“When I was a child, I remember scanning the congregation during boring moments of the sermon. I was looking to see who had their arm around whom. I observed that, sometimes, husbands put their arms around their wives, sometimes wives put their arms around their husbands, and sometimes the couple sat too far apart to show such affection. I didn’t even look at the single people to see how they sat. And from what my single friends have told me, this experience of being overlooked (even by a restless child) is indicative of the single experience in the church,” says Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence in Today’s Christian Woman.*
Is being overlooked the experience of most singles? How do they feel about being single in church? Is there a place for singles in ministry? Jacquie Biloff, communication director for the Dakota Conference, prepared a questionnaire and sent it to 18 “singles” (singles, those dating, engaged, married living separately and those previously married). Following is a sampling of the questions and responses:
Do you feel comfortable in your role as a single person in church?
- I have moments of contentment and feel comfortable with being single and then I have moments where I am not sure where I fit in.
- Not really. Making friends is very difficult and I very often feel isolated.
- Yes and no. Yes, I feel comfortable because it gives me a chance to meet new people and a chance to hang out on a Saturday night. No, because it can create awkward, uncomfortable moments.
- The church I go to has a lot of “single” women—widows, divorced or the spouse isn’t a church member. We have a lot in common.
- Yes, but that’s probably due to the fact that I’ve always been actively involved in church/academy/college activities. So I have no problem going and sitting alone in the pew on a Sabbath morning. Or maybe a better description would be I don’t allow my marital status to define my relationship with God or my role in the church. I mean, Jesus was single too.
What benefits/downsides are there to being single?
- I am free to choose how I spend my available time and free to serve where I feel called. Earlier in life, I could not fully enjoy my acts/gifts of service or roles in the church due to feeling torn between a spouse who wanted all of my time and my desire to give and support where I could in the church or school.
- Not very many benefits. There are very few church members who really reach out to me for friendship. I feel isolated and alone.
- Benefits: Gives me freedom to go to events and activities. It also gives me time to do things for the church in the role I am called to. Downsides: In my personal opinion, I feel judged more since I am single than a married person is.
- Benefits: I can go to sleep whenever I want! I can eat popcorn for supper every night of the week and not feel guilty about not cooking a real meal. Downsides: It is difficult to come home and not have someone to debrief and share life with. My dog is a great listener, but not the best conversationalist. And when you’ve had a super rough day, it’s hard to be your own cheerleader and boost your own morale. Sometimes you just want a hug on a hard day.
Does being single make it more or less difficult to be involved in church?
- I feel there is a rich reward to couples that can share in ministry. It knits them together, woven with God. Not all couples are able to join passions and minister together or complement each other’s ministries. While there is a need for both couples and singles ministries, I think being single makes it less difficult to be involved in church or a ministry.
- I don’t know if it’s me, or what. I have never been asked to be involved in my local church.
- Depends on the church and the people in it.
- It’s as difficult as you make it. I don’t want to change the topic and digress into the young people leaving the church issues, but I really believe that it comes down to personal responsibility. I can complain or blame a church board, or an elder, or a church member for not making a young person or a single person “feel” welcome, or involve them in ministry. Or, if I’m passionate about a ministry I feel is God’s will, I can throw myself into it and give it to God and let Him pave the way.
How could couples help singles feel more accepted or part of the group?
- Simply by inviting them to whatever they are doing. I feel left out when I hear of get-togethers that are couples only. I struggle with situations which are exclusive.
- Invite singles to Sabbath dinner, game nights, make an effort to sit with singles at church. Make an effort to become friends and include them both inside and outside of church. Usually, I sit alone.
- Couples are good for giving advice and helping single young adults. The advice just needs to come without judgment.
- It’s typical to see couples that have kids all hanging out together, then the couples that don’t have kids have a different friend group. It’s natural to associate with those with whom we have things in common. If you are single and your friends all start getting married, it’s hard to become that third wheel. But I would hope that just because your friends get married, the commonalities outweigh the relational differences.
What is the most annoying question people have asked you about being single?
- “Do you want to date?” I know I don’t want to force the circumstance. I don’t want to be set up on a date. I don’t know if I want to date again. I am content at the moment and will wait on God to change my heart and circumstances if He sees fit.
- “Why are you still single?” It is annoying because I don’t really know the answer to that question; especially now, because I am 32 years old and still single.
- When I was living at home with my husband, who is a church member, there were years when he didn’t attend church or would attend off-and-on. Some of the annoying questions were: “Where is he?” “Why isn’t he in church?” “Has he found a job yet?” (after he was laid off and didn’t find a job for over a year). One single lady in her late 80s asked this every week. That was one of the reasons my husband stopped going to church for a while. She was too nosy! Quite often I didn’t talk to a lot of people at church just to avoid these questions.
- “You know it’s not your fault, right?” Of course it’s not my fault. I know how awesome I am! Also that statement tends to imply that marriage is the ideal and that being single should only be a stage of life that leads to marriage. One of the hardest prayers to pray is surrendering to God and telling Him I’m okay with being single if that’s His plan for my life. That’s such a terrifying prayer because we’re relational beings and you have these scary visions of becoming that crazy cat lady! But that’s where your relationship with God deepens and you allow the Holy Spirit to fill those longings. I read somewhere that God is closer to singles because we are going at this thing (life) alone. He fills the void in our lives that a spouse would fill in addition to being our Savior. I refuse to let a marital status define me; only God gets to do that.
*Lawrence, Joy-Elizabeth. “Stop Overlooking Singles in Church.” www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2015/february-week-2/stop-overlooking-singles-in-church.html