Should churches have a specific singles ministry or integrate singles into the rhythms of the church? Here are pros and cons to consider.
By Yana Jenay Conner
As the world (and the church) becomes more single, many ministry leaders and pastors are asking: “What do we do with the singles? Do we start a ministry that specifically targets singles, or do we intentionally integrate them into the everyday life of the church?”
My answer: Both.
Singles need discipleship programs that specifically address the joys and hardships they face due to their relationship status. They also need to tangibly feel like full-fledged members of their local church family. As singles, they need discipleship in how to navigate unmet desires, meaningfully engage feelings of loneliness, steward their freedom, and deny the cravings of their flesh. However, they also need to be in close physical and relational proximity to those who are married (with and without kids) to see how they, too, are navigating unmet desires, loneliness, stewardship, and lust. Though their battle may be different, they need to know they aren’t the only ones looking to Jesus for comfort, support, and strength.“Singles need discipleship programs that address the joys and hardships they face due to their relationship status. They also need to tangibly feel like full-fledged members of their local church family.” — Yana Jenay Conner Click To Tweet
However, we have to do both, thoughtfully. Here are three pros and cons for labeling singles ministry.
Three pros of labeling singles ministry
1. Singles feel seen
When a church starts or has an existing ministry for singles, it instantly communicates, “We see you.” The church communicates this even louder when they have a funded and staffed singles ministry. This communicates that ministering to singles is not an afterthought or a necessary evil to pacify a few disgruntled singles in the church. The presence of a singles ministry is an effective way to extend love to the singles in your church. However, please know it’s just a start.
2. Targeted discipleship
Though every Christian is called to follow Jesus, we must acknowledge that following Jesus takes on different shapes in the lives of married and single people. For example, how we counsel a married person to handle conflict with their spouse might look vastly different from how we advise a single person at odds with a roommate or friend. Though reconciliation is to be pursued in both instances, the boundaries and expectations of each relationship are different, necessitating different concerns and appeals to Scripture.”When a church starts or has an existing ministry for singles, it instantly communicates, ‘We see you.’” — Yana Jenay Conner Click To Tweet
3. Single-specific community
Having a singles ministry allows singles to find and build relationships with people who are daily trusting the Lord in the same ways they are having to trust Him. I cannot over-communicate the importance of this. But as someone in their late thirties who woke up one day to the reality that all my best friends were married, I can testify to how important it is to do life with people who have to navigate a similar terrain of the Christian life. We have marriage ministry, divorce care, and small groups for moms with littles for this same reason. Because they are navigating similar highs and lows, we wisely create space for them to be together for encouragement, accountability, and support.
Three cons of labeling singles ministry
1. Singles feel marginalized
While labeling singles ministry can cause singles to be seen, you have to be careful not to make them feel marginalized. You can do this by simply not labeling everything “single.” For example, if you have a single ministry that organizes events and retreats for singles, don’t also create married versus single-specific small groups. When you do this, the only time a single person naturally brushes shoulders with a married person is on a Sunday morning or if both are serving on the same volunteer team. This kind of labeling doesn’t create space for married and single people to interact and can make your singles ministry seem like a watering hole you created for the “relationally challenged.”
2. Unnecessary division
Marginalization can lead to division. If you over-label your ministries “single-this” and “married-that,” this can cause the two groups to hyper-focus on how they differ and subtly begin to believe they can’t understand or offer anything to one another. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Singles have a lot to offer married people. And married people, singles. For one, the two lend one another their objectivity as they navigate emotionally charged feelings that come with their relationship status, which can cause them to be highly subjective. Additionally, if we craft systems and programs that keep singles and marrieds away from one another, we rob both parties of being sanctified into the compassionate and empathic likeness of Christ. They need each other.“If you over-label ministries ‘single-this’ and ‘married-that,’ the two groups can hyper-focus on how they differ and subtly begin to believe they can't understand or offer anything to one another.” — Yana Jenay Conner Click To Tweet
3. It can communicate that singleness is a problem to fix
Unfortunately, most single ministries have felt more like a match-making mixer than a ministry created to aid one’s spiritual and emotional maturity. Most of the conversation is about how to get out of singleness rather than how to actually live single. When the rhetoric is filled with dating advice to women on how to claim their Boaz or calling men to stop being passive and find their good thing, you inadvertently communicate two things.
First, you communicate that singleness is a problem to fix and not a viable option for life and godliness. You can even indirectly (or directly) cause the singles in your church to feel they can’t have a full and meaningful life apart from marriage and that honoring God with their sexuality in singleness is impossible. However, the Scriptures tell a different story. The apostle Peter tells us we have everything we need for life and godliness through our relationship with Christ Jesus. Jesus, Paul, Anna, and others also model to us that singleness is more than a viable option for a meaningful life. Paul even goes so far as to say it is better, and I don’t think he’s being hyperbolic.“Unfortunately, most single ministries have felt more like a match-making mixer than a ministry created to aid one's spiritual and emotional maturity.” — Yana Jenay Conner Click To Tweet
The second unfortunate outcome of filling our curriculum for singles with dating advice and how to prepare for marriage is that we further marginalize those in the room who are same-sex attracted and have chosen a life of celibacy. As a result, marriage is not an option for them. They don’t need dating advice. They, along with their fellow single comrades, need discipleship on how to navigate the Christian life with joy, fullness, and holiness with no prospect of being un-single.
Intentional discipleship for singles
Though the cons are weighty, the need for ministries that disciple singles is evident as the median age of singles continues to trend north. As God’s church desiring to be a place for singles, families, and marrieds to belong, we need creative, thoughtful pathways of discipleship for singles. The question isn’t if. It’s how.
Yana Jenay Conner
Yana is a writer and Bible teacher who has served in full-time ministry for the past fifteen years in both the church and parachurch context and earned a M.Div. in Christian Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She currently serves at Vertical Church as the Discipleship Director and hosts a podcast called Living Single. You can find more of her writing and teaching at yanajenay.com.
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