Single Adults Ministry in the Local Church
By Debbie Franck
Have you noticed the number of unmarried adults in your neighborhood? Your grocery store? Your church? It seems society is bursting with adults who are single. In fact, USA Today recently reported that there are 97 million unmarried adults in the United States over the age of 18. The Census Bureau reports that the most common type of household in the U.S. is the single adult living alone. More than 26 percent of households meet this description.
There are five primary types of single adults:
1 Never-married young adults (always single)
2 Divorced adults (single again by death of a marriage)
3 Widowed adults (single again by death of a spouse)
4 Single-parent adults (single due to these or other reasons)
5 Separated adults (who may or may not think of them-selves as single, yet should be welcomed into a single adult ministry)
Let’s take a quick look at each of these five types of single adults.
Never Married Young Adults
There are at least 48 million adults in the U.S. who’ve never been married. While these are primarily men and women in their 20s or early 30s, older never-married adults are becoming more common. The median age of people entering into marriage in the U.S. has increased significantly since 1970 to age 27 for men and age 26 for women, an increase of four and five years respectively. Some are choosing to remain single longer to establish a career, finish a degree, purchase major life items, or pursue other goals. However, most are still seeking or waiting for a marriage mate.
A church wanting to develop an outreach ministry with young adults needs to understand the values that are important to them: authenticity, relevance, ministry different than the past, new music and styles of worship, diversity, narrative stories, hands-on presentation of the gospel, process evangelism, leadership by team, pastor’s role as equipper, lay leaders developing other leaders.
Recently divorced persons, suddenly single-again because of death of a marriage, are usually hurting and find themselves in one of the stages of the grieving process (shock, anger, denial, depression, or bargaining) before they reach the acceptance stage. They need the church to be a safe harbor of acceptance and unconditional love for them to heal. Unfortunately, it is not always so.
Christians sometimes hurt wounded people with judgmental attitudes and comments. We rarely, if ever, know enough about both sides of a divorce to have an unbiased, intelligent opinion of “what happened.” It’s crucial to remain unbiased and love both individuals. Widowed adults often feel the love and attention of the church the first month or two following a spouse’s death, receiving cards, letters, phone calls, meals, and other expressions of sympathy. This is good. Very rarely, however, does a divorced person receive this kind of love and caring. Does this portray Jesus’ command to unselfishly love each other as he has loved us?
At any given time, about one in 10 adults are currently divorced. The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is eight years; the average length of a second marriage is six years. In fact, one third of the adult population that has been married has been through at least one divorce.
Widowed adults understand the phrase, “You may be only one heart-beat away from singleness.” Some-times their single-again status is expected due to a long illness. Some-times it comes through a sudden, shocking accident. Although married people take vows to love, cherish, and honor their spouses “until death do us part,” it is never easy when a death happens.
There are more widowed adults in the U.S. than in the entire population of each of the nations of Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Ecuador, Greece, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, Portugal, and Sweden. Among women age 65 and older, 45 percent are widowed. And 70 percent of all widowed adults live alone.
Widowed individuals usually don’t feel single for a long time, some up to two or three years. After all, they did not choose this to happen and feel they are still married to their spouses. Churches wanting to reach out to widowed adults need to persevere beyond the first month’s cards, letters, phone calls, and visits. The months following can be the most difficult, as caring and love from others in the and church subside.
Single Parent Adults
Consider these sobering facts about single parents and their children:
Single parents account for 27.3 percent of households with children under the age of 18.
2.2 million single dads are the primary caregivers of children under the age 18, a 62 percent rise since 1990.
1 in 2 children will live in a single-parent home at some point in childhood.
1 in 3 children are born to unmarried parents.
Between 1970 and 2000, the number of single moms increased from 3 million to 10 million.
43 percent of teenagers do not live in the same house with both of their birth parents.
Since 1970, single-mother households increased 122 percent from 5.5 to 12.2 mil-lion; single-father households increased 163 percent, from 1.2 to 3.2 million.
A Message Of Hope For The Lost A Message Of How For The Church
To some, John 3:16 is such a familiar verse that it’s lost its significance. To others, it’s the invitation they’ve never heard to a place they’ve always wanted to go. Whether it’s review or revelation, 3:16 The Church Experience offers fresh insight into this “Hope Diamond of the Bible.” The six-session study (based on Max Lucado’s book 3:76 The Numbers of Hope) not only sheds new light on the verse, it shows participants how to share its luster with friends, neighbors, and even strangers just by telling their own 3:16 stories. Does someone need to hear yours? Order the study online, call 800.458.2772, or visit the LifeWay Christian store serving you.
Single parents are not the small minority they used to be. These adults have become single parents through one of many causes: divorce; widowhood; separation; birthing a child while unmarried; adopting a child while unmarried, divorced, or widowed; acquiring a child through medical means (such as artificial insemination); foster parenting – unmarried; or raising someone else’s child while unmarried.
I join the host of voices that want to remind you that being a single parent today is one of the toughest jobs on the planet! Sharing challenging and pressing parenting tasks with another parent is difficult enough. Doing it alone tends to be overwhelming, Remember that single parents have to cook, clean, wash, pay bills, give rides, attend school functions, help children dress, solve problems, help with homework, and so on, by themselves without the help of another parent. No wonder many single parents are tired!
Single parents have a long list of practical needs that could be met with help from friends and the church. Major needs of single parents include acceptance, affirmation, encouragement, respite, vehicle repair, temporary financial or material assistance, home repair, child care, and time to be with adult friends.
