Based on the events and ministries the church prioritizes, including small groups, being married appears to be more important and valued. For men and women already dissatisfied with their single status, this message only makes them more aware of what they lack. The emphasis on family, while occasionally hard on me, is fairly easy to understand. I assume the general population skews heavily toward married couples with children, and the church is simply addressing the needs of the majority. This assumption, however, is completely inaccurate.
Despite the fact that married couples seem to dominate churches and small groups, only 18.5 percent of all families in the U.S. actually meet this traditional, nuclear ideal (a husband and wife who have children). Yet how much programming in our churches, and specifically in our small groups, caters to this group that, as it turns out, is a stark minority? With single people now outnumbering marrieds in America, making up over 50.2 percent and 124.6 million people, I’d challenge you to think of the number of singles to marrieds in your small groups. Do they reflect this ratio? Probably not.
The lack of singles in small groups indicates a much deeper problem. More and more, single people are actually leaving the church, so it’s hard to find them sitting in pews, much less bringing a dish to a Wednesday night small group.
Not only are single people leaving the church—they are avoiding groups. Singles, like me, who are tired of slinking in alone and feeling uncomfortable when group small talk seems to revolve around children or spouses, aren’t feeling welcomed in the very community that we desperately need. And that fact is that you need us, too. We have so much offer: our time, our insights, and our talents. The church can’t stand to lose us, and we can’t stand to lose her. My deepest hope is to see singles reconciled to the body of Christ, finding the community they crave and need in the absence of a family, and I believe thriving, inclusive small groups are the key to this reconciliation.
The hard thing about discussing “singles” as a group is we’re so diverse in interests, experiences, and even age; the only thing we have in common is the one thing we all lack—a spouse. This means that if you ask ten single people what their ideal small group would be, you’re likely to get a variety of answers.
For me, the ideal small group would be one made up of other single young adults who are committed to both Bible study and coming together as a community. This desire grows out of the fact that even though I’ve lived in the Chicagoland area for 18 months, I’ve yet to plant deep roots and find the accountability and spiritual community I crave.
Others, who already have these basic needs met, will undoubtedly long for a small group that integrates marrieds and singles, perhaps even crossing generational lines, so they can be exposed to people in different professional and life stages. I have one friend who is actively seeking a women’s small group that navigates biblical womanhood, even—and perhaps especially—apart from motherhood and marriage, a difficult tension that she’s yet to find.
Identifying the struggles and needs of the singles around you makes a great platform for discussing how your small group ministry can better cater to this group. As so much of small groups’ community is built on relationships—how many single people do you know well? When’s the last time you’ve had them over to your house? Does your church offer a selection of small groups where singles would feel included and welcomed? How can you intentionally adjust the week-to-week discussions to include outliers, like singles, who won’t be facing the same problems as the majority of attendees? How does your ministry show hospitality toward single people? Ultimately, how can small groups act as the lifeline we need to reconnect single people who may have left the church but still crave community?