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Single Adults-A Population Group Too Large To Ignore

By Dennis Franck

According to David Reddout, senior pastor, First Assembly of God, Leesville, Louisiana, "Every group in the church has unique needs and gifts...children, youth, men, women, and marrieds. But we have put emphasis on these groups and have inadvertently forgotten the singles and have led them to believe we don’t expect them to be involved in ministry. But the purpose of ministry to singles is to help them see they are the church and to help them come to a place of ministry."

The U.S. church must be aware of and involved with the needs and issues of single and single-again persons. They represent an ever-increasing segment of society. Now is the time for the church to be bold and creative in reaching out to an increasingly "nonfamily community."

I define single adults as unmarried adults, 18 years of age or older, who happen to be single by chance, change, or choice (whether theirs or someone else’s). They fall into one or more of the following categories:

Five perspectives should form the church’s basis for ministry to single adults.

Five Perspectives of Single-Adult Ministry

(See also: Meeting the Unique Needs of Single Senior Adults)

The Educational Need

Both single and married adults grow and mature in many areas. Singles, however, have unique challenges. Some of these include: identity as a single adult, dating, sexuality, finances, career direction, relating to parents, forgiveness (self and former spouse), grief recovery, loneliness, single parenting, marriage preparation, divorce recovery, and dealing with change. Unless a church has an ongoing ministry to singles, these topics are not usually addressed from a single-adult perspective. A singles ministry is an ideal setting for these topics to be discussed. Smaller churches without many single adults can network with other churches to offer workshops and classes that address these and other specific topics.

The Emotional Need

Some people ask, "Why do we need a specific class or group for single adults? Can’t they be a part of our church’s married adult classes?" Most single adults feel like a fifth wheel in a class composed mainly of married adults. This leaves a single person feeling left out, misunderstood, and in some cases lonely. A church that is intentional about singles ministry will design its classes so they relate to issues important to singles.

Pastors and church leaders do not intentionally leave singles out of their planning. For many, however, it’s simply a lack of understanding and/or experience with the single or single-again person. Experience is gained quickly when a pastor or church leader’s family member goes through a divorce. When issues surrounding singleness hit close to home, our attention is not far away.

The Numerical Need

(See also: Which are the largest Single-Adult Groups?, U.S. Household Trends 1970 to 2010))

Author and speaker Carolyn Koons said, "The church needs to expand its term ‘family,’ moving from a traditional family definition to one that includes singles, widows, single-parent families, extended families, expanded families, stepfamilies, and blended families. We must become the family we are—the family of God."1 Statistics on single adults in America are growing rapidly and affecting lifestyles and family types. (See sidebar: "Which Are the Largest Single Adult Groups?") These statistics show the vast number of single adults in today’s society.

A ministry to single adults provides an atmosphere of acceptance and openness where people can discover others with the same experiences, hopes, and hurts and establish relationships that are nurtured in a Christian context.

The Washington Post reported that Americans are less likely to marry than ever before. A Rutgers University National Marriage Project report found that the nation’s "marriage rate has dipped by 43 percent in the past four decades. Americans still cherish the ideal of marriage but are pessimistic about finding a lasting marriage partner and are more accepting of alternatives to marriage, including living together and single parenting with a partner outside of marriage."2

While marriage’s front door has been closing slowly, its back door has been widening fast. Thirty years ago, 35 in 1,000 Americans were divorced. In 1993, the figure was 148 in 1,000—four times its previous size."3 Recent statistics from the Barna Research Group indicate that in 1999, 240 in 1,000 have been divorced. Even more alarming is the fact the chance of divorce increases with the number of marriages a person has.4 Consider the following statistics:

Now is the time for the church to be bold and creative in reaching out to an increasingly "nonfamily community."

The church must maintain a high standard concerning divorce. God hates divorce because of the brokenness that comes to a family. Many singles ministries address this need by providing divorce recovery workshops to help a person sort through the confusion that results from a divorce and begin the healing process.

We need to have an equally high standard on marriage, though. We would not think twice about allowing a circus into our sanctuary. However, many weddings take place in our churches that are like a circus to God because some couples are not ready for the responsibilities of marriage.

