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Keys to an Effective Single-Adult Ministry

Interview with Rich Hurst and Ken Baugh

Because of the rapid growth in the single-adult population, many churches and Christian organizations are focusing on this segment of society for ministry resource and evangelism. Two individuals who are involved in single-adult ministry are Rich Hurst, director of singles ministry resources with David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Ken Baugh, director of Frontline, a young adult ministry of McLean Bible Church, McLean, Virginia.

Enrichment Journal asked these two men to share their insights into single-adult ministry. They also provide practical advice on how the church can effectively minister to this growing segment of society.

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HOW DO YOU DEFINE SINGLE ADULTS AND WHAT ARE THEIR UNIQUE NEEDS?

As a whole, single adults between the ages of 20 and 50 are the most unreached group in America. —Hurst

HURST: There are basically four groups of single adults: the never married, the divorced, the separated, and the widowed. Yet there are vast differences in these four groups. Approximately 50 percent of unmarried single adults over the age of 20 have never been married; yet, ministry to single adults in the church has predominantly focused on the divorced. Churches need to look at all dimensions of single adults.

Single adults have unique needs. Singles under age 30 predominantly have intimacy and career needs. Their intimacy needs are primarily wrapped up in who they will marry. Over age 30, their needs are transitional needs. Some of them have gone through a relationship that has ended, and some of them are coming to terms with the fact they may never marry.

BAUGH: Single-adult ministry today is more than encapsulating four generations into one ministry. It is targeting specific generations of single adults. That helps us be more effective.

THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES OF POSTMODERN YOUNG ADULTS IMPACT HOW WE REACH THEM FOR CHRIST. EXPLAIN.

BAUGH: The church believes that postmodernism is an enemy because of its relativism of truth. However, postmodern adults have an intense need for relationships. Single-adult ministry today is moving back to a first-century church model where relationships were the primary factor. How that plays out in the day-to-day affects the way you teach single adults.

When you’re working with older boomers, your approach is a pragmatic, how-to model. When I started Frontline, that is what I did. Now I’m using a narrative and experiential approach. For example, some churches tack Communion onto the end of a service. But postmodern Christians want to experience Communion. So we have celebrated Communion by candlelight. We have instructed the people to go to different tables in the auditorium to take Communion individually. We have also shown clips of Jesus’ crucifixion from the film, Jesus of Nazareth. My message then focused on what Christ has done for us and how we can respond to Him. Communion does not simply become an interaction with propositional truth; it becomes an experience.

Relationships drive our generation, and that’s where the greatest damage has been done. It’s where the greatest healing needs to take place. —Baugh


HURST: This generation does not believe the Bible as the standard of truth. My generation looks at truth as a concept and explains how to live it out. For this generation truth is not a concept, truth is a person—Jesus Christ. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." So we teach people to say yes to a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, and then lead them into responding to the truth of God’s Word.

WHAT OTHER AREAS ARE DIFFERENT FOR POSTMODERN YOUNG PEOPLE?

BAUGH: Identifying yourself as a Christian today has a derogatory connotation. Instead of calling ourselves Christians, we call ourselves followers of Christ, because that’s what we are. Postmoderns don’t have a problem with Jesus; it’s His friends they don’t like. They have seen inconsistencies in the church over the last 20 years.

HURST: In many ways, singles over 30 were the pregroup of postmoderns. In the seventies, when the crisis of divorce happened, they saw their parents reject the standards for marriage. The thing that makes single adults over 30 interesting is they were the first tribe to come back to the church. They huddled together, busted their way into the church, and said look at who we are. We have needs. We’re not pretty, but here we are.

Unfortunately, even though the over-30 group is returning to church, it is not returning in droves. As a whole, single adults between the ages of 20 and 50 are the most unreached group in America.

DISCUSS THE NEEDS OF THE OVER-30 GROUP AND THE UNDER-30 GROUP? WHY DO THEY ATTEND CHURCH?

Many postmodern single adults want to be part of the body of Christ, but their transitional needs must be met first. —Hurst

HURST: Many postmodern single adults want to be part of the body of Christ, but their transitional needs must be met first. One transition need is being 40 years old and never married. At McLean Bible Church, a group of the over-30, never-married professionals said, "We are the most ignored group in this church." They felt a huge void. There’s a need to address the specific issues of divorce and remarriage, widowhood, and the single adults’ desire for community.

BAUGH: One of the chapters in our book discusses the sociological implications unique to GenXers (people up to their mid-30s). They experienced the divorce of their parents more than any other generation in history, and it has created in them a sense of abandonment and the need for family. They are looking for parental figures. We will see an explosion in the area of discipleship and mentoring because they’re hungry for that.

