8 Single Principles for a Singles' Ministry

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Brian Mavis gives some great tips on developing a specialized ministry for the single adults in your church.

What are the keys to starting and growing a ministry that reaches singles? A panel of singles pastors agreed that every singles ministry—small or large—is based on 8 specific principles.

was happy. I was in charge of outreach and small group ministries at my church. I was helping reach the lost and discipling the found. It was all good. But then some single adults in the church tried to upset my world. Here’s how it went down:

A couple of singles came to my office one afternoon with a deliberate request in mind: “Brian, we would like you to lead the singles ministry.”

I gave them my “I feel your pain” look and said, “I wish I could,” (yes, a big fat lie), “but I’m too busy with all my other responsibilities.”

But they persisted. A few weeks later they asked again, and I made the mistake pastors never want to make. I agreed to provide “temporary” help. The moment they happily skipped out of my office, my head hit the desk. What have I done? They’ve sucked me into their dysfunctional world. I’ll never escape.

I never wanted to be a singles minister. I had even told God that, which if you don’t know, usually destines you for a career in that very field. When I thought of singles ministry, the thoughts weren’t happy ones.

I’m guessing that’s true for most of you, too. What comes to your mind when you hear “Singles Ministry”? In a recent OUTREACH reader survey on the state of singles ministry in today’s churches, only 12 responses out of 700 could be classified as “positive.” The others echoed comments like:

“Ugh.”

“Heartbreaking!”

“It’s the most challenging group to reach.”

“They [singles] are treated as misfits who need a little therapy to get over their ‘singleness.’ ”

And for you “Family Feud” fans, the most frequent answer given? “Help!” (with varying numbers of exclamation marks).

I went into singles ministry with these same thoughts. But a couple of weeks into it, my attitude really began to change. The transformation grew out of a dream: I was looking over a huge wheat field. A bunch of people were harvesting only half of it, and leaving the other half of the field untouched.

God immediately showed me what it meant. The harvesters were church leaders reaping traditional families. The untouched half of the field represented single adults. The single adult ministry is a huge and responsive mission field.

Within a couple of months, the singles ministry became my favorite one, and in less than a year it grew from 12 singles to more than 200 actively involved each week. But more importantly, we saw many lives changed, healed and saved.

Clearly, the single adult ministry in our churches needs attention. Out of 700 reader survey respondents, 72.2% said that their singles ministry was either non-existent or so small as to be ineffective in outreach. When you consider that 48% of female adults and 42% of male adults in the U.S. are single, you can see that we’re missing an entire segment of the population.

Outreach asked a panel of four current singles pastors to identify key principles for starting and growing an outwardly focused singles ministry. Keeping only the responses that all four pastors identified, I compiled a list of the eight most important elements of a dynamic singles ministry. I consider the first three to be essential and the next five to be strategic.

1. CREATE A CHURCH CULTURE THAT VALUES SINGLES

Most of the pastors we interviewed ranked this concept as the No. 1 element. “I think there is a prevalent preconceived notion that if a person hasn’t been married by the time they’re middle-aged, it’s because they’re socially awkward,” says Jonathan Damiani, executive director for Crossfire. “Sure there are socially awkward singles, but there are plenty of socially awkward married people too.”

Other pastors identified three specific action points for developing a singles-friendly environment churchwide:

• Preach positively about singleness. “[Senior or teaching] pastors really need to consider how they can affirm single adults,” says Susie White, singles pastor at Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, Texas. “When was the last time you heard a sermon on the high calling of being single?”

•Don’t segregate singles. “Our church doesn’t want the singles program to become its own subculture,” says Ramon Presson, single adult and college minister at Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. “It wants them to be a part of the church, just like married adults are a part of the church. The operative word is adult not single.”

• Put singles in positions of responsibility. One of the ways Presson’s church affirms the value of single adults is by putting them in positions of significant responsibility in the church. “We’ve got more single adults serving outside our singles ministry than in it,” Presson says. The church asks singles to serve on its personnel committee, the deacon board, etc.

