7 Things Singles Can Do To Build Bridges With The Church

This is the third and final installment in this blog series, as we think about singleness and the church. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and interaction. I welcome your comments this week too (scroll down to the very bottom).

You can see the previous two posts at:
Why Churches Need to Pay Attention to Singles
8 Things Churches Can Do To Include Singles

This week, 7 Things Singles Can Do:

1. Don’t shy away from couples and families – As has been stated in the previous posts, we need one another. Seek out opportunities to spend time with those in demographics and generations different from yours. Take courage and ask a family if you could join them for one of their family supper times (tell them you don’t care if it is chaotic). Take courage and invite a couple in for dinner or games or a movie. Go and visit some seniors. Find a spot to volunteer at the church. Take courage and join the church class or small group where there is a mix of demographics. Be consistent – it takes time to become a familiar face and build connections. Showing up once in a while won’t do it! We need each other in the church family.

2. Diligently seek and tend to community for yourself – Because of everything mentioned in the blog two weeks ago it can be difficult for singles to find community in church. Take courage and seek it out. God made everyone for community. You need friends, inside and outside the church. This is similar to the suggestion above, but here I want to encourage you beyond just the friendliness of meeting people from a variety of demographics and move towards finding those that can be deeper community. So, with those you’ve started to be friendly with at church, start testing the waters of who can become deeper friends – find those in a small group, or over coffee, you can start safely opening your heart with and them with you. Seek to understand their reality, story, struggles and joys and trust that in time they will ask you about yours. Remember, as you look for these deeper friends, they could be waiting in a completely different demographic and context than you. Some of my dearest friends are double my age, married with kids, and across the continent – but they are my dearest, most trusted community. Instead of waiting for community to happen, where can you make it happen? – start your own group, get some folks together, start something new for adults at the church etc. I’ve seen people start great books clubs, lifegroups, movie groups, learn to run groups, walking groups, mentoring relationships… If you can’t find it, where can you create community and become part of the solution?

3. Enjoy the advantages of singleness – Recognize, that whether it is for a season or a lifetime, your singleness comes with some great opportunities. Celebrate and enjoy those opportunities. Seek and honour God for all the ways He wants to use your singleness as a gift to the world without it being complicated by couple-hood. I know I would not have been able to serve or have the ministry I have had without the freedom of singleness. Focus on others in your neighbourhood and world. Take your pick – there is church volunteering, community volunteering, classes, sports, home reno projects, community building, book clubs, learning… Invest in others families, invest in friendships, investing in other peoples’ children… Don’t overdo it and burn yourself out, but recognize the gifts your singleness can bring and choose your “yeses” wisely.

4. Make a plan for the tough seasons – Make a plan for the times when you know loneliness tends to creep in, and you recognize more keenly why God says “It is not good to be alone”. I know in our world admitting to loneliness feels like you are putting a great big “L” on the middle of your forehead, but remember God created us with this need. God knows you need community. We can walk through these times, and others can help us. Just as a married person can experience times of difficulty and needs support in walking through trying times, singles need support at times too. This is not a single thing it is a being human thing. I know many singles have said holidays can be a time when they feel loneliness especially creeping in as others focus on their couple-hood and families, so make a plan ahead of time. Who do you want to spend time with, who do you not want to spend time with, where will you go, when will you enjoy alone time, when will you be looking for people time…? I’ve starting being vulnerable with a few people closest to me in the church family, and I tell them when I’m especially feeling forgotten in a world of couples and families and see if we can plan a lunch, if I can visit their family or if they’ll pray. Yup, it is scary being vulnerable in an area that can be so misunderstood and could invoke more judgment/assumptions/advice, but I trust I’m reaching out for the community God wants me to have. I am inviting them to be family to me and me to them, the family God designed us to be in the church. The truth is loneliness is a created need from God. God put it in all of us as a reminder that He made us for community. Furthermore I trust my vulnerability in this area helps others be more vulnerable in areas of their life where they experience struggle and need support. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

