Basics and Beyond: Starting a Single Adult Ministry
By Linda G. Hardin
People often question the need for single adult ministries. Considered by some as a fad of the 1970s and 1980s, many churches are overlooking the single adult population. Admittedly, there will be a larger number of single adults in metropolitan areas; single adults, however, can be found in all locations.
Single adults comprise over 40 percent of the adult population 18 years of age and older. They also account for more than 50 percent of the unchurched population. This group includes those who are divorced, never married, and widowed. A growing group of single parents are those who have never married. An increasing number of fathers are becoming the primary caregiver as more and more fathers gain custody of their children. Churches must recognize their needs and respond to the opportunities for ministry.
Divorce affects families within the church and community. Death often comes without time for the surviving spouse to prepare. In crises, the church must be ready to minister. Many churches are willing to minister to those in need, but may feel inadequate. Churches need to remember that the need for compassion, support, love, and listening are always there. These needs continue weeks and months after the original crisis.
Kay Collier-Slone in Single in the Church stated there is a great need for the church to recognize:
- singleness is not a victim state.
- singleness is not necessarily a temporary state.
- singleness is not a lesser state.
- singleness it not a threatening state.
- singleness is a growing state.
- singleness is not going away.
- single adults go wherever they find a religious body that recognizes their needs — even if they have to go outside their own denomination.1
Collier-Slone wrote this in the 1990s, yet the message applies even more today. Remember, single adults account for over 50 percent of the unchurched population. Since most pastors are married, being single is not part of their present experience. They may not readily understand the needs of single adults. But cultivating friendships with single adults will help pastors better understand life from a single’s perspective.
The philosophy of single adult ministry centers on the belief that single adults are important to God and vital to His kingdom. Singleness is a viable lifestyle and God provides grace for living life as a Christian single adult.
The mission of single adult ministries is to encourage Christian single adults, to prepare them to share the gospel, and to introduce others to Jesus Christ. The purpose of single adult ministries is to:
- minister to the needs of single adults through divorce recovery, grief recovery, and single-parent family ministries.
- equip single adults with skills for living productive lives.
- assist single adults during crises.
- encourage ministry to others through involvement in the local congregation, service projects to the community, and missions trips.
- integrate single adults into the church program by using their gifts, talents, and abilities.
What Is Single Adult Ministries?
We asked this question to several single adult ministries’ leaders. Here are their responses:
- The nature of single adult ministries is multifaceted.
- The range of individuals under the umbrella of single adult ministries includes all adults. This creates many challenges.
- Single adults include those who are divorced, never married, and widowed — adding another dimension to the ministry.
Single adult ministry is ministry to adults without a spouse. The operative word in single adult ministries is adult. This includes any single adult over 18. Age is not a defining factor; however, interests, needs, and concerns lead people to SAM.
Age span adds another challenge. In churches of less than 100, age span may mean single adults will pick and choose gatherings that appeal to them. In churches of 100–250, it may be possible to develop ministries that are more age or ministry related. As the church size increases, SAM can become more targeted either by age, need, and interest.
Effective single adult ministries needs to include a variety of ministries such as divorce recovery, grief recovery, single-parent family ministries, and remarriage preparation, to name a few. Stepfamilies are an emerging area of ministry as these families seek to form a healthy family unit that does not fit the traditional family model. (See “Ministering to the Blended Families in Your Church,” page ____.)
Insights Into Single Adult Ministries
Single adult ministry leaders, magazine articles, and books offer information on the way people in the church view single adults.
- Single adults are the church. The growth rate for the single adult population continues. A church on the growing edge includes single adults in its ministry.
- Single adults may threaten some people in the church. Those who are divorced and widowed often feel this most keenly. Some find their friends and acquaintances do not know how to treat them when they no longer are part of a couple. Never-married people often feel they are not treated as peers.