A church that reaches out to single parents in practical ways is a church that’s fulfilling James 1:27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world and that single parents and their children are many of the orphans and widows of today. And it is fairly clear that the world does not care much about them, which is one of its “stains.” Will your church find a way to reach out to the orphans and widows in your church, your neighborhood, your world missions?
Separated adults are living apart from their spouses because of the desire of one or both marriage partners. It may be an informal separation or a court-ordered legal separation. Some separated individuals will visit the ministry and let their marital separation be known. Others who visit will be more hesitant to make their situations known. It is vital to welcome them regardless of their marital status and to encourage them not to keep their status a “secret” if the topic comes up in ministry contexts.
Three Single Adult “Markets To Reach”
It’s important to not only understand single adults by age but also by church status. There are at least three distinct groups of single adults that can be identified and targeted by church status. Understanding these groups will help you to focus on your mission. There are single adults:
1 In your church. Every church has single adults. The questions that need to be answered, however, are Who are they? How many are there? What are their ages? What is their single status?
Your church may already have a database containing this information. If not, a short, written survey completed and returned on two consecutive Sunday mornings will quickly identify most adults by age, marital or single status, number and ages of children, and so on. (Go to Rev.org Extras to download an “Adult Congregational Survey.”) A survey will help determine which age group or need group of single adults should be attended to first: young adults ages 18-30, single adults ages 30-55, single-parent families, recently divorced, widowed, and so on.
2 In other churches. I estimate that only 20 percent of all churches of any denominational or theological position have any type of ministry for any group of single adults. Why should single adults in the other 80 percent of churches not benefit from the love, fellowship, teaching, and personal growth that a ministry will bring to their lives? I’m not advocating encouraging them to leave their churches. In fact, I tell them to sup-port their home churches with their attendance and finances. Church leaders need to think outside their walls and structure ministry times so that single adults in other churches who do not have a ministry will have the option of attending.
3 In no church. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of single adults in the U.S. who are not meaningfully connected with any church. The numbers and single status of these people in your community can usually be obtained through the Census Bureau at www.census.gov (look at your state and county). Creative, innovative, relevant ministry opportunities will be attractive to them if planned and developed with excellence.
Beginning Single Adult Ministries
So, do you care to start a ministry with single adults? Here are some suggested steps for beginning:
1 Pray. Without consistent, fervent, ongoing prayer by potential leader-ship and others, the ministry will probably fail.
2 Seek permission and support. Ask the senior pastor of the church for permission to begin this ministry. Without the support of the pastor, the ministry will struggle. The pastor needs to be involved in the birthing of this ministry, at the very least by determining direction and through prayer and personal support. If you are the senior pastor, give it your per-mission and meaningful support.
3 Determine the demographics in your church. If there’s no information available concerning the marital and single-adult demographics of your church, give the written survey in your main services. Poll the adults on two consecutive Sundays to determine the demographics of your church. Ask people to complete the survey and turn it in during the service to enhance good participation and return.
4 Analyze the demographics/survey. After you have given the survey, tabulate the results. (Go to Rev.org Extras to download a “Tabulated Demographic Survey.”) This will give you a clear picture of the marital status and demographics of your church.
5 Determine the demographics in your community. Contact the county courthouse for demographic information about your local area. You may also be able to obtain this information online from the Census Bureau at www.census.gov.
6 Decide on or review the age and/or need group(s) you are beginning and the reasons they are being targeted. If the survey shows a larger percentage of single adults in the 18-35 range, perhaps it would be wise to begin a young adult ministry first. If the 35+ age group is larger, that age group should be addressed first. If there are a large number of single parents, that group should be organized first. The main thing is to discern the greatest need and then to discern God’s will for meeting the need.
7 Develop a contact list. From the survey or church database, compile a contact list (mail, email, phone) of single adults in the target age group or need group so you can correspond regularly with them.
8 Organize planning meetings. Gather a team of interested single men and women representing each targeted age or need group to brainstorm and plan. Discuss possible meeting days, times, locations, leaders, and potential names for the ministry.
9 Develop vision and mission statements. A vision statement defines the purpose, or end result, of a ministry. A mission statement defines the how of the ministry. This should be developed early in the process to guide the formation and direction of the group.
10 Plan and host a large event. Plan a large event designed to attract many single adults in the target age or need group. Take plenty of time (at least two to three months) to pray, plan, and promote the event before actually having it. Examples of events could include a retreat, conference, dinner, or social activity. Share the vision and potential plans for the ministry at the event.
11 Name the ministry. The leadership team should pray, brainstorm, and decide on a name for the ministry. A name should represent the tar-get age or need group and reflect a positive and Christian image-but not be “super-spiritual” at the risk of confusing or turning off unbelievers.
12 Decide on the class time. Plan to hold the class meeting each week on the same day, at the same time and location, for the sake of clarity, convenience, .and consistency.
13 Continue to meet regularly. It’s important that momentum and regular opportunities for building friendships be established. Meeting sporadically will not fulfill these needs as well.
14 Establish a leadership team. Look for and recruit adults who are 2passionate enough about this ministry to accept a role of responsibility. Examples of areas needing leadership at this point could include hospitality, follow-up, social activities, audio/ visual, music, and discussion leaders. (Go to Rev.org Extras to download “Sample Job Descriptions.”)
15 Develop a balanced ministry. A multifaceted ministry should be developed over a long period of time. Ministries addressing the six areas of life should be planned: spiritual, relational, social, physical, mental, and emotional.
This article “Single Adults: Who Are They and How Can You Reach Them” written by Dennis Franck is excerpted from Rev! Magazine a January/February 2008 edition.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat, throw away the bones.”