5. Set an example of healthy, godly singleness – Unfortunately most peoples’ view of singleness is formed more by the “Sex in the City” variety than the “Paul in the Bible” variety. So, let your life show what healthy, godly singleness can look like by pursuing Christ. Especially for the young men & women, widows, other singles, couples, and families, looking to you as a role model in your church family, set an example of what it looks like to honour Christ as a single. This does not mean you have to pretend you are completely happy being single, if you are not and desire God to bring a relationship into your life. BUT, completely happy or not, how you conduct yourself in that reality does matter and shows others how to conduct themselves if life is turning out different than they planned too. Be an example of living God’s way in your friendships with both genders, in dating, in speech, in break-ups, in internet dating, on social media, in working with both genders, in how you spend your time, in your service etc. Yes, this also includes our sexual standards. In our over sexualized culture don’t buy the lie that you need to lower your sexual standards. God can give you healing, forgiveness, wisdom and strength for what you need here. As it says in Romans 12 in the message “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God…Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” God really does have the best in mind for you. Thank you singles for showing the world what it looks like to pursue Christ fully as a single. I am looking up to you too!

6. Honour marriages and families – Recognize, while it’s not your situation, marriage and families are hugely important. It is extremely important to honour other peoples’ marriages and families, by being a person of integrity, making sure to include a person’s spouse or family when appropriate, and turning spouses and families towards one another. This last piece of advice is especially true for when someone comes to you to complain about their spouse – listen well and without judgment, but always encourage spouses back towards each other and finding a way forward together. (Of course, this is unless it is an abusive situation.)

If you are single and in ministry leadership, don’t shy away from addressing issues surrounding marriage and families in your ministries. These are important dynamics and demographics! Singles don’t have to pretend you have the marriage experience yourself, but you need to speak to these things by listening carefully to those in these situations, learning, doing research, sharing from other experts and again, above all, listening. In terms of marriage and family, take the attitude of a learner and listen well to your married friends. Just as we shared last week – make sure your illustrations/examples in teaching cover a variety of demographics, including marrieds, singles, various ages, and various walks of life. As well as encouraging singles, make sure you are helping, equipping and encouraging marrieds and those with kids in the challenging tasks of living out their faith 24/7 in their reality.

7. Do not sell your singleness short – Recognize that you walk in the path of many Christian greats throughout history that were single: John Stott, Mother Teresa, John the Baptist, Paul, and of course, Jesus Himself. Any shame you feel about being single is NOT from Christ. Singles have a lot to show the church, and the world, about what it means to be the family of Christ, and trust in Christ as our hope and resurrection.

Rodney Clapp, (in Families at the Crossroads: Beyond Transition & Modern Options) says it well “Without children, the Israelite fears the single’s name will burn out, sift to ashes and be scattered and forgotten in the winds of time. But Paul has seen the arrival of a new hope. Jesus has risen from the land of death and forgetfulness, and so someday shall all who have died. And Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom, a kingdom most fundamentally known and seen not among brothers and sisters in kin, but among brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus Hauerwas says of singles, ‘There can be no more radical act than [singleness], as it is the clearest institutional expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family, but by the church. The church, the harbinger (forerunner) of the Kingdom of God is now the source of our primary loyalty.’”

  • Any other advice you’d add for singles in churches?

-Renée @r_embree

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8 Things Churches Can Do To Include Singles

Last week I wrote a blog sharing four reasons churches should pay attention to singles. 
This week I’ll share 8 things churches can do to include singles.
Next week I’ll share 7 things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.

These ideas really aren’t my own, they are the ones I’ve picked up from friends (singles & marrieds), blogs, books, and preachers that have stuck with me. I would really like to hear what you would add to this list.

1. Preach positively about singleness – Leaders let’s consider how we can affirm single adults in our preaching topics and in our illustrations/examples. We need to make sure to include examples that apply to the life of singles throughout our messages and in the application. If your examples tend to all start with “So, in your family..”, “In my family…”, “My husband/wife and I…” Change it up and try “with the crowd at work…”, “with my/your friends…”, “with the folks at your gym…”, “at the coffee shop…”, “In class…” When you’re thinking of examples of how to help families and couples live out your sermon/devo during the week also think of examples for single parents, widows and singles.

