Clearly this isn’t for everyone, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind in this process—not all singles are created equal, and the needs of the 42-year-old single man are quite different from the 23-year-old single woman. To assume they would want the same things out of a group or that one group could meet the needs of every single would be doing them a disservice. In fact, I had one friend recently write to me, “This is one of the hardest things for me, as an ‘older’ single (I turn 37 next month). I have so much more in common with the thirties and forties women (married mamas) than the 20-something singles. I’ll be a good sport if I need to, but I wish we offered more mixed groups.”
Many single people, myself included, regularly feel defined by our lack of a spouse already, so belonging to a small group whose membership requirement is a lack of marital bliss, well, that stings a little. It also means that as my friends pair off and get married they’ll be leaving my small group, and that can complicate social dynamics. These are all considerations that come with the singles-only model, and many like that it provides a more flexible schedule without the constraints of family calendars. I know I’ve benefited from being in these groups when I’ve needed instant community from moving to a new place. No one model will be perfect, and the singles-only model certainly isn’t, but it does have a few easy perks that churches typically gravitate toward.
Intergenerational Mixed Groups
These groups span all different life phases (e.g., single, married, married with children) and are intergenerational. While single people get to mingle with others who might fit better in their stage of life, the frustrating part of these groups is that they’re often dictated by small talk of dance recitals, soccer games, slow cooker recipes, and couples counseling. If there is a lone single person in a group full of couples, as is the case in many groups from small-to mid-size churches, people may have to work hard to ensure the small talk before and after doesn’t naturally gravitate to topics that may be isolating.
Mark Gomez, a friend and small-group leader, offers advice to these groups: “I think giving the single man in our small group opportunities for leadership has been a big deal. There's a tendency toward husband/wife leadership in this scenario, and he's able to contribute from a different perspective, so we encourage him to lead whenever possible. Also, we intentionally invite him into family events and encourage him to be hospitable as well, so it's not just married people having guests over for dinner. We can see his place and interact there as well. My kids love him and treat him like an uncle.”
What Mark demonstrates so well here is the integration of the single person into a small group. This will look different from group to group, church to church, even person to person. In offering opportunities for leadership, Mark is acknowledging that single people are valuable and are called to contribute to the body of Christ. This is, at its best, a shining reminder of what we’re all called to: to love and sharpen each other, regardless of our marital status.
So often in these mixed groups, however, single people may be looked at as lacking spiritual maturity because the common mile-markers of one’s life—marriage and motherhood or fatherhood—have not come to pass. One of the most spiritually mature women I know, when I asked her the hardest part of being in a small group, replied with: “When I talk about how much I’m growing in my faith because of how much school or work is testing me, the ladies in my group will almost roll their eyes in a, Oh, you think that’s hard? Just you wait. And I know they mean well because they’ve all been through so much more together, but what I’m doing is hard, and I am being stretched, and I wished they would acknowledge that.”