Not that long ago, a very accomplished single man in his 30s told me his story of how he has been shaped by the pressure to get married. This pressure had been internalized, and helped spell doom for any potential relationships that came his way. Churches are full of these seemingly happy couples. Christian organizations seem to be marketed to helping college students find their “help mate” or propagating “family values”. It seems that, unless you’re a Catholic monk, the church just doesn’t know what to with single people.
One secular psychologist, when trying to explain the churchy culture of America, postulated that the sole reason churches exist is to help married couples remain faithful to each other. As a follower of Christ, I know that the church is more than that. However, I can see why he would say such a thing.
The fact is that yes, Genesis teaches that it is not good for people to be alone. But we have to remember that Jesus was single, and Paul even thought it was preferable. It’s hard to imagine that a St. Francis or Mother Theresa could have had the impact they did as a married person. So, how can the church better serve it’s singles?
1. Stop the incessant marriage talk. When preparing for a sermon, a friend of mine asked me if it was difficult because I didn’t have any kids to tell illustrations about. I told him emphatically “no!” I love kids. I love hearing stories about kids and marriage and courtship. But these illustrations do not ring true with everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t find them offensive, I just think we need to be sure that over time, we speak to the whole audience.
2. Give singles a mission. Rather than viewing singleness as a pre-marital state, I wish more churches viewed them as their best source of missionaries. Married Christians rightly spend time and energy raising a family. Single Christians have a unique flexibility that the church can use to the glory of God. I knew one young lady who devoted two nights a week for SEVEN years to teaching the same group of teenage girls the Bible. On her other nights she hosted a singles small group and led the interior design for a new building project. It’s great that she took the initiative and did this on her own, but most of us don’t know how. Singles, especially 20 and 30-somethings, have time and money to spare. Undirected, these will be spent on Happy Hours, fancy clothes and concerts. Churches need to create opportunities to serve that engage singles together in God’s mission.
3. Be our families. In today’s America, we move every 3-5 years. The support system of an extended family is limited to phone calls and holidays. Although they might not admit it, many singles are dreadfully lonely. One of the biggest blessings of my life are the families I’ve met along my way. They have brought me into their homes and treat me as one of their own. Jesus promised that those who sacrificed “house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children” would get them all back. Churches need to be the place where that happens.
4. Teach us how to be chaste. When I was a teenager in the 90s and everyone was freaking out about “babies having babies”, the church tried to bribe us to keep our pants on. We were told that true love waits and given virginity rings. With the percentage of singles having sex inside and outside the church, this carrot/stick philosophy can be deemed a failure. It has often been remarked that the only new virtue Christianity brought into the world is chastity. There is nothing more normal than human beings having lots of sex. The Christian virtue of chastity, of devoting that energy to the kingdom of God is something unique and countercultural. Rather than making singles feel guilty about their sexuality, chastity, and the hard work that comes with it, should be treated with the same value as marriage.
5. Help us build community. Tim Keller once said that chastity is impossible outside of deep community. God has built us with a deep need for connection, companionship and community. If one does not get this through marriage, it is impossible to fault them for finding connection through sex. The Catholic orders have always known this, bringing together men and women to live as a community under a rule of life. Churches need to explore innovative ways for singles to live together, eat together, serve together and play together.
6. Teach us how to commit. Singles in their 20s and 30s are the generation raised by divorce. Even for the lucky ones like me whose parents stayed together, it’s impossible to escape. This has led to a cultural inability to commit at epidemic levels. In past generations, where you were married to your high school sweetheart and worked at the same company for 40 years, commitment was the norm. Today, we can’t commit to relationships or jobs or cities or churches. The saddest evidence of this is the number of “starter marriages,” which seem to be over and done with before hitting 30. We need lessons on what commitment is, what to commit to, and the advantages to commitment. We need small things to practice committing to and big things to experience it. Many of us want to be married, but we’re doomed if we go into with the tools our culture has given us.
7. Help us get married. Singles ministries get a bad rap for being “meat markets.” The place where Christians who didn’t meet that special someone in college put on their high heels and study the book of Ruth. There’s nothing quite like watching the dudes swoop in on the new girl at church like sharks on blood. But the fact is, if you want to meet someone who loves Jesus and loves his church, you probably aren’t going to find them in a bar. The key to avoiding this meat market scene is found in #1-6. A little structure avoids a ton of problems. Rather than letting Sunday morning Bible study replace Saturday night bar hopping, put us to work, side by side. We’ll learn to serve the Lord, and get to know each other at the same time.
What would you add? What to you wish churches did for single Christians?