Tonight I went along to a Christian Connection event reporting back on a survey of 3000 people, mostly users of their dating site, about singleness and the church. David Pullinger analysed the data and presented results focusing on what single Christians appreciated about church, and what they found difficult.
The results are still being finalised, and more formalised reporting will come in due course, and some of the results have already been reported. But a couple of comments immediately stood out.
- Only 1/3 of single men aged 30-44 socialise with their friends at least once a week. This is a significant drop from those younger than this and is not matched by a similar decline among women.
- Single women often find married couples reticent to offer hospitality, and this seems to be related to a perceived threat to their marriage. Single women often work, don’t care for children and as a result often find they have more in common with the husband than the wife. I’m fascinated to look into this more and eagerly await seeing the data.
- And there was a list of twelve things single Christians would like their church leaders to do, in order of importance…
- Give talks about singleness
- Organise or enable social and fun activities
- Provide models of singleness
- Pray personally or in the church
- Be inclusive in all church activities
- Organise or enable single groups
- Be in contact, through phone, email or text
- Provide or facilitate practical help
- Provide practical help in finding a partner
- Knowing and recommending singles events
- Seeking the single person’s viewpoint
It’s an interesting list, and some I certainly agree with. But in all of this I had a recurring question, is there a danger of entrenching an identity of singleness, and possibly as a result seeing identity defined by the absence of a partner, rather than the many other things which make up the individual’s character.
Is singleness something which should be seen as an identity? If you’re single is it a label you use or appreciate? Or do you think it can do more damage than good?
16 thoughts on “What do single Christians want their church leaders to do?”
I’ve been reflecting on this recently in the context of how we can sometimes view church through the ‘consumer’ lens. As a single person am I more concerned about what church is doing for me rather than how I am serving my church family?
“4. Provide models of singleness”
We recently talked about this in one of my classes. Churches need to hire single pastors in order for that to happen, but it rarely does. My professor joked if any of the women in the room were looking for a husband, go to seminary!
In conventional chuches, hiring pastors ends up being a two-for-one deal since there are certain expectations and responsibilities for wives.
How different would the church look or even the study above change if churches were more open with their hiring process since most single men are pretty much written off?
(FYI, I’m not saying this happens everywhere or is a hard-fast rule. My dad was the exception to this rule as a single pastor 25+ years ago, but it’s definitely not a common occurrence.)
Emily – If your definition of a role model includes sexual ethics, a 50+ year old man who has maintained his standards over the years and has never had premarital sex providing a role model for singleness? You must be kidding. I’ve been told by many churches that the reason they won’t hire a never married pastor is because “he might be gay.” There are no single role models in churches because we were written off years ago. We’re not even supposed to exist. And we certainly don’t feel welcome. Education in this regard will take years, if not centuries.
Hi i think your view is vailid many churches can’t get a pastor and many married pastors can have diffciulties in their own marriage that can lay hidden and dormant for yrs. They may often be gealous that you can be happily single as opposed to the idea you need to be married to be happy! But we live in a secret world with hidden motives! a single person has more time to devote to the Lord period, so lets way up to that fact! Colin
Since I’m 52 and have known I have the gift of remaining as I am since my early 30s, I don’t think the term “single” accurately defines me. The term is used today for people who are looking for spouses. The word does not appear in the bible referring to us and in my opinion has very little meaning today. I have a single pencil on my desk. Let’s get a support group together for it. Then of course there is the word “celibacy” that is so strongly linked to monks, nuns, monasteries, and the Catholic church — not to mention the negative connotation it has. And it t too is not mentioned in the Bible. So I think churches need to spend some time on defining who we really are, identifying those of us who are called to this lifestyle, and seeing us as being more than just people without a spouse. The reason more men have dropped out of church is very simple – Most churches have become feminized, including the fact that we live in a women/children worship society. Marriage and family are the new church idols of the 21st century. Regarding churches hiring unmarried pastors, some denominations in the deep south actually have a ban on hiring single pastors. Many have it in writing and it is a hard and fast rule in their churches. Yes, it has reached that point.
” Regarding churches hiring unmarried pastors, some denominations in the deep south actually have a ban on hiring single pastors. Many have it in writing and it is a hard and fast rule in their churches. Yes, it has reached that point.”
However, 1 Tim 3 outlines what the qualifications are for men to become elders and deacons. As a single man, if I were ever invited to take a presbyterial or diaconal role I feel I would have to refuse in the light of those verses.
If you’re referring to 1 Timothy 3:2, I think a very small minority of churches interpret that as meaning the pastor must be married. “The husband of one wife” simple means that if you’re married you cannot have more than one wife at a time – which was a common practice during Paul’s times. The key word there is “one.” Plus, I don’t think Paul would exclude himself from the role of a pastor. And I don’t think Timothy and Jesus himself would exclude themselves. Of course, I’m talking from the standpoint of a Protestant.
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this is great – i run a series on my blog called ‘Taboo Topics’ where we look [through people sharing stories] at topics rarely covered in the church or even in life in general and the amazing stories my friends have shared on singleness have been among the top hits on my blog – this is something people, especially christian young to middle aged people, seem to be caring a lot about and looking for people who will model and speak into it… so really exciting to see this post and the articles… [my blog intro can be found here if anyone is keen – http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/taboo-topics-singleness-intro ]
love brett fish [4th year of marriage but was single for 35 years so i get a lot of it!]
