The singles in your church are hurting. Many (dare I say most?) of them have a strained relationship with the church.
There’s Pain in Your Pews
Since writing a book on singleness, I hear from singles often. Here’s what one thirty-nine-year-old woman has to say:
I’m convinced there is something very wrong with me! I feel like a complete outcast in each and every church. The weird thing is I don’t feel that way at work, which is a completely secular environment. Lately I’ve been crying all weekend and so grateful to be able to go to work on Monday morning because I know I’m valued and wanted there and I know I am contributing something as well.
This woman isn’t the only single who feels like an oddity in church. You might be tempted to think, Oh, toughen up! You think marriage is easy? But here’s why their hurt is our problem, too.
It’s a Family Responsibility
If you’ve placed all your trust in Christ as your righteousness, you’re now a tiny but vital member of His family and of His Body. There are millions upon millions of other members, and what impacts each of these people impacts you because we’re one now. Paul tells us:
But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor. 12:24–26, emphasis added).
We have a responsibility to care for singles as we would our own families, because we’re not independent individuals anymore. We’re a part of something so much larger. Besides, in heaven there will be no individual marriage or families other than the family of God (Matt. 22:30).
So how can we care for singles as we ought? It starts with how we think about singleness.
Singleness Isn’t a Disease to Be Healed
Many people view singleness as a disease to be healed. I’ve been guilty of this myself. God’s Word, however, has quite a different perspective.
In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul addresses the whole church about the advantages and benefits of singleness. Singles, he says, are spared anxieties and troubles. (If you told a single that, they’d probably think, Ha! Paul obviously didn’t have a clue. I have plenty of troubles, and plenty to be anxious about!)
I don’t think Paul intends to minimize everything a single has to juggle in life. His point is that they’re not distracted by needing to please the Lord and their spouse. They have the freedom to be singularly devoted to the Lord.
Let’s be careful that we don’t adopt a “woe is you because you’re single” mindset when God celebrates singleness.
Let’s also be careful about how we “encourage” singles.
Steer Clear of Lousy Encouragement
I wonder, is your encouragement to singles actually encouraging them? Is it grounded in truth? Here are four examples straight from the lips of singles of hurtful “encouragement” they tend to receive from those in the church:
- “God won’t bring you your spouse until you’re content in your singleness.” (Let’s think about this . . . when do we ever earn God’s gifts?)
- “Oh, don’t worry, Honey, God has someone special out there for you!” (Does He? How do you know this? Scripture tells us that everyone will not get married and that singleness is good. A lot of unintentional hurt is caused by assuming that everyone will marry one day.)
- “Marriage is how God makes us holy” and “I didn’t really know how much God loved me until I had kids.” (This makes singles feel like they’re not only missing out on a family but on sanctification! A better way to say this would be, “Marriage is one of the means God uses to help make us holy.”)
- Another single requested, “Don’t remind us that marriage isn’t all happily ever after with the perfect prince/princess of our dreams. Single adults are intelligent people. We’re no longer the teenagers in the youth group. We’re not expecting Disney or Hollywood. Our dreams of marriage are normal and healthy, and being belittled because we still hope for marriage (the same way our now-married friends once did) is insulting.”
We’ve looked at our thoughts. We’ve considered our words. But what about our actions? One of the greatest ways we can bless singles in the church is by our hospitality.
Invisible No More
Here are a few ideas of how you can show hospitality to the singles in your church:
- Invite them to sit with you rather than sitting alone. When I was single, Sundays were the loneliest day of the week for me as I sat surrounded by happy-looking married couples and families.
- If you’re in church leadership, examine your upcoming events and make sure they’re geared to all people in general, not just toward married people or parents.
- Celebrate the milestones of the singles in your small group, like their birthdays or moving into their own place. One single pointed out, “Our accomplishments are often ignored; we don’t get showers, registries, and parties. We are no one’s priority, and that often makes us invisible.“
- Ask a single at church if they have plans for the next holiday. If not, invite them to your home. A dear family did this for me one year when I wasn’t able to travel home for Christmas. They even bought me a present! Don’t forget Mother’s Day, as well. One of my single mom friends noted, “Single moms won’t spend money on themselves (many are at poverty level), and their children may be too young to know how to celebrate them.”
Come On In!
Don’t stop there, though. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has said, “It’s in our homes, not standing in the aisle after church, that we have the greatest opportunity to really practice the ‘one anothers’ of Scripture.” One anothers like:
- Love one another.
- Pray for one another.
- Admonish one another.
- Edify one another.
- Care for one another.
- Bear one another’s burdens.
I was the recipient of remarkable hospitality as a single. The hospitality that most reflected God welcoming me into His family was when an older couple invited me to live in their home when I was in my late twenties.
For the three years I stayed with them, I never felt like I needed to keep to my own room and not bother them. On the contrary, they treated me like I was their daughter!
I’m not saying you have to open your spare bedroom to a single. Maybe you do something more like what Eleanor has encountered:
The greatest blessing for me as a single person has been eating with a family from church every week and helping put their young children to bed. Nothing extraordinary, just what they would be doing if I wasn’t there.
Sometimes I barely talk to the parents while I’m there, because they’re so exhausted. I don’t always see them at their best. They don’t just have me over when it’s convenient. But they choose to truly let me into their lives and hearts, and that is a great blessing and a joy.
Single people will sometimes be lonely. Psalm 68:6 says, “God sets the lonely in families.” Maybe for one single, it’s your family.
Let’s Put Feet to This
Let’s not just write and read about how to help the singles in our church; let’s do something about it! But where should we start?
- Identify the singles in your church and life. Not just those you’d like to hang out with but those God has placed in close proximity to you. Think broadly: singles who have never been married, widows, divorcees, single moms, and those who for all practical purposes are single because their spouse is absent.
- Pray for them. Make this a priority, and try to pray for at least one single daily. (You might consider downloading an app like PrayerMate to help you remember.)
- Engage them. Pick at least one single on your list, and come up with a plan to reach out to them. This is just a practical way to help you love your neighbor.
Ready, set, help! Not because singles need fixing, and not because you’re the savior of the singles—but because:
- God welcomed you into His family when you had nothing to offer Him.
- You are now family by blood—the blood of Christ.
- When they hurt, you hurt.
Ultimately, give yourself to them, with a genuine heart, and watch how greatly God will bless you through their friendship in the process.