Your most effective ministry for any group in your congregation is not what you do to them or for them, but rather what you do with them. This is especially true for singles.
As we noted in a previous article, many singles have opted out of active church attendance or participation because they believe they are neglected, ignored, or even not wanted. Others have been shunned at their most difficult times. A construction worker says, "When my wife and I divorced, the church virtually sent me packing. My whole life was in turmoil. Where do you go when the church turns you out?"
Some may say, "Well, they are missing the point, we don't shun them and we never declare them pariahs." Unfortunately, our actions often speak far more eloquently than our words. We may mouth correct phrases, but our failure to minister with singles clearly states our intent that they are unnecessary baggage hanging around the "real life" of the families in our churches.
When you want to improve your ministry with singles, consider:
Ministry is for everyone. Jesus doesn't call only married males to ministry. He, Himself, lived a single and exemplary life of ministry and some of those whom he commissioned as ministers were married. If the work of the pastor is to put the members to work, this means designing ministry functions to utilize every member and recruiting the best for leadership and the rest for service. Don't single out some effective ministers because of marital status.
Identify your groups. In her excel lent article, "Standing Alone," 1 Cristina Poor encourages pastors to begin by recognizing five different categories of singles, each with unique needs: never married, divorced, single parents, widowed, and separated. The spiritual and social needs of a young, never-married adult likely will be distinctly different than those of a mature person who just recently lost their spouse to death.
Don't settle for status quo. The reality that single adults often "fall through the cracks" does not excuse neglect by pastors and congregations. Both a ministry specific to their needs and ministry assignments that include singles in spiritual leadership are essential to prevent those who feel ignored or abandoned from quietly drifting away. Determine to utilize every resource avail able for effective ministry. Elect singles to leadership and encourage them to develop plans for reaching others.
Use, don't abuse. Avoid taking advantage of someone just because they are single. Select meaningful ministry activities that fit the interests and skills of a member rather than assigning a task that you assume they are free to do. One woman wrote, "My church thinks that just because I'm unmarried, I have lots of time to perform any task— especially those chores no one else wants. I'm often told, you have nothing going on, so you can clean the kitchen, babysit the kids, plan the luncheon. Why don't they ask me to pray, plan worship, or lead a study group? This attitude makes me feel devalued."
Single, not separate. Recognize various types of singles, but don't separate them away from the rest of the congregation as if they were so unique that they could not fit in. Make certain to build family within the church for those whom you may not readily identify as "families." Virginia Mclnerney, author of Single Not Separate, 2 urges churches to include singles in their planning and implementation of ministry and to sensitively and intentionally signal inclusiveness in every aspect of church.
Feature options. Some of your singles who expect to marry may not know where to meet other sincere believers. The smaller or more isolated your church, the greater the challenge. While you urge members to marry only believers, also help link them with others who share the same faith. Since 1974, Adventist Contact3 has success fully and effectively provided just such a specialized introduction/dating ministry for Seventh-day Adventists.
Foster friendships. Not every single is seeking romance. Every individual, however, needs friends to pray and study together, to play and fellowship together, to share interests or hobbies, to engage in mission projects, and to support each other through the inevitable traumas of loss as well as in times of joy. Kit Watts, Communication Director for the Southeastern California Conference, says that in extending friendship we enter a sacred adventure. A simple invitation, "Let's get together," can open opportunities to grow intellectually, spiritually, socially, and to widen our circle of influence. "Our initiative may be rebuffed or our trust betrayed. But when friendship happens, it can change our lives."4
1 Cristina Foor, "Standing Alone' in Ministries Today, May-June, 2003, 42-49. www.ministriestoday.com
2 Virginia Mclnerney, Single Not Seperate: How to Make the Church a Family (Charisma House, 2003).
3 Adventist Contact, P.O. Box 5419, Takoma Park, MD, 20913, USA.
4 Kit Watts in Adventist Review, February 11, 1988, 5.