The language we use in the church, from innocent questions to the names of the singles ministries, reinforces some damaging and demoralizing lies surrounding singleness and marriage. We need to consciously work against handing out false hope (“God is going to bring you such a good man”) and instead reinforce the value of each person’s life—as is. Not every woman will become a wife and mother, and your marriage and family sermon series should have a session on singleness because just as there’s much single people can glean from a marriage sermon, there’s much married people can learn from singleness. But when we’re continually hammered with marriage sermons, promises of marriage, or questions of marital status, it seems that the church is only working to feed the idol of marriage, not help us destroy it.
I also believe that while single people are in desperate need for the church to truly act as a community, as family, to fill in the gaps where all the pieces fall short, it is often those who are unmarried who get squeezed out. They slink into services unnoticed, the church’s programming of daddy-daughter dates and family picnics seems to exclude them, and very rarely does someone initiate conversation, much less relationship, with them. Singles have to work very hard to fit into the family-centric church model.
What can I be doing as a pastor to work to include singles?
First, work to identify and destroy the stereotypes you’ve internalized about single people, whether it’s that you believe they’re single for a reason, socially awkward, or that they are spiritually immature in some way. You probably have some preconceived ideas about single people, and it’s helpful if you know what your prejudices are so you can deconstruct them.
And ask good questions of the singles in your congregation. Listen to the answer. When the majority of my conversations with people in my church revolve around my love life (or lack thereof), that’s only working to remind me that without marriage, I have little to offer. Instead of leading with “Oh, are you seeing anyone?” I’d love to be engaged in conversation by being asked, “What are you doing for the kingdom? What are you passionate about? Why do you talk about foster care so much?” Those are the kinds of questions that reinforce my worth and contributions right now, not the role of wife and mother I could potentially adopt.
Never underestimate the value of representation. The Christian community has buzzed in the last few years with the importance of encouraging diversity in thought, ethnicity, even age. But I’d love to see more single representation in the church. When we only see married people serving in leadership positions, offering Communion, or opening the service in prayer, that’s a problem. That’s sending a message to me, a single woman, that I am not ready, fit, or able to serve. Single people should be sought out for committees, panels, and service opportunities in the church—not because they have more time to serve but because their input is invaluable and could not be gained elsewhere.
What are 2 or 3 of the biggest felt needs that Christian singles have?
Singles long for community and belonging. And so often, because we’re unable to find that in our local churches, we turn online or to friend groups outside the church to meet that need. I’m eager for the church to become the sanctuary I know it can be.
We also long for our lives to be celebrated, as they are. If I never got married, if there was no wedding or baby to come, would my life still be worthy of notice? Could you still find something in it to commend? Of course. So do it! Celebrate the lives of the single people around you by finding what is praise-worthy in them.
—Joy Beth Smith, Party of One
How to Use This Book
Pastors, does your church need to take a look at its singles ministry? This book can help start the necessary conversations and even inspire a message for the singles in your church to feel seen, and for couples to learn how to better engage with and love singles. To help give you or your small group leaders a starting point, we even have a free discussion guide to go along with the book.
Party Of One
Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness
Joy Beth Smith