Statistically, single people are much less likely to attend church. I once heard someone say in a leadership institute, “the church doesn’t know what to do with single people.” While this is true, I believe the ways we connect with singles are applicable to the ways we connect with lots of different people:
Be Hospitable to Guests
Be as welcoming and hospitable to someone who comes to your church alone as you would a family with kids. It’s important that the person who comes alone doesn’t feel alone (a key gospel component!) Don’t ask if they’re alone, just welcome them. Be glad they’re present. Invite them to sit with you. My first Sunday visiting a church by myself I was wonderfully and enthusiastically welcomed by a woman who told me I could sit by myself if that made me more comfortable, but she’d love if I sat with her and her grandchildren. I had my new church home.
Not all “singles” have the same story. Some folks are looking to marry; others aren’t. Some folks are unhappy being single; others are perfectly happy. Those who are in their 60s and never married will have different experiences than those who are 22 and unmarried. Those who are single again due to divorce or death will have still different experiences and expectations for life and faith. If someone has gone through the death of a spouse or the death of a relationship, there may be deep grief in their singleness. For some who are divorced, their singleness is a very good and liberating thing that they are happy about. For others, it’s complicated and may bring liberation and grief. All people have different life experiences, and we should listen to those experiences with love and compassion.
Self-Awareness in Small Groups
Small groups or Sunday School classes are tough for new people to fit in, especially singles. To go into a new group where everyone already knows each other is hard enough, but when most churches’ small groups are made up of couples, for someone who isn’t coupled to enter may be intimidating. If the single guest shows up and hears “are you here with anyone?” or “today we’re talking about our marriage study,” it’s going to be super uncomfortable. I once had a woman say, “singles can go to a marriage study because they’re preparing for that anyway.” This may not be the case, and it certainly devalues a person’s lived experience.
When you invite someone to your group (which you should do!) or they arrive in your class and, upon getting to know them, you realize the topic you’re discussing might not apply to them, change the plan and study scripture that day instead. Having group studies about marriage or parenting isn’t a bad thing if you know the study will apply to everyone in the group. However, offering studies for people of varying ages and stages in life centered primarily around scripture or discipleship can connect with lots of folks that don’t feel like they have a place to belong.
Think Through Your Activities
In one church I attended, we had a Valentine’s Dinner every year that really celebrated the married couples in the church. On the surface, it was great! As a young single person, it was challenging to find a place to fit into this event. Yet, one year we had a church member who had just buried his wife the day before and a parent going through a nasty divorce, and I thought that while this was uncomfortable for me, this event must be deeply painful for them. At churches, we should be aware of how people with life experiences different than our own might receive these activities or programs.
Value People as People
It’s important for the church to lift people (guests, volunteers, staff, clergy) up for the gifts God has given them regardless of marital status. Once, during an interview process for a staff position at a church, someone on the committee said the church should hire one person as opposed to another because the preferred candidate was married and the church would get two for the price of one. People should be valued for themselves and God’s gifts for them, whether the person is married or not.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to welcome and embrace all people. This means getting to know people, valuing people, and then thinking about how our words and actions (and for the church, our programs and activities) are received by people, particularly people different than us. If we don’t do this, we may miss out on incredible things God is doing through God’s people.