- SAM is more than a program for single adults. SAM is an outreach arm of the church. Divorce and grief recovery programs often bring community members in crises to the church. As the church meets people’s needs though expressing love, compassion, and acceptance, many of these people will start attending church. This often leads to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and involvement in other ministries.
- One umbrella program will not work for all SAM. Each congregation brings its unique group of single adults. The age range often determines the direction of the program. When implementing ideas and programs from other single adult ministries, be sure to adapt them to your congregation’s needs.
- Transition is a fact of life in SAM. Divorce and death create transitions. Additionally, businesses find that moving single people is cheaper and often less disruptive than moving families. Some transitions come naturally to all adults — aging, job changes, empty nest, or financial changes.
- SAM can be a renewing force within your congregation. Many people find single adults open to learning about God, perhaps reflecting their disappointments with other means of meeting their needs. Some ministers find single adults receptive to God’s message and allow Him to work.
Beginning a Single Adult Ministry in Your Congregation
First, your support as senior pastor and that of other church leaders is essential. You will need to encourage SAM leaders during the early stages of the ministry’s development. Your influence is invaluable with others in your congregation in getting them to support the ministry with time and finances. You can give insights into challenges SAM leaders may encounter as well as provide information to address these challenges.
Second, plan. One or more individuals in your congregation may feel a call or passion for single adult ministry. If so, they may want to implement a model that worked in another congregation. Like the movie, Field of Dreams, they may believe if they offer the ministry, single adults will attend. Reality and experience paint a different picture. Help them by identifying the single adults in your congregation, determining their needs, and developing strategies to engage them.
Some SAM leaders suggest it takes 3 to 6 months of planning to launch a ministry. During this time, recruit leaders, determine the initial components of the ministry, identify meeting places, and begin promoting this ministry to your intended audience. The timeline is influenced by the size of your church. Smaller churches may be able to initiate a ministry with 3 months’ planning, while churches with attendance of more than 500 may require a year or more for planning.
Three stages of Single Adult Ministries
The first stage is informal. In this stage there is little or no organization. Gatherings simply happen as single adults find themselves together. This stage may begin with one person or a small group as you attempt to identify and name single adults in the congregation.
In the informal stage, as you identify single adults in your church, make sure the congregation understands single adults include the divorced and widowed as well as the never married. Ask congregation members to provide names of single adults who do not attend church. Check the class rolls of the children’s and teens’ departments for single parents.
The second stage is occasional. Some organization will develop as singles plan a calendar that includes regular events such as lunch on specific Sundays of each month, attending church functions as a group, or gathering for a Bible study. During this stage, a leadership group begins to form and they develop core meetings.
As the ministry moves to the occasional stage, plan an organizational meeting. Complete some background work first. Depending on the size of your church, you may wish to invite a select group to serve as a committee. Include persons to represent the divorced, never married, widowed, and single parents. Whenever possible, select people who meet more than one criterion, and various age groups.
The final stage is structured. During this stage, establish a council or committee to develop and implement an organized SAM.
At the beginning of the structured stage, continue meeting with the committee you established during the occasional stage. Conduct a formal survey of the single adults in the congregation. Tally the results of the survey and provide a copy for each committee member to review and discuss. Appoint a secretary to record ideas. Help your committee feel comfortable brainstorming. Accept all ideas, then choose the ones most adaptable to your needs. Select people to help start each ministry. You may be more successful if you ask them to commit for a specific amount of time, such as 3 or 6 months.
Plan the first meeting. Make it appealing. You might show a DVD, have a speaker, or host a dinner. Include a get-acquainted activity and allow time for socializing. Enlist a welcoming committee.
Within a few days after the initial meeting, meet with the committee or council to evaluate the program. Determine what worked and what needs improving. When a program does not work, use it as a learning experience and move on.
While it is necessary to address the unique needs and concerns of single adults, they must also be involved in the total church program. Examine your church’s programming. Make sure single adults are included in all aspects. Education is part of SAM’s role. Remember, education may include informing single adults regarding the purpose of some programs and ministries, as well as educating church and ministry leaders about single adult concerns.