Furthermore, messages about marriage, parenting and families are quite common, but when was the last time you heard a sermon on the high calling of being single? Singleness is a reality for many people and needs to be discussed just as other important topics need to be discussed in our churches.

2. Don’t segregate singles –Singles do not want their own subculture, they want to be a part of the church, just like married adults are a part of the church. The operative word is adult, not single. Plus, we’ve all heard the terrible stories of singles/young adult ministries that turn into a dating service. This insult singles, turns the goal away from pursuing Christ, and reduces singles to a problem to be solved. Treat singles like adults. The 35 year old single likely has more in common with the 35 year old couple than the 18 year old single (and vice versa).

So, intentionally invite and include them in all the other adult activities around your church. This also is a reminder to take a look at what you are doing for adult discipleship beyond Sunday Services – is it discipling people from all walks of life?

3. Establish groups that cross demographic lines – Where can you encourage connections across demographic lines in your church? In small groups? In volunteer teams? Mission teams? Intentionally encourage connections across demographic lines. I know small groups that have experienced such a blessing and grown so much in their faith by being a mix of people from different demographics, ages and backgrounds. This is how we grow in grace together. In these groups risk being vulnerable together and learning from each other. Just because you’re married with kids, don’t assume the single can’t sympathize with you. Just because you’re single, don’t assume the married folks can’t sympathize with you.

4. Shorten the walk to a seat – Singles say no matter how long they have been doing it, it still takes a lot of courage to go to church alone. It’s easy for singles to talk themselves out of going to church and instead find an alternative way of doing church at home, this is especially true if they’ve made all the effort to get themselves to church sometimes and yet have found it so hard to find friendly connections or community there. We are all way more likely to stay connected to a church if we establish friendships there. So, shorten the walk to the seat. Not literally, figuratively. Ease the route from home to parking lot and parking lot to a seat in the sanctuary. How do you do this? – be friendly, say “hi”, offer a seat, make small talk, offer to pick them up and go to church together, seat them by others and introduce them around, or let them know you’ll save them a seat by you in church.

5. Put singles in positions of responsibility – Make sure your leadership teams, boards etc. reflect the broad demographics you want to have in your church. One way to affirm the value of any group is to ensure they are well represented in positions of significant responsibility in your church. At the same time, don’t abuse singles. Sometimes it is assumed singles have more time, less responsibility and more money. This is not necessarily true. Singles often carry various responsibilities on their own. Have singles been trust with positions of responsibility in your church?

6. Pay attention & include, include, include – notice the singles among you, and take time to connect with them and listen to them. Make sure to include in your informal chats after church and other gatherings. Singles have clearly received the message that dating couples, marriages and families are important, so can be very hesitant to intrude on couple or family time. Singles can get tired of always feeling like they have to ask to be included. So, couples and families, you’ll have to do the work to include them and make sure they know you value their presence. Reach out and invite them into the chaos of a family meal at your home, invite them on a group outing, invite them out for coffee. Note: This is not the same thing as a once a year sympathy invite or inviting someone over to set them up, which most singles have horror stories they can tell you about! Most singles can smell a sympathy invite a mile away. A sympathy invite is when you just want to get the check-mark off your list of having invited someone in once or twice, or when the single person feels like your project. Both singles and marrieds, be open here, what may start off feeling like a check-mark on a list can turn into a beautiful friendship. We all want genuineness, this is a human thing, not a single thing – we all want conversation to be two-way and for people to take an interest in us as people, as adults, not just as singles.