I got involved in starting up a very demanding new ministry within my church – something I would not have had the time for had I been married. (I’m middle-aged and divorced with grown children). For the first couple of years it was very exciting, and felt like a blessing – but as time went on it became obvious that there was no time left for me to do “my own life,” as I also work full-time and am self-supporting. I became socially isolated from my many friends (most of whom are not church-goers), who, if I managed to find time for them, got fed up with me talking about the ministry all the time. I had no time left to be a loving neighbour. I flagged up that I was exhausted and something needed to change – but it was hard to get this across as I managed the work load of the new ministry well -and why not? – I was free to sit up all night and get the work done – (no spouse, no children to complain.) As it’s not perceived as being very Christian to moan, I was frequently told “pray about it – God will give you extra energy.” Or, “Gosh, how I would love it if God laid a ministry like that upon me! You should be praising God, not grumbling.” Plus, of course, there was no-one at home to either encourage me, or to insist that I take a break. Someone with a partner taking on my workload would have a) a good excuse for drawing back, for the sake of their marriage, b) someone to speak up for them at church meetings when they spoke about the need for change, c) someone to support them if they resigned from the ministry – which I finally did, taking the risk that the work would collapse. I will never be sorry that I got the work up and running – I gave it my absolute all with a glad heart, knowing that I was doing God’s will. The latter part of it I don’t regret either… I feel God was showing me clearly that no matter how vigorous our evangelism, if it stands in the way of being a sincere loving neighbour, then something is wrong.
Had my church ever given the issue of “singleness” any thought, I am sure I would have had a much easier time.
Ministries and any other project in life are usually ‘for a season’ … and well done you! but what I’d say as a divorced christian is that singles think of the marrieds in a good supporting relationship. It’s not always like that and the spouse at home doesn’t always support your work/tell you to take a break/are there at the end of the day etc. Sometimes it’s the opposite! Like you, I’ve learned in life that whether single or married, I need to draw my boundaries and being a loving neighbour, mother and friend are high up on my agenda.
Imagine another survey of married folk, of an otherwise similar demographic. How do they feel about their place in the church?
How many of the 12 points above could be easily re-written to apply to couples/families? Are single women the only group who would appreciate more hospitality?
That said, I’m sure the list would be helpful to many churches. I think point 7 above would be number 1 for me. How much of this comes down to a need to facilitate excellent pastoral care…?
Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Danny, several of your posts clearly articulate my own experience.
I too empathise with all the issues re feeling a second class citizen in church when single, having not met my husband till I was 39 and married at 40. Now at 52 I have been abandoned by my (violent) husband for over a year now, having no idea where he is.
This puts me in an even WORSE position in the church; very few sympathise, and I feel I am denied male friendships to avoid any suggestion of the impropper as I am still technically married, tho’ functionally single.
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Being single and Christian is an issue in churches in Australia also. I am part of a volunteer committee who run a Christian single group called Shine, based in Sydney. We recently ran a survey with our members (around 270) and had 137 responses. I’m currently writing up the results (in my limited spare time) and looking to include research from other sources. I’ve come across David Pullinger’s work and ordered his book. Does anyone know of any other research on teh topic?
The responses to my final question in the survey “anything else to add?” resulted in 10 pages of comments from 90 people – I was in tears reading my brothers and sisters in Christ expressing feelings of isolation and exclusion. The expression “they just dont know what to do with us” (or similar) appears most frequently. Glad to find this thread.
“…brothers and sisters in Christ expressing feelings of isolation and exclusion. The expression “they just dont know what to do with us” (or similar) appears most frequently.”
I’m a single woman in ministry. My reply to “They just don’t know what to do with us” is to do something about it for yourself. A group of us started a small group that is mostly singles (and a few married couples, too) that isn’t about being single. It’s about encouragement, prayer, accountability, and fellowship. When we are aware of someone who might want to come, we invite them. Our married pastor doesn’t. WE do. Our church doesn’t organize or provide it. WE do. And I don’t have an issue with that. Because WE are the church. And, I might add, every one of us in our group is involved with some kind of serving in the organizational church or elsewhere. Not one of us has ever complained about feeling isolated.
Why does the organization have to “do something with us” anyway? If you feel isolated then meet people. If you want to mix with people in different seasons of life from you then invite them to dinner (or invite yourself over for dinner), volunteer in their ministries, talk to them after service.
If you want to meet other singles then start something yourself. I guarantee the Pastor and administrators would not only be cool with it, they would be thrilled that someone is offering to do the work. And don’t make suggestions or offer opinions unless you are willing to get your hands dirty and do it yourself. Most Pastors and other ministers/administrators in the church have enough on their hands (probably things that you could help with by volunteering instead of making suggestions) that your comments are not only unhelpful but also discouraging and inconsiderate toward the work they do. So don’t approach this subject with “Why don’t we…?” which really means “Why don’t you…?” and instead replace it with “Could I…?” and then follow through with leading and taking ownership. THAT would be helpful. THAT would build the church. Stop expecting everything to just come to you. Stop looking at others and the church organization to fulfill your every spiritual need because it can’t. Only God can. The organization just points the way.
What I hear from this are singles saying, “What about me?” and to that I say, “What ABOUT YOU? What are you doing with your life RIGHT NOW? What do you have to contribute to your church community and fellow believers?” I guarantee that if someone who felt excluded actually got involved and did something selfless then they would feel included and have a lot less to complain about. They would be fulfilled, encouraged, supported, and have a greater sense of purpose in their life.