2. PUT A SINGLES LEADER ON STAFF

The panel of pastors we assembled overwhelmingly agreed that if churches are serious about growing their singles ministry, a staff position specifically designed to reach this target group is essential.

Jarett Stephens, a young adults pastor at Prestonwood Baptist, notes that because singles ministry is so transitional, consistency in the leadership is critical. Single adult ministry, observes Christ Church’s White, is often at the bottom of a church’s priorities. “A church’s unwillingness to pay a staff person to focus on singles supports that argument.”

In Plano, Texas, where she serves, single adults comprise more than 30% of the city’s population. “As a group needing the ministry of the Church and the message of Christ, singles should be at the top of every pastor’s list,” she says. “Singles struggle with a sense that the culture around them is waiting for them to get married and become ‘legitimate.’ The way in which churches allocate their funds reinforces that message.”

White stresses that a singles leader needs strong communication skills and an ability to articulate the ministry’s purpose: “With moral issues being what they are today, I believe it is imperative for a leader to be clear about the ministry’s focus on Christ and on biblical values as a basis for living.”

3. DEVELOP A LAY LEADERSHIP TEAM

Our panel’s responses indicated that a lay leadership team—even if it’s just two people—is critical to starting and growing a singles ministry. The overarching principle here, explains Stephens, is “giving away as much of the ministry as possible.” The more ownership someone experiences, he says, the more ministry he or she will do. Stephens, who identifies his greatest emphasis as developing his leadership team, makes the people on his team a priority. He takes one day a week to call each person and check in with him or her.

Presson’s experience has shown him that a singles leadership team should be comprised of the actual people the ministry serves. “I have a thing about single adult ministry being single adult-owned and operated,” he says. “I do have some married teachers, but sometimes they tend to do the ministry ‘to’ or ‘for’ single adults rather than ‘with’ them.” The exception to this rule, he says, would be a previously divorced couple working with mostly divorced singles.

How do you start a leadership team? White launched with a lunch. “I found it extremely helpful to hold leadership luncheons right away,” White says. “A free lunch will always attract a few people, and out of that initial group you can find some leaders who are interested in helping you launch the program.”

Brentwood Baptist’s Presson adds, “Start by identifying lay leadership who would be interested. Start with the people who are coming to you to say we should be doing this.”

4. START SMALL

Instead of throwing open the floodgates in hopes of thundering crowds, our pastor group advises churches to “think small” when beginning a singles ministry. Even if unchurched singles are your target, an outreach-oriented singles group has to start with a core group committed to the ministry and to each other.

“My advice would be to take it slow and realize you’re trying to hit a moving target,” says Prestonwood’s Stephens. “And that’s okay. Pour your life into the singles that are coming and always have something for them to do. Any singles ministry—regardless of size—must be an active ministry.”

White found it easier to start from scratch with small groups and build on that philosophy. Presson agrees, stressing the importance of keeping a new and small singles ministry close and focused.

“Identify a few things the singles ministry wants to concentrate on and do well,” he says. “I once supervised a men’s ministry in another church that tried to do too many unrelated things right out of the chute. They floundered. The subsequent team majored on doing two things well, and the ministry grew.”

The emphasis for small groups should be cultivating a place where people feel like they belong, Presson says. “When you think about it, singles ministry is the only area where someone walks in completely alone. Teens are likely to see someone they know from school. Married people have each other.”

5. DIVIDE BY AGE

Not all singles are created equal. They are in different stages of life. Some are young, some are hitting middle age and some are approaching senior years. Some are never married, some are divorced and some are widowed—all reasons for dividing by age, our group said.

“We believe that mixing the older with the younger singles can be detrimental to growth, particularly in the younger demographic,” Christ Church’s White explains.

Brentwood Baptist divides its Sunday morning ministry into three departments: Single Focus 20s; Single Purpose 30-40; Single Direction 50-60. Prestonwood Baptist also separates its singles into three age groups: 18-29; 30-37; and over 37.

6. OFFER SEMINARS AND SMALL GROUPS

Though most of our group’s singles ministries divide by ages, they agreed that churches must also provide special ministries, such as special small groups or seminars, for singles in different stages of life.