7. Take the attitude of a learner – Admit that singleness is complex and that you know little about it. Married people sometimes mistakenly believe that they know something about singleness, when in fact they know very little. Most single folks I know have received more than enough advice! (There is a very long list rolling through my head right now!) A lot of people seem to treat singleness as if it’s the farm team to the NHL team of marriage. Singleness isn’t the farm team to marriage, it’s an entirely different sport! If you haven’t played it, you don’t understand it and you certainly haven’t mastered it. The average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. If you got married before this age, then your experience and understanding of what it is like to be single is naturally, below average. Being single when you were in your early twenties, when most of your friends were single too, is not the same thing. In other words, you don’t know a lot about singleness. This calls for humility. If you’re married, treat singleness as you would any cross-cultural experience, take the attitude of a learner. Realize you know little and seek to learn and be careful to not speak on what you don’t know. Watch those assumptions we talked about last time. For example, sometimes married people make the assumption that singles must know very little about relationships, which is an unfair blanket assumption. Research actually shows singles tend to have more, stronger, longer lasting friendships and they take better care of their friends. (From: “Marriage: The Good, the Bad and the Greedy” (2006) and “Single and Unmarried Americans as Family and Community Members” (2011).) This is not to try to create a one is better than other attitude or discussion, remember both singleness and marriage are equally awesome options. This is a reminder to please not sell singles short. Listen and hold-off on the advice.

8. Watch what you allow to be idols in your church, camp or youth group – Ok, I am about to make some bold statements which I’m presuming will generate discussion (which I welcome). I fear in some cases we have made an idol of marriage and family, and even given permission for family loyalty to trump loyalty to Christ. We do not question when someone says “for the sake of my family.” It certainly could be, but we should be able to ask, are you sure that is what Christ wants for you and your family? Let me give some examples, so you understand my concern.

Example 1 – For the sake of their family a Pastor is refusing to move even though their time is clearly up in a ministry. We’ve let that be O.K., family loyalty trumping what God could be saying. If you have a family God has called you to serve them and He will take that into consideration, but your number one loyalty is to be Christ. I’m not saying the Pastor should always leave in this scenario, but they should watch their idols, their loyalties – are they really allowing themselves to listen and obey the voice of Christ, who will also look after their family? The scenario does not even have to be moving, if “family” is given for a reason, it is often not questioned. Hear me here, if you are married and/or have a family that certainly has to be a top priority in your life, but it cannot be an excuse for refusing to follow God’s leading. We rarely allow singles this same permission to give their communities ties, friendships or church family as a reason for not doing something. Whether married or single we must be careful to not let either of those states become an idol for our decision making.

Example 2 – There are churches that run along family lines instead of following God’s will. If there is a strong godly family, often for a number of generations, that helps your congregation hear and obey God’s will that is wonderful! However, if there is a family where it has become more important for the church to do what that family wants, that is not good. You have an idol in your church. If the family is keeping your church from moving forward in living God’s calling for your church, you have an idol. Family loyalty is trumping loyalty to Christ.

Example 3 – I recall overhearing a youth group (middle schoolers) being dropped off at a large, Atlantic Canada wide event one time. As the youth were getting off the bus the leader said “remember you could be meeting your future spouse here this weekend.” I must admit, I wanted to scream. Marriage was just made an idol. The point of the event is to help students take a leap forward in their journey with Christ. The point of the Christian life, and youth discipleship, is not to get people into marriage relationships! It is to pursue Christ and fall more in love with Him and His ways. Shouldn’t we be saying something like “Listen for God’s voice this weekend. God is going to be speaking to you and challenging you this weekend.”

Singles certainly can fall into idols too, and also should be asking, where is my number one loyalty? –Trying to find someone or living for Christ? Or even is it the idol of marriage, thinking when you get married that’ll solve all your problems? (ya, right?!)

Married or single, can you say your number one loyalty is Christ? This is the journey we are on together in our church families, helping each other make Christ our number one in all areas of our lives. Leader, if you are helping people do that, wherever they are in their journey of life, demographics and backgrounds, you are doing well! Thank you!

So the advice here, on watching our idols – have honest conversations with others, asking questions like: where is your loyalty in this? What does loyalty to Christ look like in this season of your life? Is this honouring your family, as you should or is this not trusting God to lead and take care of your family? What does loyalty to Christ look like during singleness, separation, divorce, single parenthood, marriage, kids…? What does loyalty to Christ look like in your finances, your time, your free-time, your relationships etc…?
Whoever we are, may we be loyal to Christ above all.

