Are they an invisible population?
By Holly L. Meade
When the U.S. government began tracking data in 1976, over 37 percent of the population age 16 and older was unmarried. As of 2014, more than 50 percent of Americans are single adults. In fact, there are 27 states where singles comprise more than half the population, according to data assembled by CityLab and the Martin Prosperity Institute. Unmarried adults range from 18 to 56 years and older and include never married, divorced, widowed and single parents.
Yet with this vast population, how effectively is the church ministering to them? Not so well, according to some.
Kris Swiatocho, director of The Singles Network Ministries, says, “For most churches single adults are invisible. Mainly because most pastors, secretaries, deacons/elders are married with children. When they are in the pulpit they typically preach and identify with those that are like themselves.”
Swiatocho believes there are multiple factors leading to this state of invisibility, including competition from other ministries, a lack of funds, “high turnover” for members and a lack of demand from many congregations. “We need more pastors trained to minister to single adults; but, we need more churches who want single adult pastors that will create the jobs for them when they do graduate,” he said.
Nathan Keeler, pastor of a young adult congregation at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, agrees. “We do not have enough pastors and staff that are engaging the culture, giving opportunities for young adults and singles to have a voice and responsibility within the church and putting resources toward this effort,” he says.
Rev. Craig A. Young serves as director of the singles ministry at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. “I think singles ministry is one of the auxiliary needs in the church that is often overshadowed by other needs,” he says. “Whereas the ministry and support to singles is a recognized need, there are many other needs in the church as well with a limited amount of resources. Therefore, it is difficult for many churches to have a well-supported ministry to singles.”
“One of the challenges of having a singles ministry is you have four leaking tires,” says Tim Grosshans, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winter Garden, Florida. Grosshans was the singles pastor at First Baptist Church in Orlando for five years. “You’re always losing people. They constantly marry each other.”
While singles ministry may be lacking in some churches, it is crucial to examine the purpose of a singles ministry as well as the motives of individual unmarried adults.
Approximately 45 percent of the adult congregation at Saddleback Church in California are unmarried. Jeremy Hsieh assists the pastor of Saddleback’s singles ministry. “Some people are professional singles. They go from event to event but never contribute or invest,” he says.
For example, Saddleback hosts quarterly six-week gatherings which invite singles to participate in Bible study as well as community events like movies, golf and games. Hsieh says that typically a group of 40 to 50 people attend the first gathering with about 15 percent tapering off each week. The last gathering usually includes about 20 people.
Saddleback integrates singles with married couples so they can witness healthy relationships and feel like an important part of the church community. Hsieh states segregating the unmarried also feeds the perspective they are there to just receive versus serving.
“I’m a 30-something single adult and I don’t think it is the church’s job is [sic] to contribute events. I think it’s to help me with my relationship with God,” says Hsieh. “Some see it so they would not be single anymore [sic]. Our purpose is to get them in a healthy community. The greatest need is to become a healthy Christian.”
Pastor Grosshans says singles are invisible by their own choice because they can proactively devote more time to serving the Lord and others.
Jesus said that not everyone can receive or accept serving God as a purpose for staying single. Remember to pray that churches across this nation provide the unmarried with opportunities to grow closer to God and to serve Him. Pray also that singles continually pursue God first with all their heart, soul and mind.
“We are alive for two reasons: to love God and to share His love with others. If you want to find someone focused on the Lord, just keep pursuing Jesus! The moment you take your eyes off Him, it becomes idol worship,” says Grosshans.
Holly Meade is a communications specialist, writer, speaker and teacher with a master’s degree in mass communication. She has extensive experience in creating and producing content for radio, television and the Internet.