A few months ago, Christ Church Episcopal’s singles ministry launched a weekly seminar series featuring a guest speaker (either live or on video) each time. In February, the seminar topic was “Love, Sex, Marriage and Romance,” a study of Song of Solomon taught on video by Tommy Nelson. More than 40% of the people attending the seminar had never attended any of the organized single adult events in the past. “We are hopeful that the seminar concept will have long-term viability,” White says, “and will serve as a more specific tool for reaching unchu-rched single adults in our community.”

When deciding what to offer, consider two primary groups: single parents and recently divorced singles. In Boulder County where I led the singles ministry, public records registered 500 divorces a month. Knowing that, I placed invitations to our divorce recovery program in the courthouse and mailed invitations to the divorcees. For any single parenting class or group, make childcare your No. 1 logistical priority. Without it, many ministries that might otherwise succeed, fail. If child care is a problem, then you’ll need to rethink your meeting time for the regular Sunday morning service when child care is built in. 

7. OFFER SOCIAL EVENTS

Statistics show that for people to keep coming to church, they must have at least five good friends there. In other words, people are looking for community. In addition to small groups, social events are key to developing community in single adult ministry.

“We live in such an anonymous world today. I think it’s critical for single adults to feel known in their church family,” White says. “I know that helping people to find friends will help them stay in the church,” she says, “and will give us the opportunity to help them mature as Christians. That’s one of the main reasons why we continue to experiment with different types of social events.”

Crossfire’s Damiani identifies diversity as the key to social activities and programs in singles ministry.

“You’ve got to meet each single adult where they are and understand that a 29-year-old businessperson is not the same as a 60-year-old farmer” he says. “That’s why we do so many different things.”

Prestonwood’s Stephens reinforces the community requirement. “Personal relationships are key. It doesn’t matter how big or small your church is; it’s about relationships.”

However, Brentwood Baptist’s Presson warns against using a large, flashy social event to launch a singles ministry. “You’re going to keep having to do whatever it was that initially attracted people to the ministry to get them to come back,” he explains.

Our panelists suggested various types of social events for reaching diverse groups: holiday gatherings (especially New Year’s Eve and Easter); sports nights (basketball, volleyball, baseball, bowling); a Christian comedy event; parties (Super Bowl, costume, etc.); progressive dinners; professional sporting events; dinner and a movie; game night (board games); and picnics. For White, the highest attended social activities, at first, were restaurant gatherings and movie nights.

8. PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE TOGETHER

Singles ministry shouldn’t just be ministry to singles, but ministry by singles.

“Single adults are available for mission projects,” Presson observes. “There are things that young single adults will get up and do together on a Saturday morning that families who are rushing around to soccer practice just can’t.

“We have single adults involved in children’s ministry, inner-city ministry and overseas missions, etc. Serving the community together builds community with each other. There’s something about working for one common goal.”

Prestonwood’s Stephens notes that service projects have been catalysts to seeing single adults at the church become more evangelistic. “People seem to want to be more inclusive when they get outside the church and into the world at large. We’ve seen more of our core group reaching out to unchurched singles to bring them into the ministry.”   

Brian Mavis is Externally Focused Director at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO. He served formerly as the Site Manager for SermonCentral.com.

Copyright © by Outreach magazine.  All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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  • good2btodd

    Sounds good,I wonder how to start this ministry with a smaller congregation with out any Staff $ or Singles. We have to get them to come somehow…

  • Abashai

    Brian,

    Thank you for addressing this subject. Over time I have found that church leaders tend to focus all their energy on married couples, and married problems. Everything in many churches is centered around the cultural ideal of marriage, be it childrens ministries, sexual direction (abstienece until marriage / marriage ) Counseling etc… So much so that it has become prevelant in non-denominationals to avoid allowing church leaders to be single. I don’t know how often single men are treated as predators, not allowed to lead for fear or predation, and treated as though all single men have sexual addictions and therefore unfit to lead. Single mothers are a whole different story! Many churches treat singles ministries as a dating pool for the singles to get their lives to gether and get married. And the single is looked down upon.