I hope you recognize in these blogs that I fully support marriages and families, and especially welcome the work so many of you are doing to equip families to experience and live out their faith during the week. My hope is simply that not only do we help marrieds and families be equipped to live out their faith where they live, work, study, play, but that we also help singles, youth and young adults live out their faith where they live, work, study and play. So that together, as all God’s people, from various walks of life, we can join God in changing Atlantic Canada (or wherever you are) one neighbourhood at a time.

-Anything you’d like to add as advice for churches as they seek to include singles?
-Anything you agree or disagree with in this post?
Comments are welcomed.

Next week I’ll share things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.

-Renée @r_embree

Why Churches Need to Pay Attention to Singles

I’m going to venture into a topic we do not often discuss in our churches. Sometimes singles are too embarrassed to bring it up or they fear being accused of having a “whoa is me” attitude. Sometimes church leaders are too afraid of saying the wrong thing to bring it up. Yet, we cannot neglect this important segment of the population. Singles, whether they are the never marrieds, widows, divorced, separated, single parents, young singles, old singles or in-between singles are an important part of our world.

So I’m being clear, my heart in this is to stir us all, whether single or married, to examine our attitudes and behaviours that may be hindering singles from experiencing full fellowship with the body of Christ.

My hope is to call us to pay attention. I feel it is like when in Acts 6 the church needed to be reminded that the Grecian Jews felt their widows were being overlooked by the Hebraic Jews in the daily distribution of food. I don’t believe anyone has intentionally overlooked another in our churches, but I have heard many a single comment how overlooked, and worse devalued, they have felt in some of our church communities. My hope is we all, but especially those in church leadership, examine our attitudes towards singleness.

I’m planning three blogs over the next few weeks on the topic of singleness.
1. This week – why churches need to pay attention to singles. I must admit, this one is the most rant like, so please also come back next week.
2. Next week – 8 things churches can do to include singles
3. In 2 weeks – What singles can do to build bridges with the church

Oh, and I should state my bias from the beginning. I’m a 30-something single, never-married, female Pastor. So, I’ve experienced some of the joys and struggles of singlehood in the church and sought to help the church notice and connect with singles. In some ways being in church leadership makes my experience different than other singles, as it is easier for people to know me and I rarely slip in and out of a church unnoticed, whereas my single friends tell me how easily they can slip in and out of church unnoticed.

Here are 4 reasons churches need to pay attention to singles:

1. Singles are a large, and increasing, portion of the population

Looking at the latest Statistic Canada numbers, from 2011, there are more people living alone in Canada then there are couples with children (let that sink in for a moment.) One person households count for 27.6% of all homes across Canada. (Statistics Canada) Note that the “living alone” statistic would not include singles living with roommates or family. The single demographic is increasing in Canada, particularly in our cities. People who do get married are waiting longer to do so, the average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. Is your church connecting with singles and giving them a place to belong?

As we seek to be missional churches, our church should increasingly reflect the demographics of our surrounding communities. If we are to be missional churches, we have to pay attention to this demographic. If we are to be a people that love and respect all people, we need to pay attention to this demographic.

2. We’ve got some repair work to do. Many singles have been unintentionally hurt by churches attitude towards them. A number of singles have said “I feel more valued outside the church, than inside”. In churches’ good desire to support people in their marriages and families they have sometimes subtly and not so subtly devalued singles in their midst. This is not to say we should in any way deemphasize supporting marriage and families, they need lots of support, but let us also aim to treat singleness as an equally valued option and in equal need of community and support. This can slip subtly into teaching, in who is invited to church events, or who is given attention in the social time after church.

Let me explain more about the attitude that singles have picked up from some churches. Church leaders and marriage books never argue that marriage is a good thing. That is presupposed. They accept the reality that marriage is good, but even good marriages do have problems and struggles. Therefore preachers and leaders look to help marriages get stronger and deal with their challenges within marriage. But, often singleness is treated differently. It’s treated like singleness itself is the problem to solve. Leaders instead instruct singles on how to bide one’s time until the right person comes along or how to make sure they are being the right person to “catch” someone. In other words, they imply that the solution to the problem of singleness is to get married. They treat singleness itself as the problem, instead of treating singleness as good, with certain challenges and opportunities. The underlying message singles receive is, singleness itself is a problem. An underlying assumption in many of our churches, that gets communicated in subtle and not so subtle ways, is marriage is good and singleness is bad. I know that is not that message we want to be sending.

