Single Adult Sunday is Sept. 3.
P.J. Dunn says he has heard many a church say they want to reach more young adults.
“But what many of them think of is young families,” he said. “And while that’s great, the world today is radically different than the world our church leaders grew up in.”
The population of “young adults” is statistically single today, said Dunn, president and founder of Table for One Ministries. The average marrying ages these days are 29 for men and 27 for women, he said, so most young adults are single.
‘Lack of vision’
According to Barna Research, that reality spans even older — more than half of adults ages 18–49 are single too. But even so, single adults only make up 23 percent of active churchgoers.
Keenan Braden, minister of singles/pastoral care at Gardendale First Baptist Church, said those numbers tell him that the church is missing something.
He said the struggles churches face in reaching single adults often stem from leadership not recognizing how many singles are in their communities.
“This lack of vision has led some single adults to share with me that they have felt like the church, as a whole, does not have anything to offer them,” Braden said. “This may be because the church does not have specific events or ministries for single adults or the church has a limited understanding of the needs and different types of single adults.”
But perception is reality, he said. “If single adults have perceived that the church does not care about their unique needs, then they will not get involved.”
What are some of those unique needs?
1. They often come to church alone.
This seems obvious, said Kathy Cooper, minister to single adults at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, but attending a new church or small group for the first time is much more intimidating when you have to go alone than it is when you can go with your spouse.
“We try to be very, very aware of that, especially with the young adults who are just moving here to start their careers,” Cooper said. “We have a church that is trained to be ready to look for visitors in the congregation and welcome them in. And when they visit, we get their email addresses, follow up, invite them to dinner and make them feel that they are valued by the church.”
Ashley Chesnut, associate singles 20s/30s minister at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, said another way to bridge that gap is to provide singles with opportunities to be with other singles their age — but also to be in interactive, multi-generational settings with families.
Body of Christ
“Having a singles ministry is great because it provides a place to find friends who can grab coffee or hang out on the weekends but at the same time, we also want and need to be around the rest of the body of Christ,” she said. “There is much we can all learn from each other.”
2. They struggle to find a place to serve and have community.
Cooper said one of the biggest struggles singles face in church attendance is feeling like there is a place for them.
“Oftentimes a 23 year old will end up in the same class with a 50 year old, and they have nothing in common, life-stage wise,” she said.
So at First, Montgomery, they make it a goal to have a class for each age group.
Braden said Gardendale First Baptist does the same thing. “We have four classes broken down by decade — 20s, 30s, 40 and up, 50 and up — specifically for single adults,” he said.
And Cooper said they make it a goal for their classes to have a strong focus on studying the Bible.
“We have a wide variety of people in our singles ministry — professionals, lawyers, military personnel, doctors, you name it — and it is a significant population, not a damaged population,” she said. “It is not a meat market; we’re there to study God’s Word. If you meet someone that’s good, but we are about following Jesus.”
3. They often hear empty encouragement rather than biblical truth.
Chesnut said a friend mentioned to her recently how he thought singleness would get easier as he got older but it hasn’t. “There’s grief that comes at various points — like when you realize that you’re not going to have children or provide your parents with grandchildren,” Chesnut said. “A Christian can still love and pursue Christ while mourning unfulfilled desires.”
But it’s important to submit those desires to the lordship of Christ, she said — and it’s important for people to encourage singles who are mourning the loss of life dreams in an appropriate and biblical way.
People often say unhelpful things, Chesnut said.
“Marriage is not a promise,” she said. “God’s Plan A for you may not be marriage and it is unhelpful — and even erroneous theology — for folks to make comments like ‘God has a wonderful husband planned for you’ or ‘If you become content in your singleness, God will bring you a spouse.’”
The church needs to have a high view of both marriage and singleness, which involves being careful not to treat singles in such a way that implies they are inferior or unfulfilled because they are not married,” Chesnut said. “At the end of the day both singleness and marriages reflect the gospel, just in different ways. In my singleness I can show the sufficiency of Christ — how He truly can satisfy — while a marriage depicts the relationship between Christ and the Church.”
4. They have different — but still demanding — schedules.
Chesnut said there is sometimes a false assumption that singles have more time than those who are married.
“While on one hand we might have more flexibility, on the other hand we have to do everything ourselves whereas our married friends have a partner to share tasks and responsibilities with,” she said.
That includes practical needs — especially for single women — like car and house repairs, yard work and tax or mortgage questions.
“We are often capable of doing these things ourselves but we would greatly appreciate help or advice or just knowing that people are available and willing to help,” she said.
But most of all remember that single adults have demands on their time too, Chesnut said. “Be considerate in what you ask singles to do.”
And don’t forget the added burden that single parents or single foster parents have, Braden said. Consider some ways to offer practical help to single moms.
If you see that your church isn’t doing an effective job of reaching the single population of your community, just start something, Cooper said.
“It doesn’t have to be huge — it will grow,” she said. “Just having a commitment to putting value on singles and showing them that you want to include them goes a long way.”
Braden agreed. “Perception is reality,” he said. “Just do something.”
Keenan Braden, minister of singles/pastoral care at Gardendale First Baptist Church, recommends reading “Baker Handbook of Single Adult Ministry” edited by Douglas Fagerstrom or “Reaching Single Adults” by Dennis Franck.
Ashley Chesnut, associate singles 20s/30s minister at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, recommends watching the video “5 Misconceptions About Singleness” by Sam Allberry at The Gospel Coalition, available here: www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-misconceptions-about-singleness.