If someone were to ask you what the purpose of singleness is, how would you answer? Would you say that it is a season of waiting and preparation for a spouse? A time to enjoy traveling and experiences before settling down? Or would you say it is a beautiful time to live whole-heartedly and without distraction for the Lord? Singleness within the Church has been a difficult subject, a rushed season of life, and in most cases, a forgotten group of people. Our churches today are filled with single people in all stages of life; college students, young adults, middle-aged, and seasoned adults. Many of them have felt the weight of their singleness in a variety of ways throughout their lives. For many singles, including me, we feel the pressure to marry as soon as we possibly can, and for others they feel as though they’ve failed because they’re older than most and still single. Some even feel weary to walk into church because of the comments they anticipate being asked or the anxiety that comes with walking in alone. Yet, within all of those examples are singles who are still enjoying being single and using it for the glory of God!
In scripture we don’t see singleness explicitly talked about often, but it does come up. In the Old Testament it was primarily seen as a bad thing. Marriage was the goal because pro-creation was the command, so it made sense that singleness was sometimes used as a curse from God or seen as an act of disobedience. When you get into the New Testament, however, everything changes. The command is still to multiply, but, because of Jesus, this can now happen spiritually and not just physically! Jesus lived his life as a single man, bringing redemption to singleness and giving us an equal place at the table! Living as a single person no longer carries shame nor guilt and is no longer a form of punishment. According to Paul in the New Testament it is actually better to be single because you can live distraction-free for the sake of advancing God’s Kingdom!
Church leaders, the way we talk about singleness and the way we talk to singles matters a lot. Within the church we still seem to treat it as something to fix rather than something to embrace and enjoy. And this has to change. Recently, I have read a few articles and statistics and roughly 54% of Americans are single, and of that 54% only 23% are active in a church. Over half of the adults in America are single and less than half of them are part of a local church?! This should break our hearts. Singles are longing for community and looking for purpose and the safest place to find that should be within the Church. But, too often singles feel like the Church doesn’t have space for them unless they’re in a relationship. Now, my guess is that within our network of churches we have hundreds, if not thousands of singles, making this conversation even more vital!
I have read books and articles on singleness and have had countless conversations with other singles and the common thread is a lack of care or acknowledgement from their church leaders. I’ve had numerous singles over the years reach out saying they don’t feel cared for, the sermon illustrations are hard to relate to, they feel alone, isolated, less than, and unwanted. Why? Because so much of our church cultures cater to families and families with children. For a lot of churches, our leadership teams are mostly married, our lay leaders are married, our city group leaders are married, our sermon illustrations are about marriage or parenting and the single people don’t see a place for them, so they leave.
Pastors, leaders, friends, we have to do better. We have to do a better job of seeing and caring for the single person in our church. They have a different perspective on life, they have different gifts and skillsets and freedoms than the married couples do, and they are equally valued by God. Shouldn’t we too value them?
So what now? Start by intentionally including singles. When hiring new staff, consider the single person who applied and don’t rush them to marriage. Ask the single girl or guy who regularly serves to lead the team, include them in your lay leaders, ask them to lead a city group. There are so many singles in our churches who are living whole-heartedly for God, and if you see them, recognize it! Call out greatness in them, give them visible leadership so other singles can see that their church does see and care about singles! Instead of always using marriage or parenting as sermon illustrations, change it up occasionally by using friendships, sibling relationships, and workplace examples that speak to every person, single or married. When you go out to lunch or have people over, invite the single person.
As leaders we are so intentional to seek out others in similar life stages as us, and there is nothing wrong with that, but we should also create space for the singles and invite them into those spaces. My hope is that our staff teams, city groups, and churches look different and better reflect Jesus because of our intentional inclusion of everyone, regardless of marital status.
by Brittany Kizer