3 Mistakes Churches Often Make in Their Singles Ministry
In singles ministry, I believe most churches have the right intentions. However, it seems even though the intentions may be good, they seem to be laced with far too many assumptions. These assumptions sometimes make me wonder if churches are approaching singles ministry from the right perspective. What should be a ministry that is encouraging and empowering, often leaves the participants wanting more and sometimes discouraged.
Within many singles ministries, there are some common mistakes that I see many churches making. As part of my research for this article, I looked at some church websites to gather information on their singles ministry. I will share some of what I found to show you what I mean. Where necessary, I changed the name of the church, but I hope this will help give some perspective.
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3 Common Mistakes Churches Make in Their Singles Ministry
1. Grouping All Singles into the Same Basket
Here are parts of descriptions of the singles ministry from two different church’s websites.
“This group is for singles age 30 and beyond: who are unmarried, divorced or widowed.”
“Whether you’ve never been married, are divorced, widowed, or a single parent - you are welcome here!”
I hope you can see the challenges in these two statements, but if not let me highlight them for you.
The Age Difference
I don’t think I have to tell you this, but there is a contrast in being a thirty-year-old single person compared to a single person who is sixty. You may both be single, but you are at different stages of life. Just from a career perspective, the thirty something is near the beginning of their career, while the person who is sixty is closer to the end of theirs, and this is just one aspect of life.
How do you talk to the 30-year-old single and the 60-year-old single at the same time? The combination of diverse needs and most likely varying expectations can cause challenges as the ministry tries to address this wide variety of needs.
The Various Types of Single People
All single people are not created equal. The one thing they share is they are unmarried. The one thing they don’t share is how they got to that unmarried state. A person who has never been married is distinct from someone who is divorced and that is far different from someone who is a widow. These experiences are not the same.
For those of you who don’t know my story, I was married at 28 years old, and my first wife passed away eleven years later. I then got remarried when I was 40 years old. I can tell you, being a single person in my twenties and being a widowed person in my late thirties was like night and day. In my first single experience, I was a single working man with no children. My second time I was a widowed man with a six-year-old son who had autism and Down Syndrome. While I was single both times, the needs I had in each instance were quite different. This is not just true of me, but true of all singles. Let’s be careful not to lump all singles into the same basket, because they are not all the same.
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2. Assuming All Singles Want to Get Married
Here is another description from a church’s website.
“An environment where single adults embrace their season of single-hood.”
I know that statement seems harmless but let’s look underneath the hood. There seems to be this unwritten rule undergirding singles ministry that the goal of all single people is to get married. While that is the goal of many, it is not the goal of all. Some singles already have been married and may be divorced or widowed and don't ever want to go down that road again. Even for those who may not have been divorced or widowed, they may not want to get married.
When you use language like a “season of single-hood” it may sound innocent, but there is an underlying implication that this period of your life is only temporary. As all seasons do, it will not last forever. Life tells us that all single people will not end up married and all don’t want to be. That’s why you cannot build a singles ministry around the premise that we are helping our singles hold down the fort in this season until they enter the season of marriage. This is a terrible assumption.
To further exacerbate the problem, churches often choose married people to lead the singles ministry, which again sends the wrong message. It also brings up the issue of relatability. If you are leading the singles ministry but you have been in a wonderful marriage for many years, how can you relate to the single person who has never been married or the single person who is now divorced or widowed? Let’s not even discuss the single parent which brings with it a whole other variety of circumstances. When I went from being married to being a widowed single parent, people around me had good intentions, but it was hard to find someone who could truly relate to what I was going through.
The church must recognize that single people are more than just a bunch of people looking for their perfect mate to come along. They are not all Ruth’s looking for a Boaz or vice versa. Some are very content in their situation in life and just want to continue to grow in their relationship with the Lord and their effectiveness in their Christian life. That effectiveness goes well beyond whether or not they have a ring on their finger.
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3. Assuming Singles Are Unsatisfied with Their Life
“Beltway Baptist Church Singles encourages ways to live a healthy & satisfying single life…”
Another underlying assumption that often gets baked into singles ministry is the perception that singles are incomplete or unfulfilled. People treat them as if their entire purpose in life is on hold until they can find that perfect partner. Since God told Adam it is not good for you to be alone, then clearly if you are single, you are alone and unhappy, and this is just not good. To take it further, this gets carried over into the topics that are discussed during singles meetings. Here are some examples I found.
- Uncovering God's Plan for Singles
- Enjoying Life as a Single Man or Woman
- Identifying Your Purpose in Life as a Single Person
- Romance, Intimacy, and The Single Life.
Again, I don’t think this is done with bad intentions, but we somehow assume that being single is less than. There may be singles who are not happy with their life because of a desire to get married. I wonder, however, if the sense of dissatisfaction is partly to blame on the church for not validating single people in their singleness. We need to let people know they are complete in Christ and let them find satisfaction in that. If we don’t, then we will have single people who feel they are not valuable members of the body of Christ in their present situation, which we know is not true.
I hope I didn’t give off the impression I am hating on singles ministry because I am not. I just want to ensure the church is not looking past the genuine need and value of singles because they are making ministry decisions based on assumptions and good intentions. All single people are valuable and complete in Christ, and they will remain that way even if they never marry.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.