Kate Hurley at The Sexy Celibate has a good post about singles in the church. This is a topic that I’ve danced around on my blog. I’ve catalogued my misadventures as a single Christian, and my identification with the Millennials’ grievances against the church is partially rooted in my shared singleness.
While I can certainly identify with a number of Hurley’s frustrations with being a single person in church culture, I’d like to focus on the six questions at the end of her post:
1. Do you think that there is a bias towards married people in the church or am I overstating the problem?
One thing I’ve come to terms with in recent years is the profound degree that for most churches, if you’re single, then you do not matter. That might sound overly pessimistic, but trust me when I say that I am understating my fatalism. Fair warning, though: in spite of my outlook, I do see a lot of legitimate reasons why singles find themselves ostracized.
By and large churches are geared towards married couples, and philosophically that won’t change. The exception would be youth-oriented congregations and parachurch organizations geared towards singles.
2. Why do you think singles are often unintentionally overlooked in the church?
First of all, I don’t think it’s unintentional. I think some churches just plain don’t know what to do with singles. There are either too few of them to make an impact on the congregational culture, or they are only superficially involved with the church. This is a chicken-and-egg quandary, of course: are singles less involved because they’re less invested in church, or are they less involved because churches are less invested in them?
I know that there are many singles who are deeply committed to the church. But the truth is that the risk-reward balance for any church committed to singles ministries isn’t good. If you build a VBS ministry, the children will come. If you build a ministry geared towards married women, the wives will come. But if you build a Singles’ ministry, there’s a lot of uncertainty whether any will come.
I’ve said before that part of the problem is that Singles Ministries are dysfunctional by design. Underlying them is a tension between the desire for singles to meet that Special Someone, and the squeamishness the church has towards facilitating a meat market. And singles share that tension. Some people genuinely want fellowship with people in their life stage, but many want more, and generally these factions don’t trust each other.
Another problem can be the age of singles. If you attend a church full of college students but you’re a thirty-something single, you’re just plain not going to fit in with them. Not only can you not relate to them, but people will try to squash any budding romance between singles of such a wide age disparity.
Finally, another big issue is money. Like it or not, the fact is that even if you’re a dedicated tither, odds are your monthly check to the church pales in comparison to the 4-figure donation the fiftysomething married couple gives. Married couple earn more, donate more, and they are much more reliable tithers. And the fact is that the more impact you have on your church’s budget, the more likely your church will have ministries catered to your needs.
I’ll address questions 3 to 6 in Part 2.