    It seems as though the Apostle Paul’s advice that people can better serve as a single due to their lack of distractions has been wholeheartedly forgotten. Instead, in the news we hear about married pastors falling into homosexual and drug addicted relationships, and we hold the stress and workoholic nature of these married men up as the ideal for which the young are to strive. While I am ranting – here are a few reminders about singles.

    Singles have had more time to develope their range of skills and capacity. I know by first hand experience that single professionals can have more experience planning, organizing, leading and directing projects with budgets larger than their churches entire operating budget than most young pastors. Yet these people can’t be allowed to organize an event without a married pastor’s guidance (and micro-managment). I have seen this so often that most single professionals won’t volunteer their time. Not because they don’t want to serve – but the disrepect and dysfunctionality shown them is not worth the hastle.

    Singles aren’t always horny and desperatly looking for sex or the next relationship. Christianity isn’t a ‘sex religion.’ Yet it seems so much of the underlying and unstated reasoning and motivations in the church are sexual. Not everything is about sex, and singles, especially older professional singels, know this. For some reason it is the married leaders who forget.

    Singles need teaching that is deeper and more informed. Many singles have travelled the world, actively participate in their non-church community, and are life time learners (a requirement for professionals). Sermons about reading your bible and praying every day are a little pase’. Instead of treating singles as people who need to learn more – consider that they have probably learned it already – and need an avenue which to act on what they learned. Work to hand ministry projects over to them, involve them in visitation ministries, ask their professional opinion and listen to it – they are a cadre of ministers and resources that are left untapped. Marriage isn’t the be all – end all.

    Sometimes single professionals prefer the company of other singles, because the conversation topics are about what they can relate to. “How to pay the college tuition, what school the kids are going to next, the PTA, how the bills are being paid, the new remodel, the next marriage retreat, etc…..” I suggest churches work to facilitate opportunity for this. Small group bible studies are not the solution. Too often married couples throw out that single people don’t understand, as though married people understand singleness. Too many married couples tied the knot between 18-24. Staying single into your 30’s & 40’s is a whole world of difference that married couples can’t even pretend to comprehend, even older couples.

    Singles ministries are looked on with disdain for the following reasons: They tend to turn into ‘meat markets’ where you have the desperate to be married, actively hunting. The singles are treated as an extention of college agers. And all the activities tend to center around “getting to know you” activities. These singles groups are only slightly better than a bar, in that it doesnt cost as much money – but is just as creepy. Lastly, consider this: If there is a need for single people to get married – maybe the church should offer a matchmaking service seperate from a singles ministry because online dating – sucks.

    • Me112233

      You wrote: “Over time I have found that church leaders tend to focus all their energy on married couples, and married problems.”

      Well, let’s boil this down to the brass tacks: Churches like money. Married people tend to have more of it, or at least tend to be willing to part with more of if. Churches also have virtually 100% married people making financial decisions for the church. As a result, churches are “of married people, for married people.” The reason a 2,500 member church will have five youth pastors on staff, and zero single’s pastors on staff is that they, truth be told, only care about their own families. The married people (you know the parents/grandparents of the youth) are keenly concerned that the money be spent in ways that benefit themselves, and most people perceive money spent on their kids about the same as if you spent it directly on the parents. Did you know that over 98% of local church funds are spent on things that directly benefit the local church? For all the talk of missions and outreach, very little is done that doesn’t , in some way, provide a direct benefit for members who are already in the church. Frankly speaking, single’s ministries are cash sinkholes — while lots of ministry may be getting done, rarely do singles put as much back in the pot as is being taken out, which in turn means death of the singles ministry is on its way (and those who marry and remain in the church never have their contributions factored in with the single’s ministry). Singles typically don’t put sufficient money in the plate to cover the cost of having a single’s pastors. The bottom line is MONEY. Money money money. If spending $60,000 (salary and benefits) on a single’s minister meant $100,000 in donations, every church out there would have 5 single’s pastors on staff. But absent a profit-making opportunity, most church decision-makers will focus on themselves, and will not spend a plugged nickel on ministries that don’t directly benefit the decision-makers or their immediate families.

