There are few things more terrifying than walking into a stranger’s house to attend a small group for the first time—except, perhaps, walking into their neighbor’s house by mistake. Luckily, the elderly couple was very kind, and I was able to take a piece of lemon cake with me (the experience actually helped shake loose some of my nerves). If only attending small groups as a single person was always a piece of cake.
We are morphing into a “single” nation with the number of unmarried American adults outnumbering those who are married. These trends are also trickling into the church as we see a delay in marriage and an increase in cohabitation. So what does this mean for your ministry? How should this affect the work of small groups? And how are you adjusting to this cultural shift?
Integrating single people into your small-group ministry should be a priority. Small groups act as the antidote to the idolization of the nuclear family in the church—they break down barriers between generations, socioeconomic divides, and marital statuses. In small groups, we offer compassion for the wounded, comfort for the crushed, and wisdom for the searching—or at least that’s what we can offer, when small groups are at their best.
Why Singles Need Your Small Groups
In small groups, single people can cultivate community, something many of them are finding it difficult to latch onto in larger church services. It’s hard to build relationships on Sunday morning, in between avoiding eyes during the mandatory handshaking and trying to sneak out before the sting of rejection sets in as those around you mingle without offering invitations for lunch. For those who have uprooted their lives to move across the country for jobs, they’re left settling into new churches without knowing anyone, so small groups can act as a salve on their raw relational wounds, providing an immediate sense of support.
Recent data out from Barna shows that adults prioritize relational connections over work, family, entertainment, and even church. The key here is to ensure that church, via small groups, is where these relational connections are taking shape. Roxanne Stone, a vice president at Barna and the lead analyst on this study, discusses the findings: “A sense of belonging and community is what seems to hold people to a place—and church leaders should be encouraged by that. Churches that can foster a sense of community and help people cultivate friendships will become an important part of people’s sense of place and their willingness to call that place ‘home.’”
So how will your small-group ministry fill this relational need for single people? Unfortunately, even those of us with this noble aim may struggle to find practical application steps to take to change the situation. Small groups for singles usually take two shapes:
Singles-Only Small Groups
As you’re thinking through the different approaches to integrating single people into your small-group ministry, you may believe that cordoning them off into their own group is the best option—throw all the singles together. Some people like this approach because they appreciate spending time with their peers, and they need a group of friends their own life stage, especially if they’ve recently moved to the area and have a limited social circle. I have a few friends who prefer this kind of group because it also offers, as they call it, a “meat market”— a place they can go shopping for future spouses and learn about Jesus all at the same time. (No, I’m not kidding, but I wish I were.)