More than a quarter of Americans live alone. What does the church have to offer that’s better than the comfort and freedom of being alone?
By Marissa Postell Sullivan
More Americans are choosing to be alone.
According to the United States Census Bureau, more than a quarter (27.6%) of all U.S. households were one-person households as of 2020. In 1940, just 7.7% of households had only one person. Since then, the share of people living alone has increased every decade.
Most of those living alone are between the ages of 15 and 64 (16.5%). However, this percentage has declined slightly since 2010 (17.3%), while the percentage of Americans 65 and older has increased (9.4% to 11.1%).
Why live alone?
There is a plethora of reasons people may live alone—some by choice and some by necessity or circumstances. For some, their one-person household status may have been brought on by the death of a spouse or significant other. While this is possible at any age, it becomes increasingly likely for aging Americans.
Divorce, though less common today than it was 10 years ago, can also be a reason for one-person households. But some of the decline in divorce rate could be connected to the declining number of marriages.More than a quarter (27.6%) of all U.S. households were one-person households as of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Click To Tweet
This leads us to the Americans who live alone because they have never been married. According to a 2020 profile of single Americans by Pew Research Center, 3 in 10 (31%) U.S. adults are single—not married, living with a partner, or in a committed romantic relationship. And the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau data on America’s Families and Living Arrangements reveals many of these have never been married. The number of Americans who have never been married increases as the median age at first marriage continues to rise. In 2021, the estimated median age to marry for the first time was 30.4 for men and 28.6 for women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But living alone is financially difficult for many in today’s economy—particularly Gen Z adults. So why are more than 1 in 4 Americans living alone?
Comfort and freedom
While the reasons for living alone are as varied as the people who do, research points to a few fundamental desires that may contribute to an individual making this decision. More than 3 in 10 Americans say they most desire personal freedom (36%), according to a Lifeway Research study. Relationships are hard. And living with someone else—whether it be a parent, spouse or partner, or roommate—is messy. For some, the desire for personal freedom and the ability to do what they want when they want how they want to may win out over the challenges of navigating relationships within the home.
American Protestant pastors point to comfort as the modern-day idol with the most significant influence in U.S. churches today, according to another Lifeway Research study. Although for some, living alone sounds uncomfortable and undesirable, in a culture that values personal freedoms, others may find being alone much more comfortable than sharing a household with someone else. For individuals like these, the ease of having personalized space, caring for personal desires, and avoiding messy relationships might outweigh the strain of single-handedly paying for housing, caring for the home, and carrying responsibility in decision-making.
How can the church offer something even better?
With more than a quarter of Americans living alone, undoubtedly, some see their predicament as a gift while others see it as a curse. But no matter how the individual perceives their situation, the church has something to offer—biblical community.
But showing up to church alone can be difficult. According to a study from Lifeway Research, churchgoers are more likely to go to church with someone accompanying them. Less than 1 in 5 churchgoers (19%) say they make the trip to church alone.
So, what does the church have to offer that’s better than the comfort and freedom of being alone?“No matter how an individual living alone perceives their situation, the church has something to offer—biblical community.” — @MarissaPostell Click To Tweet
1. A place to belong
Whether living alone or in a full house, every believer is a part of the family of God. As Paul tells the church in Ephesus, “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19, CSB). In his letter to Timothy, Paul makes clear that the church is the household of God: “I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15, CSB).
This idea of belonging to the household of God is significant for every believer, but perhaps particularly so for believers living alone. In church, there is family—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles. For the person who doesn’t have family or has family far away or whose family doesn’t function like family, the church can be a sweet reminder of God’s design for family and a picture of what is to come when God’s kingdom is established in full for eternity.
2. A place for encouragement
No matter how strong or independent someone feels, no one is immune from the need for encouragement. And encouragement is hard to come by in isolation. For those living alone, isolation is the default, unless they live intentionally in community. The church ought to be the place where individuals can best experience this intentional community.
In church, people can receive encouragement—“what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, CSB). This encouragement may come from someone in a similar life stage or situation or from someone experiencing a different season or circumstance. Either way, giving and receiving encouragement within the body of Christ is a necessary refreshment for those living alone.
3. A place for discipleship
With 65% saying they can walk with God without other believers and 75% saying they need other believers to help them grow in their walk with God, churchgoers hold conflicting views on the need for other Christians. But humans were made for relationships. It’s one of the ways we image God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.“The idea of belonging to the household of God is significant for every believer, but perhaps particularly so for believers living alone.” — @MarissaPostell Click To Tweet
There’s no doubt God draws people to Himself and sanctifies them at times when no one is physically present with them. But the church—the body of believers—is also one of God’s good gifts for bringing about spiritual growth and development. The church is where real relationships turn into deep, biblical discipleship.
4. A place for accountability
For some, one of the appeals of living alone is the sense of independence and freedom. But that can easily be something believers make an idol out of or take advantage of. The truth is, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else” (Jeremiah 17:9, CSB). Our own desires are not dependable. “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22, CSB). James also reminds believers to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a, CSB). As believers, we need accountability from our brothers and sisters in Christ. This accountability may not come naturally for those who live alone, but they should be able to find it as they engage with their local church body.
5. A place to steward spiritual gifts
As Paul reminds us, God gives every believer spiritual gifts, intended for the edification of the church. “A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7, CSB). The church is where believers act on the giftings God has given them. “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10, CSB). God calls believers to steward these gifts for the good of others, not the good of self.
Being alone sounds good. People are messy. Relationships are messy. Church is messy. Still, being in church is even better than being alone. It’s part of God’s design for every believer—no matter their household status (Hebrews 20:24-25).
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Marissa Postell Sullivan
Marissa is the managing editor for LifewayResearch.com.