good luck fixing that. As I said before, the underlying problem is idolatry. Their self-worth is based on being married, not Jesus.
In contrast, Paul wrote that being single is the preferred state and marriage is for people who lack self-control (2 Corinthians 7). This should make us wonder how far our nice middle class family values are from true Biblical values.
To be continued.