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Single moms—What pastors need to know

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Single moms—What pastors need to know

Jennifer Maggio

Jennifer Maggio, author and national speaker, is founder and chief executive officer of The Life of a Single Mom ministries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States.

 

Single moms. Just hearing those two words together immediately evokes a response. Some will immediately think of the single mother who raised them after their father passed away far too early—or maybe remember a special coworker, family member, or friend who has such a story. Maybe, as a pastor, it reminds you of a special church member who has been a faithful part of your congregation despite the many hardships she has faced. Compassion fills your heart as you recognize the weight the words single mom carry. For others, you may not fully understand their journey, and despite your best efforts to the contrary, you struggle with an attitude of judgment as you assume those words must denote sin. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of response, we all have a reference point for single motherhood.

People who hold varying viewpoints about single moms, usually rooted in their own life experiences, fill our churches. As the church—the collective body of Christ—we are called to put aside prejudice, judgment, scorn, or even pity. Pastors are called upon to ensure that the church views single moms as God does: chosen; beloved; and worthy of dignity, respect, and compassion.

A note to the single mom reading this

Before I go any further, let me stop and say to any single mother reading this, the details of the challenges you face, the statistics, and even the perception that some may have about you do not circumvent one enormous fact:your God is far bigger than any statistic written on a sheet of paper or any opinion held by the crowd. Your God calls you chosen, blessed, set apart, and righteous through Jesus’ blood, and His Word says that He shall supply all your needs, so do not for one second think that I am suggesting that you (or your children) are destined to become a statistic or that you should carry shame. No, my sister, your God is far bigger than that. 

What in the world is going on?

With more than 15 million single mothers in the United States alone, raising an estimated 24 million children,1 the implications of how we view, discuss, and ultimately minister to single moms have profound importance. The number of single parent families has more than doubled since 1970.2 We also see data showing that single mothers face incredible challenges, including children who are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school3 or five times more likely to commit suicide.4 Single moms raised 78 percent of the current prison population in the United States.5 Such mothers often struggle with financial burdens, greater parenting woes, and the lack of a strong support system through family or church community. Children of single parents are 77 percent more likely to have endured physical abuse.6 Ninety percent of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes.7 In the face of such challenges, how do we march forward?

The objections to single moms’ ministry

Having been involved in single moms’ ministry for more than a decade and having personally discussed the issue with many single mothers, I am aware of the objections, both voiced and just thought, that prevent a pastor from moving forward in single mother ministry. Allow me to address a few:

Won’t a single mothers’ ministry endorse sin or produce more single motherhood? My response is always the same to this one: No. Drug recovery programs do not endorse drug use. They simply meet people where they are. We are doing the same thing with single mothers. Millions of single mothers live in the US and even more worldwide. Do we simply ignore their existence out of fear that the ministry process could get a little messy? Well, we could, but that is certainly not what Jesus did. He was in the midst of our messy situations. I encourage you to be too.

We already have a very limited budget. How can we afford to start a single moms’ ministry? The truth is you cannot afford not to have a single moms’ ministry. The demographic is rapidly growing. The most successful churches (those that are both the fastest-growing and most active in saving lost souls) are the ones who think outside the box and use their God-given creativity to meet people’s needs. Single moms’ ministry does not have to be complicated. In short, it’s a meeting place, a casual gathering where single moms fellow-ship. It does not have to start huge or with any budget, really. The Life of a Single Mom ministries offers many creative ways to host single moms’ events and Bible studies at low to no cost at all.8 

Won’t single mothers be a drain on our already stretched budget? I do not expect any church to fulfill all the needs of every single mom they come in contact with. You do not have to pay every utility bill or provide housing for every struggling single mom. I get it. There are lots of needs, and resources can be limited. All that said, literally hundreds of ministries, nonprofits, and resources are available for single mothers. We have a full national resource guide to assist you in directing moms to where they can get help for various needs without constantly stretching the church too thin.

I don’t have the time to lead another ministry. You are carrying many responsibilities. Instead, we want you to identify someone in your church who can direct the ministry. It can be a current or former single mom, your women’s ministries leader, a strong Bible teacher, or a wise woman who has years of experience. The goal is to start somewhere. Begin to pray that God would show you who can direct it. Yes, it can be led by someone who is not a staff member. The goal is to start a fun, casual, single moms’ program that can reach into the community to offer love, support, wisdom, and truth. Relationship comes before ministry, so begin the work of establishing the necessary relationships to forge the pathway to a strong single moms’ ministry.

The complexity of single parenting

The origins of single parenthood are many. They can include anything from death and abandonment to adoption, incarceration, and more. Single parenthood can result from the ugliness of addiction or extramaital affairs. Often it involves unwed pregnancy. In other words, the journey is complex. Yes, there are single moms, like me, who did have sex outside of marriage that produced new life. But that does not apply to all single mothers. And regardless of what sin or struggle led to single parenthood, this truth remains: God loves single mothers despite a story that may not clean up in a pretty package with a neat bow. He simply is overwhelmed by love for them. His heart breaks for the things that shatter theirs. Ministry can get hard. But the lives of single mothers and their children depend on a compassionate church that exudes the love of Christ.

If this is how God views single mothers, and knowing the unique hardships facing single moms, what should be the church’s response?