God’s goal for all of us is our sanctification, to make us more like Jesus. God can use singleness for that and God can use marriage for that. Yes, marriage can be a refining tool, as you see yourself up close in another. BUT, singleness can also be a refining tool God uses. Let’s make sure we show marriage and singleness (whether for a season or lifetime) as both equally wonderful opportunities with blessings and challenges in the Kingdom of God.

As I talk to my single friends, it is these subtle attitudes that come out towards them that can make them feel alien in their church family. These unintentional hurtful comments and attitudes that assume there is something wrong with them, that others can meet someone so why can’t they, that marriage is somehow the goal of Christian life, that they must be lonely all the time, that couples/families don’t have time for them…

So church, let’s take a look at the direct and indirect messages we are sending single people.

3. The church, over the last decade, has often done a lousy job of including singles.

I’ve watched as singles have been excluded from small groups because of their singleness, or I’ve seen singles who have been searching for a small group for three years, while a couple has one within months. I’ve watched as singles get completely missed on Sunday morning. I know how easy this is to have happen, it’s a lot easier to notice the family with three kids in tow coming into the church. I’ve seen singles overlooked for leadership or sometimes the opposite, singles are sucked completely dry because it is assumed they have a lot more free time and can give it all to the church.

I get that at times we all need to be around those that more closely share our situations, joys and challenges in life. But, in the church, these should be the exception not the rule. And these times of “segregation” should send us back to the full family of God more able to embrace one another in the life and community of the church. These times should strengthen us for loving others better and more compassionately.

Watch your announcements, watch who shows up at your events, watch who is in your small groups, watch who struggles to know who to sit with on a Sunday morning, watch who connects after the services…are singles being included and embraced in community?
Examine your assumptions and fears around this topic – they could be keeping you from getting to know some really great people.

4. We need each other

God did say, it is not good to be alone (Genesis 2:18). It is not wrong, not sinful, to feel alone. God created that need. God created us for companionship and community. The problem is the church has often reduced the solution of “aloneness” to marriage, whereas the New Testament solution is to make believers family, brothers and sisters in Christ, across all the differences. Marriage may be part of the solution but it was never meant to be the full solution nor the only solution. In Christ we are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to one another, all in the same family. The gospel demolishes dividing walls and makes us one family. In a family differences are either able to divide us or help us have greater compassion and empathy for each other. For example, you don’t feel like your grade two child that is getting bullied, you don’t have the same challenges and joys as them, but you sympathize with them and you seek to understand. They learn from you and you learn from them. As marrieds and singles we may sometimes walk in different shoes, but in the body of Christ, we are family – we need each other, to learn from each other, to share each other’s joys and struggles, to empathize with each other, to disciple each other…

I have needed my church community to be my family in so many ways. They have been such a blessing to me, I truly don’t know what I would do without them – they are my grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children… I hope I have been a blessing to them as well. We are family, in it together – yes, sometimes I disappoint them and sometimes they disappoint me, but we work it out because we’re family. I realize I need them even more to be my family.

Let’s remember:
The Bible treats singleness and marriage as two equally awesome options. If anything, you could say the Bible favours singleness over marriage for the sake of the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Yet, walk into the majority of our churches and it does not feel this way. Marriage and family is clearly treated as the most awesome, and singleness is clearly the lesser option. I know this is not the message we want to be sending. Wait a second – lesser? Paul was not deprived, was not “lesser”. Jesus, fully human, fully God, was single. You do not need to be married to be fully human and to be living life to the full in the Kingdom of God.
Being single is in no way, shape or form sin.
The only sin is when the church fails to be the community, the family, it is called to be.

OK, friends, I’ve started the discussion, I’m opening this up – Am I being fair? Is it just me? What do you think of singles in the church? Where have you seen the church fail at this? Where have you seen the church do well at this? What can we learn from each other?

And come back next Thursday for practical things churches can do to include singles.
And in two weeks time for things singles can do to build bridges with the church.

-Renée @r_embree