A couple of summers ago I visited a Dallas-area church. It was a hot day and the temperature in the church building was almost unbearable. But I wasn’t distracted by the heat because the pastor (who is quite the scholar) gave a profound, rousing sermon on the beauty and holiness of marriage. Even as a single person, I was inspired by his sophisticated, lovely depiction of a Christ-centered marriage. It was that good!
At the end of the 40-minute sermon, the pastor looked up from his notes and began to ad lib: “I know that over 40 percent of you are single, so I should probably say something about singleness as well.”
My ears perked up. Since this pastor was such a scholarly guy and had just given an exceptionally thoughtful sermon on marriage, I just knew that his brief thoughts on singleness would be equally profound. I leaned forward.
“Here’s what I want to say to all you single people: Don’t have sex before you get married. Then when you get married, make up for lost time.” He winked to make his point.
Once the laughter died down, the pastor gave a benediction and returned to the pew where his wife awaited him.
Singles Are Often an Afterthought
Married people inhabit most of the pulpits and leadership positions in the Christian world, despite the fact that nearly half of adults in the U.S. are single. (In 2007, over 44 percent were single, and that number has only grown with some estimating over 50 percent.) It’s unclear what percentage of pastors are married, but a senior vice president of a well-known parachurch organization recently admitted to me that every single one of the 60-plus “middle management” staff members he oversees is married. Every single one. And, after doing extensive interdenominational research, Dennis Franck, the national director of single adult ministries for the Assemblies of God denomination, concluded:
The vast majority of evangelical and Pentecostal churches of any denomination are “marriage and family focused.” That in itself is not a bad posture. Most Christian leaders understand the importance of marriage and the church’s role in strengthening the family unit. The unfortunate reality, however, is that our marriage and family emphasis many times does not include single adults. This is not necessarily by design but is often by ignorance and neglect.
Married people are the ones calling the shots, so they remain central to the life of the church. Meanwhile, single people are relegated to the margins. Even if this isn’t intentional, this “married people monopoly” results in a Christian world in which single people are often misunderstood, ignored, overlooked for leadership positions, caricatured, equated with immaturity, and little more than a punchline or an afterthought. It makes sense that churches and Christian organizations have a poor track record when it comes to honoring single people. After all, how can pastors and leaders who got married in their early-to-mid-20s possibly understand the complexities of singleness or how to honor the image of God in single people?
After interacting with the church, many singles start to wonder: Is there something wrong with me? Is God working in my life? Am I as valuable (to God, to the church) as married people? Does God love me as much as he loves married people? Does God have good things in store for me as a single person?
Six Ways Married Christians Can Embrace Single Adults
In a church that was founded by a single guy, singles are terribly marginalized. There’s something wrong with this picture. So without further ado, here are my tips on how church leaders can turn this barge around and begin to create communities that honor the image of God in single adults.