If there is one ministry that suffers in many churches, it is the ministry to those who are unmarried. These churches either have a lack of emphasis, a lack of organization, or an identity problem with this demographic. Let’s examine all three of these before delving into the solution.
Many churches have expected the majority of their graduates to go to Christian college so they have given little emphasis to meeting the needs of those who remain. In many cases, churches have great ministries for the children, the teens, and married couples, but they have neglected that key demographic of those who remain unmarried. Even some larger churches are losing this group to more liberal churches who cater to the unmarried.
The second challenge many churches have is the lack of proper preparation and organization among their unmarrieds. For example, there is a huge difference between the recent high school graduate and that mid-twenty’s unmarried adult. The gap is far too wide for one class or ministry to bridge effectively. A well-planned, graded unmarried ministry is seldom found in churches.
A final problem is one that can create a huge void, especially in the lives of those who have chosen to remain unmarried for whatever reason. It is the stereotyping of the unmarried. Unmarried people are not losers who are simply in waiting for a spouse to come along or in depression because they have been left unattached. An unmarried ministry is not a “meet” market for matchmakers to apply their misguided skills. Yet, in many churches these classes are almost stigmatized as being for the lonely. There are countless adults in your church and community who will never get married and who will live happy and productive lives. Churches should provide them a needed place for growth and community.
Now with these three things in mind, what can a church do to properly reach out to and minister to the vast number of unmarrieds in the church and community? Here are a few suggestions.
- Give as much thought and planning to the needs of the unmarrieds as you do to any other demographic.
- Do not give them the leftovers in matters of personal, attention, leadership, or facilities. Treat them with the same importance you do other ministries.
- Departmentalize this demographic according to their unique needs. As mentioned before, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate is in a different place entirely in their life than a 25 or 30-year-old unmarried adult. Provide ministry for both. It would also be wise to provide separate opportunities for those who are older unmarrieds.
- Do not make marriage an emphasis in these groups. If God brings two unmarrieds together and they choose to be married then we ought to rejoice with them, but no one should feel they are going to be pressured or even encouraged to date.
- Keep activities comfortable for the unmarried lifestyle. People should come to activities without feeling they are going to need to have a date of even pair off in some way as a couple. Keep activities group oriented to appeal to them without the hint of dating in the course of the activities.
- Be aware of stigmatizing labels. “Single” connotates that someone is incomplete of alone. Unmarried describes them without suggesting they are lonely. Singles classes should only exist if you want to have a class for those who truly are looking to find a husband or wife.
- Do not dump them into classes with couples. That is unfair and unwise. First, the married couples do not need to be exposed to the joy of singlehood. Yes, the joy of singlehood. Sometimes a married man or woman remembers when they were single and “free” and they can be tempted to desire that again in their lives. That is not healthy. Likewise it is unhealthy to the unmarried adult to feel like a third wheel in such a surrounding. Their needs are unique.
- Do not treat the unmarried adult as a second-class citizen. They are vital in the overall program of the church and can be a blessing in service to others. However, that said…
- Do not merely use these people as workers because you don’t have anything else for them. Some churches overuse these unmarrieds as if they don’t have a life anyway so what else do they have to do. That is a very dangerous thing. They need Christian fellowship with others just like those in other demographics.
- Make being unmarried an acceptable and even honored status. Marriage is certainly a wonderful choice for one’s life, but so is remaining unmarried. We should encourage people to choose to remain unmarried if they feel that is something God would want for their lives. Some of these unmarrieds will be eunuchs and some may merely have not been led to one they feel they should marry. Elevate this as an acceptable and even favored position within the church.
These are a few suggestions that not only will help those who God designed to never marry but all of those who remain unmarried in our churches. When teenagers see this exciting and vibrant ministry to the unmarried, those who are struggling with their own identity will not dread adulthood, but will know there is a place for them when they get older.