In the late sixties and early seventies, Paul Urlik, a biologist from Stanford, wrote The Population Bomb. Urlik believed overpopulation was public enemy number one and children were a threat to our national security because they were a drain on our natural resources and food supply. Some organizations during that time discriminated against children. The movies produced during those times—Children of the Corn, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Exorcist—were a result of this belief. Today this generation needs healing from the brokenness of abandonment.

Other key issues include the breakdown of the traditional family, the lack of a father in the home, and latchkey kids. Many of these adults project their lack of a father figure onto God. When you talk to them about God the Father, they wonder, If my earthly father abandoned me, will my Heavenly Father also abandon me?

WHAT IS NEEDED FOR A CHURCH TO HAVE AN EFFECTIVE SINGLES MINISTRY?

HURST: Every church, regardless of its size, is called to minister to single adults. To have an effective singles ministry, you need six things: (1) A program designed specifically for single adults that provides them a time when they can build relationships with each other. (2) Since everything rises and falls on leadership, good leadership is important. (3) A teacher who can lead single adults into the truths of God’s Word and help them apply them to their lives. (4) Activities that give single adults a chance to interact with each other. (5) Bonding experiences, through small groups or retreats. (6) A positive identity for singles in the church.

BAUGH: Vision and core values are important because when they are in place, you can help your single adults identify what part of a program they should be involved in, and help them see how that part of the program is helping to accomplish the overall vision of the ministry. It gives them motivation and empowers them. Keeping everything aligned with vision and your core values is key to effective ministry.

Small groups are important for the under-30 crowd because they provide a sense of family. We have same-sex small groups because people will open up in these types of groups. In small groups, lives are changed and spiritual growth takes place.

If the senior pastor and elders are not sold on reaching single adults, especially younger adults, "it ain’t gonna happen." When you start working with the postmodern crowd, you need leadership who trust each other. They must be totally sold out to Christ, not compromising the gospel, but have the freedom to be creative.

WHAT ARE SOME POPULAR PARADIGMS BEING USED IN SINGLE-ADULT MINISTRY?

HURST: Single-adult ministry can be done effectively with a hierarchical system, where the pastor is the keeper of the flock. Some feel we need to move away from that style of leadership.

A current paradigm is the relational model. This is a team approach where single adults decide what they want to produce out of the ministry, and they work as a team to accomplish this.

In developing single-adult leadership, spend time with your leaders. Are you doing program ministry or people ministry? When you have program ministry, you recruit volunteers; and when they burn out, you recruit more volunteers. People-oriented ministry involves recruiting people, spending time with them, and empowering them to do the ministry God called them to do.

BAUGH: Frontline uses a relational paradigm of ministry. Frontline is based on Luke 10:27, " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’" (NIV). Relation-ships drive our generation, and that’s where the greatest damage has been done. It’s where the greatest healing needs to take place.

If a church in the 21st century is going to grow, it will grow through ministry to single adults. —Baugh

We focus on four major areas of relationship. First, we focus on growing in our relationship with God. Second, we have relationships with one another. There are over 50 "one another" commands in the New Testament—love one another, encourage one another, support one another. We need a context where we can live out and be obedient to those commands. This happens in our small groups.

Third is our relationship with ourselves (spiritual maturity, emotional maturity, identifying our calling, receiving emotional and spiritual healing). We have been broken by sin and need to be healed. That’s part of the sanctification process—it’s holistic in the sense that God is putting us back together. We won’t be fully mature in this life, but there should be genuine progress in maturity.

Fourth is our relationship with the world (outreach). This includes global missions, but it must begin in our communities. We do service projects in our community. We have also sent 10 teams throughout the world during the last 2 years, and our goal in the next 5 years is to send all 1,300 Frontline members on short-term missions trips.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO DO SINGLE-ADULT MINISTRY IN THE SMALLER CHURCH?

HURST: In a smaller church, you begin with only one singles group. The younger singles need to take the lead. If the 50-plus-year-old singles are the leaders, the 20-year-olds will not come. Try to get the 20-year-olds to reach out to the 40- and 50-year-olds. Get them to do some things socially, and then give them opportunities to do things separately—a Sunday school class is a good way to start. Even in a church of 100 or 200, you may have 25 or 30 single adults; and at some point, you can have two classes of 15 each, one for the under 35 and one for the over 35.

HOW DOES NETWORKING BENEFIT THE SMALLER CHURCH?

BAUGH: A volunteer in Frontline moved to North Carolina about a year ago. He started a metro—a mid-week meeting for single adults. Several smaller churches there wanted to help. Now they are working together to reach unchurched people in their community. Networking is important. Churches that network can share ideas and resources.

