Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:32–35 that it is better to be single because a person’s attention is undivided in serving God. This, too, is the perspective that having single people in a small group can bring. Just as the temptation for singles is building their own personal kingdom and caring only about themselves, the temptation for married couples is building their own little family kingdom and missing out on contributing to the kingdom of God. Having a few singles in your small group might actually help the group stay focused on spiritual growth and outreach rather than getting caught up in marriage and parenting concerns.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that around half of Americans are single: divorced, widowed, or never been married. While it’s hard to pin down an exact statistic of how many adults in church are single, it’s a safe bet that anywhere from a third to a half of any given congregation are single. Consider, too, married people who attend church without a spouse. We need to intentionally integrate singles into ministries—especially small groups.
3. Marital status is not the most important part of our identity.
Small groups are about learning to follow Jesus together, applying what we’re learning in practical ways, and encouraging and supporting one another as we work to advance the kingdom of God. Jesus calls his disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God.” The most important part of my identity is that I am a child of God. I happen to be in a single stage of life, but in no way is “singleness” a core part of my identity. The same is true for married people. I know too many women who have lost sight of their identity as a follower of Christ because the identity of “wife” and “mom” became all-consuming in their lives. We do a disservice to single people when we make “singleness” the most important part of their identity and send them out to be only with other singles, as if they were a leper being sent to a leper colony.
Rather than “seek first those who are in the same stage of life,” let’s gather together, blending married and single people and focus on seeking Jesus above all else. When we grow in discipleship, we’ll be impacted in countless ways—one of which is our relationships. When we grow, we might experience stronger marriages, close relationships with our children, or healthier dating relationships. But our focus is on Jesus rather than our earthly relationships. The most important part of our identity is not a box we check about marital status. We must never lose sight of the fact that the defining feature of our identity is who we are in Christ.
While there are times and seasons for married people to gather and for single people to gather, I’d like to advocate for offering some small groups that welcome both married and single people. Let singles decide for themselves if they want to be around married people or not; that’s not a decision that should be made for them.
There are practical challenges that go with this model, of course. The schedule of a single 30-something most likely looks very different than the schedule of a married couple with two young kids. But we shouldn’t let these challenges hold us back.
As a single person, I joined a small group because I believed the people in that group would challenge me to grow in my faith—and because I liked spending time with them. They just happened to be married with kids. I’ve learned that we’re simply better together.
—Laura Copeland serves on the Small Groups team at Saddleback Church in California.