Encourage and affirm the single adults in the church to make the most of this season in their lives by devoting themselves to the types of service for which they are uniquely gifted.
My best friend is single. He’s an amazing, godly guy who, Lord willing, will make an incredible husband and father someday. He and I lived together up until I got married just over five years ago. And he stayed with my wife and me for about a month in our first year of marriage when he was renovating his house.
One thing I’ve realized more acutely in these last five years is that, while my wife and I have a built-in “person” in each other, he doesn’t have that. Now, there are plenty of evenings when we eat dinner while watching a TV show. So it’s not like it’s always an occasion for deep discussion. But as my friend has shared some of his challenges with singleness, this lack of built-in community—the person or people we come home to daily—has come up as a significant factor.
My wife and I discussed this early in our marriage, specifically regarding how to make him feel included and invited. We gave him a key to our house and his own alarm code. We told him he could come over any time he wanted—but he’s never come over unannounced. I’ll text him on a random afternoon and ask if he has dinner plans. If he’s available, he’ll come. Occasionally, he’ll text and ask what we’re doing—a clue I’ve learned to pick up on. Less frequently, he’ll just tell us he needs to be around people and ask if he can crash dinner.
Searching for community
But the point is, we all need community. And, understandably, those who are married can forget what it’s like to prep dinner for one over and over again. Or we forget what it’s like to not have the built-in “person” to vent to about our days. Once we’re married, it’s understandable that we have convenient amnesia about what it’s like to be … alone.
Thankfully, the church can provide the community we all need and long for—and not just for single adults in the church. But unfortunately, many single people in our churches feel relegated to the singles ministry (if there even is one). Others feel most of the teaching or ministry of the church is aimed toward married people. Perhaps the thing I’ve heard most frequently is that they’re seen as incomplete without a spouse, and they unwillingly become a “project” for married people trying to set them up. If you’re in church leadership, you’ve almost certainly heard one or all of these experiences before.
In that vein, here are a few encouragements to help you, and those you lead, love and minister to single adults in the church.
1. Affirm where they are instead of where they might be
The truth is, not every single person who desires to be married ever gets married. It’s ultimately more harmful than helpful to assure them “It’s right around the corner” or “God has someone special for you.” Especially as singles get into their 30s and 40s, these assurances can ring hollow and push them away from the church.Instead of promising singles that they'll get married, something we can’t know or guarantee, validate their giftings and calling where they are. — @rcollingsworth Click To Tweet
Instead of promising them something we can’t know or guarantee, validate their giftings and calling where they are. Invite them to serve the church in ways that are appropriate, meaningful, and biblical—as you would do with anyone. Let them know they’re just as valuable and needed as married people.
2. Ask before you offer
It’s entirely likely some of the single people you serve might want to be set up with your single friend. But just because someone wants to get married one day doesn’t mean they want to be set up on a blind date—now, or ever.
Recently, I asked some of the single women in our home group whether they were interested in meeting someone I thought might be a good fit. One of them gave an unqualified yes. Another expressed reticence related to the exhaustion and disappointment that can result from these things not working out. Be aware of these dynamics, and ask before you assume what they want or need.
3. Maintain an open door
Programs at church can be great, but they’re never a substitute for authentic relationships. As a leader or pastor, make it a habit to invite people over for no reason other than to hang out. If you’re married, you may be tempted to mostly (or exclusively) hang out with other married couples. Be intentional to include single people in the mix, whether on their own or in addition to the other people you’re welcoming into your home.Your preaching or the house worship band won’t be the thing that will keep single adults in the church, but the relationships they’ve forged in unplanned moments will. — @rcollingsworth Click To Tweet
Chances are, you’ve got a single person (or people) in your life who are aching for more community than they have. So next time you’re making chili, or spaghetti, or steak, or ordering pizza, text or call and ask if they want in. It costs us very little to include them in something like that. But I’m increasingly convinced it means the world to them. Your preaching or the house worship band won’t be the thing that will keep single adults in the church, but the relationships they’ve forged in unplanned moments will.
4. Steer clear of easy fixes
For the single people in your life who want to be married, singleness can, and often does, present unique challenges. When someone opens up to you about this, sometimes the best response is just to sit with them and help bear that burden.
Too often we retreat to advice or platitudes that, more often than not, do more harm than good. Sometimes the deep ache of loneliness or the fear of never getting married and having a family doesn’t need to be solved or placated—but merely grieved in community. Be a safe person, and don’t try to fix what you can’t.
5. Remember the ideal
Marriage is wonderful in so many ways. But there’s a reason Paul encourages the unmarried to “remain as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8, CSB). Too often, we see marriage as the ultimate state, and we tend to take pity on those who aren’t married. But in terms of priorities and concerns, Paul makes clear there’s a spiritual advantage to singleness.Too often, we see marriage as the ultimate state, but in terms of priorities and concerns, Paul makes clear there’s a spiritual advantage to singleness. — @rcollingsworth Click To Tweet
Encourage and affirm the single people in your church to make the most of this season in their lives—however long it may last—by devoting themselves to the kind of service for which they are uniquely gifted. Perhaps they would feel more welcomed and affirmed to lead out in service if we flipped the script in our churches and deferred to single people the way Paul did.
Rob is the director of external relations at Criswell College.