  • https://ebible.com/users/167400/profile Amonite

    Why do we need a ‘separate’ singles ministry at all? We are not widows and orphans (who need aid) or children (who need specialized instruction until they can handle the meat of the word). While it makes sense that men and women separate off to have there own Bible study or prayer group now and then, there is little Biblical sense in separating a group off just because they are single. How can the young women learn from the older women if they are in their own group? Likewise, how can the young men learn from their elders if they are constantly serving or learning only with other singles?

    Being single is not “Pre-church”. Yet singles ministries often separate singles from the Body of Christ and don’t allow them to integrate fully back in until they are married. Does Christ only allow married people to serve Him? Are singles restricted to specialized service? Must we be taught ‘differently?” In Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free. We don’t become fully attached to the body only ‘after’ we marry. While it is a nice idea to have a single on staff to hear concerns, and very good to have singles serve in other areas, most maturity and learning is going to come from singles learning, praying, and serving with people who are older than them.

    You mentioned that integrating the ages inhibits growth. While it is true you do not get as many ‘numbers’, it improves growth if you include older married couples (for mentoring) or a wide variety of ages in a singles class. The discipleship will be more effective, the group more mature, and the turn over less. If a church’s were only measured in numbers, I can think of many churches that are ‘growing’ – but not many of those are very healthy. God cares about the heart, not the outward appearance. If those singles are not grounded in the word then all those ‘numbers’ just mean its a large babysitting class or social club. (In every singles class I have ever been in, the teaching has declined and maturity declined the more the class progressed, especially if the group moves to video classes)

    The chief complaints of almost any single group (besides ‘it’s a meet market not a Bible study’), are that the turn over is high and it is hard to plant roots. With the church treating them as broken or like children, singles get marginalized by the very brothers and sisters that should embrace them as equal.

    While I am frustrated myself about the excellent married and singles class that I was in that ended in favor of a ‘singles class’, perhaps the most tragic tale was from an older group in my church. They were part of a married/singles class, but the church decided to ‘focus on family’ for a year, so they kicked the singles out into their own class. They were heartbroken; ripped from their friends of many years, many of whom they had watched their kids grow up.

    • Limfamous

      Amonite, I’ve been following some of your very insightful comments and was wondering if I can send you a quick email? If you are agreeable, my email address is jonlim604@gmail.com. Thank you!

    • Me112233

      I’ll add a little tidbid of information that might help. A fair number of the the married women don’t like it when a “hottie” shows up on the scene and joins the class/group. The insecurities of the married women (not all of them, but many) is a source of many a “get those single people out of here” actions taken by a church.

      • https://ebible.com/users/167400/profile Amonite

        My mother made a similar comment to me a while back, that she and other women would be jealous of the single women ‘preying on their men’, and therefore it would be inappropriate to have singles in the class. However, the highest risk of an affair is actually from other married women. When a couple goes through an emotional crisis, and the man or woman have access to the supportive ear of a other-gender friend on a consistent basis, the risk of an affair is very high (emotional affairs especially). Since there isn’t usually a reason for a married man to spend a great deal of alone time with a single girl (or vice versa), the affair is far more likely with a married friend of the couple’s, a married friend from work, or a married person who works with them in ministry. In general, its just a good idea for the church to not encourage opposite sex teams working together alone – married or not, and should encourage people to work in groups or in same-gender teams.

        Beyond that though, insecurities and jealousy shouldn’t stand in the way of spiritual development or unity in the body. Instead of kicking out the singles to flounder on their own, there should be discipleship and teaching that our identity is in Christ (not in appearance), that envy can destroy, and that love always trusts.