Why single moms do not attend church

The Life of a Single Mom ministries conducted an informal study in fall 2009 for the release of the book The Church and the Single Mom. The study included surveying hundreds of single mothers throughout the US. Some single mothers loved their home churches and detailed how the church saved their lives, gave them hope, and offered invaluable support. Others detested the local church and its failure to recognize the need and hurt they carried. What was overwhelmingly true was that two out of three single mothers did not have a home church that they attended regularly. The reasons varied as much as the stories, but common responses included

  • fear of judgment by other church members,
  • lack of understanding by the church for the challenges faced by the single mother,
  • no programs or ministries that addressed the unique make-up of the single mom family,
  • depression and isolation that left single mothers feeling unloved or broken, failure of church leadership to recognize that the church is diverse and not made up of only married couples, the perception that they did not “fit in” anywhere.

Whether any of the things above are actually true, in the context of fear or judgment, for example, is actually irrelevant. What is important is that this is the perception many single mothers have. Satan is masterful at convincing single mothers (and others, for that matter) that the local body of Christ does not want them. Recognizing this, how can pastors address this challenge?

Step 1: Develop an evangelism plan to reach single moms

First, the local church must develop an evangelism plan to reach single mothers. Single mothers are the fastest growing demographic in the nation. Forty-nine percent of all children today are born outside marriage.9 It means that we must be strategic with witnessing to single mothers and their children—and create outreach programs that engage single moms. The list of possibilities is endless but can include such things as single moms car prep (a free oil change and car wash); single moms celebrations, such as Christmas parties, nights of worship, or outreach programs at community centers or parks that target single mothers; free tutoring services for single-parent families; Mother’s Day programs; and so many more. Yes, it will take some of the church’s budget. And, yes, it will require planning and volunteer hours. But the church has long held the belief that women’s ministries, men’s ministries, youth groups, or widows should warrant part of the budget (and they should). Single mothers simply need to be considered, seen, and strategically reached out to as well.

Step 2: Develop a discipleship plan for single mothers who make a commitment to your church

Next, prepare a discipleship plan for single mothers. One-time single mom events are great. The common assumption is that after such an event, all the single moms will acclimate into an existing program at the church or attend weekly services, but in actuality, they do not. Some are “testing the waters” because the church (or others) have already hurt them. Others are not sure where they fit in. Developing a discipleship plan is critical. What does that look like? While it might be different at every church, it is simply an ongoing, regular gathering of single mothers that fellowship and grow in the Word together.

Whether it be a single moms’ weekly Bible class, life group, or more formal ministry that meets on a Friday or Saturday night, single moms often like to have a place where they can gather and discuss issues unique to them. Post-divorce classes are wonderful and provide healing for those who have gone through such trauma, but they are limited to 10 to 12 weeks and also only serve those who have gone through divorce. What happens after the 12 weeks? What about the single mothers who never married? While I greatly support divorce-recovery programs, I vehemently believe that there should be a single moms’ ministry that runs throughout the year, providing an opportunity for them to acclimate to the church.

Step 3: Make single moms’ ministry an ongoing ministry in your church

The single moms’ ministry plan should be ongoing, much like women’s ministries or youth ministries. People will come and go as life seasons change, but there should always be a place for them to plug in through a single moms’ group. A healthy single moms’ program gives them a place to grow, mentor other single moms, and network about job or daycare opportunities and provides a support chain that can assist with the practical needs of the single-mom family, such as moving, babysitting, or just providing listening ears.

The church needs single moms

As a former single mother who had two children outside of marriage and carried more shame than words can express, I implore pastors to hear me. The burdens of the single mom are many. The data do not lie. Single moms exist in your community, whether you have them in your congregation or not. Sometimes, the implementation of a single moms’ evangelism and outreach program is just what your church needs to get more single mothers inside the church versus outside looking in. Even when she is doing an amazing job (and most are), working two jobs and juggling homework, finances, and carpool with little to no help, she needs your support. Despite struggles surrounding time and money, a single mom can make an incredible contribution to the life and ministry of a church. She needs to know you see her and feel that she has value within the whole church body. Single moms need the church—and the church needs single moms.

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1  The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2017. www.aecf.org /who-we-help/families/

2  U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Surveywww.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps.html.

3  Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, Greg J. Duncan, and Ariel Kalil, “One-Parent Students Leave School Earlier.” www.educationnext.org/one-parent-students -leave-school-earlier/

4  “The Fatherless Generation.” www.thefatherlessgeneration.wordpress.com/statistics

5  See also Bella DePaulo, “Children of Single Mothers: How Do They Really Fare?” Psychology Today. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single /200901/children-single-mothers-how-do-they-really-fare

6  Office on Child Abuse and Neglect. “Emerging Practices in the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.” www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs /emerging_practices_report.pdf

7  John Knight, “How the False Claims of the Child Abuse Industry Have Harmed America.” FatherMag.com, October 10, 2018. fathermag.com/9604 /abuse_industry/.

8  For ideas and full details, visit thelifeofasinglemom.com.

9 Joseph Chamie, “Out-of-Wedlock Births Rise Worldwide.” YaleGlobal Online, March 16, 2017. https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/out-wedlock-births-rise-worldwide.

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