Form a Single Adult Ministries Council or Leadership Team
Depending on the size of the single adult group, you may want to establish a single adult council. Experts recommend you select members in this group with definite reasons for including each person. If the meeting is open to anyone, be sure you personally invite those you want involved.
Specify time involvement (two or three meetings of 90 minutes each) and purpose (to dream and formulate the basis for your SAM). The purpose of this council is to provide single adult leadership, assist in planning and administration, involve representatives of various single adult groups, and give ownership to the ministry. Also determine the method of selection and length of office for single adult leaders (1 year, 2 years, and number of consecutive terms).
This council is responsible for preparing, promoting, and administrating SAM programs. Members may chair various committees or be responsible for a committee’s work. The more ownership they feel for the ministry, the more effective it will be. Give the council authority to make the dreams become reality. A single adult ministry is ministry with single adults — not for or to them.
Components of Single Adult Ministries
1. Build a community. The foundation of an effective SAM starts by building relationships with the single adults in your congregation. You and other church leaders need to know their perceived needs, interests, and concerns. You also need to understand the challenges single adults face and how they differ from the lifestyle challenges of married adults.
Social events are an excellent means of building community. These typically nonthreatening events provide opportunity to include single adults who are not fully integrated into the life of the church. An atmosphere that includes food, games, and music allows participants to talk, laugh, and start forming friendships.
When you plan social events, include a spiritual element that turns the focus of the attendees from themselves to Jesus Christ. This could be a testimony of a new Christian, a short devotional, or praise and worship music. While one purpose of SAM is outreach, recognize that the primary goal is moving people toward a growing, personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Use small-group techniques to develop greater social depth and personal involvement. One single adult hosts a weekly group to discuss a magazine or newspaper article. This type of gathering is nonthreatening to those who are not Christians and provides a place to bring non-Christian friends and coworkers. The leader should be prepared to connect the significance of the article to the cause of Jesus Christ.
Other small groups can be topic specific such as single parenting, divorce recovery, grief recovery, and sharing life skills as single adults. These groups require a leader who has a good grasp of the information and additional resources.
2. Assure single adults they are not alone. Knowing others are experiencing the same struggle validates it as normal, develops support, and brings comfort.
3. Facilitate spiritual growth. The most distinctive element of SAM is encouraging spiritual growth. This includes help for established Christians, new Christians, and pre-Christians. Adults desire support as they apply biblical principles and sermons to everyday life. This component helps single adults answer the basic questions of existence, purpose, and participation.
Because many single adults live alone, prayer becomes an integral and essential part of their spiritual journey. Some Christian single adults share how talking to God becomes conversational as they talk about issues, concerns, and decisions. Other single adults need to understand better what prayer is and how they might have an effective devotional life. Having all participants use the same devotional book helps establish accountability.
4. Encourage involvement. Because single adults make all the decisions affecting their lives, it is easy for them to become self-absorbed. Some will need encouragement to expand their focus. Identifying, developing, and utilizing spiritual gifts will help accomplish this goal.
In many churches, single adults are involved in music ministry, teaching Sunday School classes, working in the children’s and teens’ departments, and helping with SAM. Increase the congregation’s awareness of the crucial roles single adults play in the life of the church.
Another means of involvement are short-term missions trips. While missions trips to another country are appealing, remember there are significant opportunities in your community, state, or country. If you live in a metropolitan area, a small congregation can benefit from a weekend missions team. And do not overlook organizations within the community such as Habitat for Humanity.
Starting a SAM in a congregation offers growth and outreach potential. It provides another opportunity as you extend God’s love, grace, and mercy to people who often feel marginalized and disenfranchised. Remember, we are all following a single adult, Jesus Christ.
Linda G. Hardin, D.Min., general coordinator, Single Adult and Young Adult Ministries, The International Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City, Missouri
1. Kay Collier-Slone, Single in the Church, (New York: The Alban Institute, 1992), 88,89.