  • ruis2002

    Divisions by age aren’t that effective either. I’m a never married woman, age 44. I noticed one of the Baptist churches you mentioned doesn’t even have a group for the 40 – 49 age group. That is so true of so many churches. So what kind of group should I join? Frankly, I don’t even like going to singles groups anyway. Every time I’ve tried to attend a singles event at a church,the creepiest guy in the room will latch onto me and stalk me to my car in the parking lot after the event. I wish more churches had more themed groups for all ages and stages. Maybe a book club for women of all ages, similar to a Red Tent group, but without all the gaudy red interior decorating – and more Bible study than political hippie soap-boxing. A few local Methodist churches have themed all-ages/all-stages groups – called “friendship circles” or something like that. As a woman, I would be more comfortable in an all-stages group, so I can just go to church and socialize without worrying that I’ll just end up getting cornered by the creepy guys.

    • Me112233

      Would being cornered by a kind, handsome guy with no creep-credentials be OK? Or would you not consider that cornering at all, but rather, welcomed attention? I agree that some guys are creepy, in and of themselves. Yet, in defense of at least one of those guys, he may simply find you attractive, yet you don’t find him attractive, and because his mind-reading skills are somewhat deficient, you decide the guy is a creep because he is showing you attention that you would rather he not send your way.

      That “Hello, how are you” stage can be awkward indeed. Guys are told, trained, or simply learn by trail and error, that if they don’t put forth some measure of pursuit, they will never get a date, kiss, married, or any other measure of romance. Every girl-book, chick-flick, and even Christian book addressing the psychology of romance, indicates that a woman wants to be pursued. Please excuse guys who are simply inept when it comes to recognizing interest or disinterest of any given woman. I’ll never forget the time a gal stopped me in a restaurant in my little home town (she had married a guy from there), and asked if I knew “Mary.” I said, “Yes, haven’t seen her since college” (about 10 years prior). The gal went on to tell me that Mary had a crush on me (apparently enough so that this girl whom I never met was able to pick me out of a crowd 10 years later). I always thought Mary would be a fantastic catch, yet I never recognized that she was actually interested in dating me, so I never pursued, as I enjoyed our casual friendship and didn’t want to create an awkward situation by asking her out; in retrospect (and prompted by what was told to me 10 years later), I now recognize some of the things she would say to me as subtle hints of interest, but I simply didn’t pick up on them at that time. (Also, I wasn’t interested in being a casualty of the busy-body gossipers who enjoy talking down a guy for doing nothing more than trying to get a girl to go out with him.) It’s true, most guys have difficulty with the proper reading of clues.

      I’ve never met you, so I’m reading between the lines here. But life isn’t always “comfortable” as you put it. No doubt you gals get hit on by guys that simply don’t interest you, though I’m guessing that most of those guys wouldn’t be put on the “creepy” list by 99% of objective bystanders. I get it, Murphy’s law of romance is “You are never attracted to the people who are attracted to you,” and the corollary, “Of all people you are attracted to, none are attracted to you.” Recognizing that the world isn’t always comfortable, perhaps you need to develop a tactful way of telling “creeps” that you aren’t interested in any way, shape, or form, long before you get to the “walk you to your car” stage. Doing so will save you from full-blown creep encounters, and likewise make you more comfortable with the notion of returning to that same place again on another occasion. While not attempting in any way to discount any improper behavior by some of the men you have encountered, until you communicate a clear an concise “no,” part of the blame for those creep-out situations belongs to you.

      • Ren A

        I like your response here Me112233 as I think people are often attracted to each other but they don’t necessarily know how to deal with it, especially these days where the old traditions are still expected of the man approaching the women (I know because me and my single friends say this is how it should be done) but that these boundaries are easily crossed and women may be freaked out by them if they are approached by an ‘unsuitable’ match. I would much prefer to be a woman than a man these days, in a single sense, as it becomes very unclear as to the correct etiquette in how to approach women without sending the wrong message across. I haven’t found there to be many ‘creeps’ although there is one man and I have clearly told NO but he doesn’t seem to be getting the hint. Oh well, I did try. I don’t call him a creep though just someone who thinks things will change, which they won’t as he is a non-Christian guy.

