I sat down at the table across from my pastor and his wife and took a deep breath. I was about to tell them I was going to be less involved with our young adults group at church*. Two hours later with peace and their blessing, I embarked on a new adventure – creating community with the women in my backyard.
In each of us there is a deep hunger to belong. It’s an innate human need, and it’s also part of the culture of the established church. From ages 0-18, Sunday school classes and events are centered on grades and ages. Once you hit high school graduation, things get a bit messier. Not only do you have people getting married and starting careers at different ages, but some couples have kids really young while others remain single well into their 30s, 40s, and beyond. The variations continue, but this need and desire to belong becomes a bit more focused and complex for the single adults.
When I asked friends on Facebook what they thought of when they heard “singleness and the Church”, ninety percent of the answers had to do with the general feeling that the church either has no idea what to do with singles, or that they are left out: i.e. ‘singled out’ and not in a good way. Singleness in the Church is a very complex and multi-layered issue, but I believe there are two core truths to remember when addressing this topic.
- Singles are individuals like everyone else, with individual needs and desires.
- Programs and groups will never replace relationships.
No matter how many different ways we try to create programs and groups for singles, we will almost always leave someone out. Programs and events in the church have their place! They are good opportunities and helpful places to connect with other people. They can be gateways to relationships, but they will never replace relationships.
Over time I realized that I was showing up at my young adults group whenever I could, but living twenty-five minutes away, I was not seeing the people in the group outside of our Tuesday meetings. Once-a-week group meetings do not community relationships make. Community relationships mean that people live life together, they spend time together, and they do things together. It’s an atmosphere of growth, accountability and belonging. Relationships are made up of individual people, not groups as a whole. As long as we look to groups and programs to fulfill single’s needs to belong in the Church (the body of Christ), we will fail every time.
An important distinction must be made between the church as a building, and the Church made up by the body of Christ as a whole*. A friend recently shared a private Facebook status that said:
Church is an identity, not an event.
Brothers and sisters, we are the Church. You and I. Married and single, male and female, old and young, we are all individuals that make up the greater body of Christ – the Church. The Church is not made up of events, programs, or groups. It’s made of people, belonging to and sharing a common identity – the identity of being sons and daughters of God.
This is the position from which we must approach singleness and the Church if we ever want to succeed in having singles feel like they belong and are not left out. The pastor and the church (building you attend services in) is not responsible for establishing relationships within the body of Christ – we are. As individual people, married and single alike.
Community relationships bridge relational statuses, age gaps, and experiences, allowing people to learn from each other and to belong together. The first step to belonging and addressing singleness in the Church is to recognize people as individuals and people, no matter their status in life. The next step is to get brave and pursue relationships with those around you.
Married friends, do you want to bless or encourage singles? Perhaps invite them over for dinner – and not just to watch the kids.
Single friends, who is around you? You may not have an established home with a dining room table, but what do you have? Maybe the little old lady downstairs could use help getting groceries? Do you love to cook? Try offering to make a meal for a family – but go over there and cook it for them and with them.
I had a dear friend, a single gal, who went over a couple’s home once a week and made them dinner. They in turn lived life in front of her, with her. Accountability, trust, and deep, lasting friendship was the result. It was worth the awkward start in asking to be a part of their lives.
In my own life, the group of women in my backyard learned about community and relationships together this summer. We came from four different churches and denominations, spanned ten years in age, and included married with a toddler, newly married, pregnant, dating, single, and engaged women. We came together and grew as women, as daughters of Christ, and as members of the greater Church, the body of Christ. We lived life together, cleaned out each other’s closets, cooked dinner, hiked, and went grocery shopping together. And we belonged.
Meaningful community relationships–not just programs–are the biggest need for singleness and the Church. Be encouraged:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27 (ESV)
Single friend, you belong!
*Please note that church with a lowercase “c” denotes an established building, or specific group of people that meet regularly for worship services. Church with a capital “C”, is referring to the Church as a whole — the entire body of Christ (all Christians).
Photo Credit: JenniMarie Photography