The Relational Need

One of the biggest desires of a single adult of any age is to have quality friendships with others. A ministry to single adults provides an atmosphere of acceptance and openness where people can discover others with the same experiences, hopes, and hurts and establish relationships that are nurtured in a Christian context. Many have come from the bar scene, tired of the "give-me," selfish attitudes they have experienced and open to the grace and love of God through others.

Lisa Stevko from Castro Valley, California, says, "I don’t feel like I’m just ‘waiting to be married’ anymore. The singles ministry has provided me with a circle of friends. I have others I can talk to who are being stretched by God in the same ways I am."

Greg Davis, Castro Valley, California, states, "Because of common experiences, there is a greater understanding of the struggles, as well as help and encouragement. People without common experiences may sympathize (feel for you), but cannot empathize (feel with you), because they do not have similar experiences (2 Corinthians 1:4). Because of this commonality, there is a dynamic that fosters spiritual, emotional, and relational growth."

The Spiritual Need

Single and married adults have the same basic spiritual needs. However, because of feeling uncomfortable in many of the church’s family-oriented programs, some single adults do not stay long enough for these needs to be met. Also, because of not having a spouse to provide encouragement and spiritual support, Christian singles may become undisciplined in their spiritual lives. A specialized ministry provides a place where singles can identify with others; and in this atmosphere, spiritual needs such as self-esteem and commitment to God can be nurtured.

Cathy Roth from Hayward, California, comments, "Just getting the opportunity to observe and get to know other single Christians has at times challenged and humbled me spiritually. It has helped me to value others for the gifts God has given them, and it has increased my tolerance and patience."

Helen Marispini from Livermore, California, writes, "Being a part of the singles ministry has given me a place where I can come and find friendship, encouragement, and support. My friends hold me accountable to my commitment to the Lord as we share in each others’ lives."

Developing Single-Adult Ministry

Single adults cover a wide age range. It would be unwise for a church to try to minister to singles of all ages in one group. Different age groupings represent different interests, needs, and physical abilities. Each age group may have several types of single adults. The basic age groups to consider are:

Other interest/need groups include:

Large churches can reach single adults in several of the groups listed above, but may need to develop the various ministries over a period of time. A small church, and even some mid-sized churches, will have difficulty effectively reaching all ages of single adults due to a lack of staff, resources, or enough singles in each age category.

Because of the transient nature of singles, single-adult groups need a continuous flow of new people coming into the group. Small churches can design an ongoing ministry to single adults as an outreach, possibly as an off-campus ministry. This will attract people whose church does not have a singles ministry, some who do not go to church, and it can also provide enough single adults to sustain an ongoing group.

We would not think twice about allowing a circus into our sanctuary. However, many weddings take place in our churches that are like a circus to God because some couples are not ready for the responsibilities of marriage.

Churches that do not choose to have a single-adult ministry still need to understand the issues singles face and have open, accepting, and informed attitudes towards them. Helping a single-parent mom with occasional home or car repairs, free childcare, or financial help to attend a church event shows Christ’s love in practical ways.

Senior pastors can also encourage single adults from their congregation to attend another church’s singles ministry for fellowship, but return to their home church for Sunday worship.

Single and single-again people are here to stay. America has become a nation of many family types. If the church is to be effective in reaching, nurturing, discipling, and training adults, the single adult warrants our best efforts of time, prayer, and resources. The singles population is too large to ignore, and the abilities and talents of single adults are too valuable to waste.

A church of any size can minister to single adults, whether through an established group or individually. Most churches could establish a group to reach at least one age segment of singles. Through prayerful consideration, and church and community demographic surveys, single adults can become a force in your church. More individuals in your church would be emulating the greatest single adult—Jesus.


Dennis Franck is associate pastor, Valley Christian Center, Dublin, California.

ENDNOTES

1. Carolyn Koons, "Today’s Single Adult Phenomenon: the Realities and Myths," in Baker Handbook of Single Adult Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 18.

2. Michael Fletcher, "For Better or Worse, Marriage Hits a New Low," The Washington Post, 2 July 1999, sec. A, p. 1.

3. George Barna, Unmarried America, Barna Research Group, Ltd., Glendale, Calif., (1993): 22.

4. Marriage and Divorce Today, (1988): 1 (out of print).

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