        It does depend on what age group you are in and how you have been raised. Some women are quite forward in their affections for men, as are men toward women but men are graded as ‘creepy’. I am raising 2 teenage sons and I don’t really know how to teach them on how to approach girls but really just by being friends with them is the first approach I would think. It is hard to teach our kids let alone ourselves on the correct way to talk to people as I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to come across as creepy when they would be doing the best they can. I think we need to give guys a break when it comes to this as our society has made it terribly confusing for them.

        • Me112233

          You said: “I would much prefer to be a woman than a man these days, in a single
          sense, as it becomes very unclear as to the correct etiquette in how to
          approach women without sending the wrong message across.”

          I reply: I don’t think the wrong message is being sent — the message is obvious, the man is interested in a date/relationship. It is the woman’s response to the message that is often a problem; many woman respons quite harshly to a guy when said woman isn’t interested. It is as if the women are still in middle school, “ewwww gross, guess who asked me out.”

  • Mitchell Milner

    Age division sucks. As a 38-year old single man, my target age range for a woman is early-mid 30s. I have no problem meeting or dating women 10 years younger in a bar or online, but the church makes it difficult to mix naturally because of ridiculous assumptions (i.e. the 60-year old farmer mentioned in the article). What about the 38-year old business professional, like me, that would like to date another business professional that is 33? Prestonwood Baptist now sets the cutoff at 18-35 and 35+.

    • Me112233

      I used to visit Southeast Christian Church in Louisville in the 1990’s. Their age-based classes purposefully over-lapped, and did so in such a way that most people could choose between two classes — one in which they were at the upper end of the age group and another that they were at the lower end. They had the typical college group, but from there it was under-35, 30-40, 35-50, 45-60, etc. The age banding was never an issue, few people attended functions outside of the stated age range, and basically nobody complained about the age groupings — the key was the overlap. Extra-curricular activities (like a volleyball night), would almost always be co-sponsored by two groups with neighboring ages — this led to big turnouts and also permitted lots of opportunity for meeting people outside one’s specific age grouping (let’s be real now, the majority of single’s want to meet that Mr. or Miss right, and if the structure of the church’s single’s programs is such that it impedes meeting people, you won’t have much of a group).

      And despite the article’s focus on age groups, an equally valid dividing line is marital status. The 40-year old never-married, childless person is in a completely different life setting than the 40-year old divorcee with three kids in tow. As a never-married, childless individual, I would rather be “grouped” with a bunch of never-married, childless people who were all at least10 years older and/or at least 10 years younger than me, than I would want to be group with a bunch of people who are divorced with children and all within 5 years my age. I recognize that most churches have totally abandoned the scriptural teachings regarding divorced people getting remarried; but trust me when I tell you that most never-married, childless people don’t want their social groups (yes, Sunday school classes and single’s groups are social groups) being dominated by divorcees with children . . . we don’t want to hear never-ending stories about Jr’s ball game or Suzie’s dance recital, nor do we go to Friday night get-togethers to hear people gripe about how your ex won’t pay child support and/or let you visit your kids. We all know that in at least 90% of the churches out there, the term “single adult” is code for “middle-aged divorcee,” and the never-married singles are treated as if they need no ministry. (Name me one church that runs a “Never Married Care” program — I have proven my point.) I will also note that many churches have decided that the blue-haired widows should be grouped in with the never-married and divorced people half their age.

      The best approach to grouping of singles is to use both age and marital status. For some churches, such dividing may appear to cause groups to be too small; yet, if you put the word out that there is a group that honestly fits a person’s demographic, you may be surprised that folks will begin gravitating to your church. People are hungry for a place to belong. You have no idea how many born-again believers out there simply don’t go to anybody’s church because they feel there is no place for them to fit in.

  • Mark

    I don’t like division by age up to a point and even then, I would not enforce it. There are some very mature 25 year olds and some immature 50 year olds. The other thing with a singles ministry is not to forget that these people mourn for the dead too. Too often minsters don’t even try to learn the names of the single members of a family when they are asked to conduct a funeral for that family. Thus the single people are treated as outcasts in this situation too.