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Reaching single adults in a married world

By Dennis Franck

While navigating church foyers across the country, singles encounter a traditional attitude towards marrying and doing so early in life. “Why isn’t a nice young man like you married yet?” “I don’t understand how a beautiful girl such as you, with a good job, isn’t dating.” Well-meaning individuals are usually unaware of the pressure and discomfort their questions cause. When coupled with seemingly spiritual advice — “God has someone for you” or “Wait for the right person” — such remarks lay guilt on a young adult who may not feel the need or desire to marry yet, or may already struggle with personal doubts.

Myths about singleness

• Single adults are lonely. It is true that some single adults are lonely, but clearly not all are.

• Single adults want to get married. Some single adults do not want to marry.

• Single men are irresponsible. Some are. Then again, some married men are also, as are some single and married women.

• Single adults have less problems than married adults. Not really. Singles just have different problems. The single adult does not have a partner to share them with, though.

• Single adults have more time than married adults. Single adults have to cook the meals, clean the house, pay the bills, shop for groceries, repair the car, make the doctor and dentist appointments, and perform any other task with no spouse to help them. Single parents must also take care of children alone.

• Single adults are not complete until they are married. The emphasis on marriage and family in most evangelical churches can make single adults feel like a “half person” at times. The truth is, every believer is complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).

Singles statistics*

• 44 percent of all adults 18 years and older are single or single again.

• The median age at first marriage has continued to rise since 1960, from 22.8 years old in men to 26.8, and from 20.3 years old in women to 25.1.

• In 2000, 26 percent of all households were single person households, compared to 5 percent in 1900.

• In 1970, 72 percent of all adults in the country were married. By 2000 the percentage had decreased to only 56 percent of all adults.

• In 1960, 3.9 million people were divorced, compared to 20.2 million people in 2000.

• There are more widowed people in the United States than the entire population of Belgium.

• Seventy percent of all widowed adults live alone.

• Unmarried cohabitation has increased from 439,000 couples in 1960 to 5.5 million couples in 2000.

*Information from the U.S. Census Bureau and The Barna Group.

Marital patterns are changing, and these changes have created a new single adult subculture with new thoughts, attitudes, myths and sometimes misunderstandings about singleness. For the postmodern person (born 1965-1982), for example, issues like finishing college or grad school, getting a good start on a successful career or taking time to improve their skills might take precedence over the desire for a permanent relationship. The postmodern person may not see a need for marriage at all, believing that the benefits of marriage (sex, children, companionship, etc.) are available without the legal process and formal marriage commitment.

Where is the balance between the traditionalist’s pressure to marry and the moral libertarian’s disregard for marriage?

Historical attitudes concerning singleness
Over the course of history marriage was expected of most adults. During the 20th century, attitudes toward singleness changed, slowly. From 1900 to the 1920s, single women were labeled “old maids.” During the ’30s and ’40s single women graduated to the title of “spinsters.”

Carolyn Koons, in her chapter entitled, “Today’s Single Adult Phenomenon: The Realities, Myths, and Identity” from the Baker Handbook of Single Adult Ministry states:

Society tried to attack the “problem” of female singleness (seldom were single men focused on) by writing major articles addressing the issue, such as: “Does It Hurt to Be an Old Maid?” “Alarming Increase of Old Maids and Bachelors in New England,” “Family Parasites: The Economic Value of the Unmarried Sister,” “The Sorrowful Maiden and the Jovial Bachelor,” and “There Is No Place in Heaven for Old Maids.”

During the 1950s and 1960s divorce increased in the United States. This was the beginning of the institution of no-fault divorce, a legally convenient way to end a marriage without a biblical reason. During the 1970s, single adults were labeled as “swinging singles” thanks to the “new morality” that emerged. During the 1980s, it appeared that singleness was here to stay. Single adults came to be seen as hard workers, healthy, physically active and affluent. Singles were a dramatically growing segment of society.

Ministering to single adults
God created human beings to be multifaceted creatures comprised of at least six dimensions: spiritual, social, mental, physical, relational and emotional. Each of these areas of life represents certain needs that can be met by fellowship with the Lord and with people in and through the ministries of the church. If the church does not address and meet these needs, single adults may look in other places for their fulfillment — places that are not always spiritually, emotionally and relationally healthy.

Each area can be targeted and developed in the lives of single adults by planning ministries that address specific needs to be met and skills to be learned. Consider the following lists.

Spiritual life

  • Sunday School classes
  • Conferences, retreats, seminars and workshops
  • Discussion groups, Bible studies, prayer meetings
  • Community service/outreach projects
  • Support groups for divorce recovery, addictions or other personal needs

Social life

  • Structured and casual activities promoting fun and
    laughter (banquets, parties, dinners, game nights)
  • Experiencing new activities (ball games, rodeos, stock car races)
  • Developing existing social skills, learning new social skills, learning to feel comfortable around the opposite sex

Mental life

  • Stimulating the desire to learn
  • Discovering and learning about new careers
  • Developing mental concentration, using and developing the imagination
  • Discovering new areas of interest, growing educationally and intellectually
  • Seminars, workshops and classes on finances, self-esteem, dating, friendships, sexuality, identity, etc.

Physical life

  • Staying physically fit, increasing strength, losing weight
  • Learning new physical skills, improving existing skills, having fun

Relational life

  • Parties, dinners, coffeehouses
  • Discussion groups, book clubs, hobby clubs
  • Sporting events, recreational activities

Emotional life

  • Learning to understand and control emotions
  • Experiencing fun and joy
  • Learning to accept and offer forgiveness
  • Affirming the same and opposite sex
  • Improving self-esteem; growing in humility, honesty, integrity, transparency, kindness and courtesy

The programs and activities in a single adult ministry need to be varied and diverse. Single adults who will attend can range from teens to seniors. Events need to factor in the five types of single adults who potentially attend, each with unique and similar needs — never-married, divorced, widowed, single parent, separated.

Not every church has the resources or enough single adults to begin a targeted ministry. That doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Several small churches of any evangelical background could sponsor together a ministry in a neutral location, as long as the pastors agreed. This would draw single adults from the area who are looking for quality friendships and teaching on issues that are relevant to them. It would also provide a “safe” place to invite pre-Christians to experience the love of God through Christian fellowship and activities.

Singles ministry is a vital component of the Great Commission. Churches that involve and minister to their singles (without viewing them as “waiting to get married”) will discover a vibrant component of life within the congregation and of outreach to and involvement with the community at large.  

Dennis Franck is national director of Single Adult/Young Adult Ministries for the Assemblies of God.

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