In the American evangelical church, a lot of our efforts are focused on families. We offer parenting seminars, we hold marriage banquets, we honor fathers and mothers on their appropriate made-up and non-liturgical holidays, we have youth groups and children’s activities. Much of our language regarding events is pointed toward families (each family bring a dish…or the price is $10 a family…etc.). We gauge the growth of a church by how many babies are in a nursery (which seems borderline cultish when you want to grow from within like that).
As someone who grew up in the church, I loved most of these things. But when I graduated from college and realized that I was going to be working in a church as a single person, these things began to stand out more and more. Let me make one thing clear: I love families and I love seeing families grow toward Christ together. This is by no means a post saying that we should forget about families.
This is a post saying that we need to remember a group we have forgotten: the singles.
When I say singles, you probably immediately think of people somewhere in the age range of 18-35 who are putting off getting married until they establish themselves. But I am not just talking about these people. I am also talking about the widows and widowers who became single due to tragic events. Or to the newly divorced person who is navigating what it means to be single again. This is also about those who took a vow of celibacy because it was something they wanted to do.
Look around, church. There are singles everywhere. And they desperately want to be a part of a family but they don’t know how or where they fit in.
Do they fit in to the numerous sermon series dedicated to marriages? Because the only time we hear singles being mentioned in those series is usually in reference to remaining sexually pure and to stop looking at pornography (because all singles are sexual deviants who continuously look at porn and/or have sex).
Do they fit into the countless married small groups? It’s not that we want to be in a “singles” small group…we really do want to be around married people because they are just people…but many times we hear that we aren’t allowed because we aren’t married.
Do they fit into the illustrations about frustrations with a spouse or with children? As a youth pastor, every time I go to a conference, other youth pastors who speak talk about their kids or their spouses…and I realize that the key to a successful youth ministry is really a family.
Do they feel at home in your church or do they feel the pressure to get married or remarried? You might say that you have singles in your church but how often are they asked about who they’re dating, when they plan on getting married, etc.
Recently, I read a book from Deb Hirsch called Redeeming Sex. Very rarely do I read a book that speaks to the soul as much as this book did. I found it saying everything I have felt and wanted to say for so long. And it was refreshing to know that I was not alone in my feelings for how singles are treated in the church.
As a single, I feel alone quite a bit. This isn’t to evoke feelings of sympathy for me (if you know me, you know that I would just laugh at those feelings). Surprisingly enough, I feel more alone at church than I do when I’m at my apartment.
At church, sometimes I feel more on the outside as families plan outings together and dinners (hey, I get it, if you take a 5th wheel to a theme park, rides get confusing).
At church, I hear sermons about marriage and I hear pastors say, “now if you’re single, this might not apply to you now…but it will someday.” Really? You know that for sure? You know, without a doubt, that this will apply to me?
At church, people ask about my dating life. Luckily, I have not had to endure many of the people who say, “oh…well if you’re still single, I have the perfect girl for you!”
At church, I see marriages celebrated all the time in a variety of ways. I immediately think of those whose marriages ended poorly. Or those who lost a spouse. Or those who took vows of celibacy. What does it mean to them when they see this?
It makes me feel alone because it reminds me that I don’t quite fit the mold for who should be attending an American evangelical church. Because I’m perfectly content with remaining single until I’m 35 or even older. I don’t have an end in sight. That’s okay with me. But it’s not okay for a lot of people. They think I won’t be happy until I find the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I am perfectly happy, as is.
As a single guy, I do not…
order takeout or pizza every night
have a crazy messy bachelor pad
get super depressed because I come home to an empty apartment
abandon my responsibilities (just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want…I have other responsibilities)
pile on extra work because I don’t have a family to worry about
go to clubs or bars picking up women
or have a computer that’s filled with images of porn.
My typical day includes: cooking, cleaning, reading, watching some tv, hanging out with friends, talking with friends, and maybe going out to do something fun. It’s not that bizarre. And it’s not unfulfilling.
So please, church, let us stop making singles feel like outcasts. It’s not that we get upset when: you include a sermon about us in your series over marriage, or when you include us when you celebrate moms and dads, or when you graciously open up events for us by saying something like “it’s not just for families…but for everyone (thanks for that),” or when you remind us that one day we will have a family, or even when you tell us we can come to your small group but we should really try to find a small group that we can really identify with.
We don’t get upset by those things…we just feel like we don’t belong. And we desperately want to belong. We don’t hate marriages and we don’t hate families. We don’t want the church to stop celebrating these things at all. But we do wish that the church would start celebrating us.
I love how Hirsch reminds us that Jesus redefined family. He really did. Everyone was His mother, brother, father, sister, etc. We all want that. We all want to be a part of that family. But we don’t have to already have a family to be a part of that family.