Regardless of the popular perception of singleness, the need to integrate singles in the life of today’s
church is far greater now than it was in the swinging 70’s. In roughly one generation U.S. census figures show those living together as married have declined from around two-thirds of the adult population to now less half. George Barna meanwhile has documented that while more than 50 percent of marrieds attend church regularly, less than 30 percent of the never marrieds singles do so. Likewise only 29 percent of never marrieds meet Barna’s born-again criteria compared to 47 percent of marrieds. Churches simply cannot afford not to have a coherent strategy for reaching the growing segment of mostly non-Christian singles and drawing them into the life of the church.
As a lifelong single who has served one way or another in singles ministry for 25 years, I can appreciate Adam Stadtmiller’s desire to see singles integrated into the church rather than segregated from it. But is his prescription the right one? The purpose of a singles ministry or any demographic-based sub-community (e.g. youth, young adults, young marrieds, seniors, etc.) should
be to integrate that sub-community into the larger life of the church, while providing a network of friends and contacts in similar life circumstances. It serves further as a natural forum to speak to issues of specific interest to the sub-community. For singles, having such a community is a vital entry point into the life of the church, without which many singles would simply by-pass church
involvement altogether. Segregation results when pastors and leaders of singles ministries create their own mini-flocks out of the community, rather than moving it forward toward greater
participation in the larger body of the church. Changing the mix by adding a percentage of married couples into the ministry does not in itself integrate singles into the life of the church, rather it requires intentionality in the approach of the ministry itself.
The article asserts that singles don’t actually want to be part of a singles ministry, and “always”try to exit the group as soon as possible. This is apparently because the well adjusted routinely “graduate” out of the group, while the more dysfunctional remain eventually turning the group into a recovery ministry for the walking wounded. So Stadtmiller proposes balancing in enough marrieds to ensure that the group remains attractive for newcomers. But this approach only masks the problem of recovering individuals, it does not solve the problem. A better solution is to be intentional that singles ministry is not a recovery ministry and to direct recovering singles into a recovery ministry specific to their particular issue whether it be divorce, grief or an addition. The assertion that well adjusted singles do not want a singles ministry and are always looking for the exit as soon as possible does not square with reality. I have rarely found any single Christian who does not see value in organizing some type of community network of singles within the larger life of the church. Never marrieds are the fastest growing segment of the population and most find far greater acceptance of their status outside the walls of the church than they do inside. Every successful singles ministry I have been involved with has invariably had a core of well adjusted never marrieds that have had some sustained involvement in the ministry. Successful singles ministry focuses on the positive message of the New Testament that in Christ singles are fully blessed members of the body of Christ regardless of their marital state, and challenges them to use their season of life wisely for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. Pastoral vision and oversight is essential to maintain a positive focus for the group as a whole while also directing recovering individuals toward ministries that can more effectively assist them with their individual
Stadtmiller asserts that singles’ needs are best addressed in a mixed setting. This is doubtful on two accounts. Does a mixed setting provide an improved forum to address topics of specific interest to either marrieds or singles? It is true that relevant topics of interest to singles may get repetitive for the pastor. We also need to teach our five year olds things that we may find mindlessly repetitive, but are of crucial importance for their spiritual development. One of the precise benefits of having sub-communities within the church is to provide an appropriate forum for biblically addressing concerns specific to that sub-community. Blending singles and marrieds together only diminishes this capability.
Are the social needs of singles better addressed by simply adding marrieds to the mix? Those who have been married for some time often underestimate what that marriage provides for them. Marrieds spend a significant portion of their social energy in exclusive contact with their spouse and immediate family. What some marrieds do not fully appreciate is that singles need significantly more social contact with other singles than marrieds need with other marrieds. To presume that mixing marrieds and singles together is a better way to meet the social needs of singles fails to
acknowledge that their distinctive state of life merits greater social engagement within the life of the church. Stadtmiller has noticed that singles tend to want more events than marrieds and recommends, “Don’t over-program.” Yes, that approach works well for marrieds, but maybe it is also indicative that his prescription is more of a forced-fit than an effective solution for singles.