HURST: Denominations can be a resource for their local churches. The denominational headquarters could network local churches, especially smaller churches with single-adult ministry. In a smaller church it’s easier to get to know each other and you don’t have some of the barriers you might have in a large church. There are benefits to being in a small church, and there are lots of smaller Assemblies of God churches around the country that can benefit from networking.

SEXUALITY IS A MAJOR ISSUE IN SINGLE-ADULT MINISTRY. HOW ARE YOU ADDRESSING THIS IN YOUR MINISTRY?

If a church is serious about growth, it needs to be serious about single-adult ministry. —Baugh

BAUGH: Sexual intimacy indicates that there is something deeper. A person is looking for a relationship—not just satisfying a drive or desire. We need to help young adults connect in healthy ways and let them know who they are in Christ without rejecting, condemning, or ridiculing them. We cannot condone sin, but we need to love and affirm one another. That does something to the heart.

I’m not saying that once we do affirm them, every single adult will stop having premarital sex. But the root issues are key. We must do more. We must tell them that premarital sex is sin, stop doing it. However, we will not motivate all singles to stop by simply shaming them. We must also help them understand and change their belief system. Help them understand why they are looking for sex. Let them know it’s a counterfeit, and it will not fill the void. Give them something to fill that void—a new relationship with Christ and healthy relationships with others.

HURST: The church has traditionally addressed sexuality on a behavioral level. We’ve said, "This is what your sexual behavior should be; and if it’s not that, there are serious consequences." But we’ve missed an important point. We need to look at behaviors in terms of levels—the top level is our belief system, the next level is our thought processes about our belief system, the third level is our behavior about our belief system, and the fourth level is the consequences.

We must begin with a person’s belief system. If a belief system teaches that God has a great plan for your life and part of that plan includes life-giving relationships, then single adults will see how their thought processes, behavior, and consequences should be in line with their belief system. The issue is not behavior; it is what single adults believe.

Helping singles learn healthy premarital relationships means there will be more sexual abstinence. If we create an environment where singles can be honest about their struggles—both with their successes and failures—and not be criticized for their honesty, then it will be easier for them to be open because they won’t be crucified. James wrote about confessing your sins and restoring your brothers. The church seems to view premarital sex as the unpardonable sin. If the ultimate goal is restoration, then we need to create an environment where people can talk about their struggles.

MENTION A FEW RESOURCES FOR SINGLE-ADULT MINISTRY.

HURST: We have the SAM Journal that comes out six times a year. Every year we provide statistics and research regarding singles in the State of the Singles Report. (To subscribe to SAM Journal, call 1-800-487-4726.)

A couple of other resources, especially for smaller churches wanting to start a single-adult ministry, are Starting Single Adult Ministry and Giving the Ministry Away, a how-to leadership book. Ken and I are involved in a SAM convention. Once a year a thousand single-adult leaders from all over the world gather to talk about single-adult ministry.

The National GenX Postmodern for Younger Single Adult Ministry Convention takes place each year in February. Our seminars include consultations on how to do single-adult ministry. You can get information about these national events by calling 1-800-708-5550, extension 3438.

The book, Calling, published by Dreamtime, helps single-adult leaders think through the philosophical ideas of leadership and how to involve people in ministry. It has been foundational not only in my ministry and our church but in a number of the GenX ministries across the country. The number for that book is 888-60DREAM.

BAUGH: Rich and I wrote the book, Getting Real: An Interactive Guide to Relational Ministry, formerly titled Young Adult Ministry: The Next Generation, published by Navpress. It looks at postmodern generations. It includes Generation X, and what we call the "Net-Gen," (sometimes defined as the Y-Gen), and the Millennial Generation. The book establishes one of the most effective paradigms for ministry in our postmodern context. It is unique to any other book on single-adult ministry. I do consultation and seminars. My organization is called Frontline Ministry Resources. The phone number is 703-421-8108; web site: www.frontline.to.

A FINAL CHALLENGE, PLEASE.

Every major awakening or revival in history has been initiated in some way by young adults. —Hurst

 


BAUGH: If a church in the 21st century is going to grow, it will grow through ministry to single adults. When we see a 35-percent decline in attendance in churches, we want to know why. Yet 40 percent of today’s population is single adults. It is easy to figure out where we’re losing people. If a church is serious about growth, it needs to be serious about single-adult ministry.

HURST: Every major awakening or revival in history has been initiated in some way by young adults. That’s the hope of our country. We are praying for a revival and awakening, and young adults will be at the forefront. We can’t afford to lose a generation. We have to reach this generation for Christ—it’s not an option. God will use them to take us into this millennium and to set the tone for the next thousand years of the church.

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