Is your church welcoming to single people?

Is your church welcoming to single people?

An increasing proportion of the population of the world is single. According to the latest census figures (2016), 24% of Australian households contain only one person. That percentage is rising sharply. There are a number of reasons for this, of course. An ageing population means there are a larger number of widows and widowers. A high divorce rate means a greater number of singles. In addition, people are getting married later, and more are choosing not to have a partner at all. The likelihood is that wherever you are in the world, the proportion of single adults is large and growing.

Yet it is so easy for church to be a place where single people feel either excluded or at least less important than families with children. Think about it. So many ministries are aimed at children, from creche to Sunday School to youth groups. There are always marriage enrichment seminars and everyone makes a big fuss whenever there is a wedding.

This is one area where we need to heed the clear Biblical instruction and not just go along with what the culture thinks is most important.

The clearest exploration of the single vs married issue is what Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7. It’s a long and nuanced discussion, but for the purposes of this blog post I want to point out the conclusion:

So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. (1 Cor. 7:38 ESV)

Paul says that singleness is preferable to marriage in some important ways, notably that your interests are not divided between serving God and pleasing a spouse. Singleness is not some kind of inferior state, or some waiting room until real life begins when you find a partner! The state of being single is one that has been well used by God in countless lives and continues to be used today. God does not value married people above single people, and neither should we.

Christian and secular culture often put a lot of pressure on people to be married. The biggest rating shows on Australian TV right now are all dating shows. Many parents make subtle (or maybe not so subtle) comments encouraging their children to get out and get married. In light of this, we need to make sure our emphasis is the same as the Biblical teaching on the topic. Singleness is a great state for serving God and not inferior to marriage.

I think there are some key things we can do to encourage unity in the church on singleness and marriage, and some things we should avoid.

Let’s start with the positives. One mark of a Christian church is that we should be united across the kinds of demographic lines that the world divides people over (as in Col 3:11). This means we shouldn’t just spend time in the church family with people like us. Married people with children tend to spend a lot of time with other married people with children. That’s easy, sure, as we would have a lot in common with one another. But the gospel dictates that this is not enough. We should welcome anyone who is part of our church family. So next time you share a meal with someone, if you are married, invite some single people. Intentionally talk to married people after church if you are single. We shouldn’t split off single people into some special ministry and married people into another one; different perspectives, ideally in the same Bible study, will help everyone. We are united in Christ; we should act like we are.

There are also things we should avoid in order to better communicate the equality between singles and married people. Here are a few to consider:

  1. Sermon illustrations should not all be about marriage and children; as a married man with children myself, I do understand that this is the easiest place to find illustrations! Preachers need to be more creative and understand that congregations have a wide range of people in them.
  2. We should avoid matchmaking all the single young adults in the congregation. Some single people will remain single by choice; others will be open to meeting someone. In any case, matchmaking implies that they need a partner to be complete, which is more Jerry Maguire than 1 Corinthians. Unless someone asks you to give them advice to help them with some aspect of finding a spouse, it is best not to interfere.
  3. Some language we use at church might send a message we don’t intend. For example, my church runs an annual camp for the entire congregation. It is called the ‘family camp’ because it is where the church family goes on camp together. Several single people have asked me if they are welcome to come to this, or if there is a separate camp for single people. A simple change to call it the ‘church camp’ eliminates this confusion and makes things more inclusive.
  4. Don’t just run marriage sermons and seminars; teach what the Bible says about singleness!

God, in his great wisdom and mercy, has given us people in all different demographic stages and states of life. We are one body with Christ as the head. Let’s strive to reflect this in how singles and married people relate to one another.