We’d already stopped recording when my podcast guest and I started talking explicitly about being single in the church. Eric Demeter, author of How Should a Christian Date?, and I had just finished recording a long conversation about calling. As we were debriefing, he asked about my work. I described how my passion is for filling the gap between what the church offers single Christians and what they actually need. This led to an extensive conversation, which I regularly kick myself for not recording, on what it’s like to be single in the church and what we as a church need to do better.
He described hearing one sermon on singleness. The pastor spoke about how singles were just as valuable as married people. Eric described the congregation applauding at this. He, however, was less impressed. For many single folks, there is significant dissonance between statements like this and the lived experience of singles in the church. In her book One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church, Gina Dalfonzo writes, “Most evangelical Christians will tell you without missing a beat that our worth is found in God and that this makes us all equal in His eyes. But the hidden, unacknowledged, often unrealized hierarchies in many churches tell a different tale.”
It’s one thing to tell singles we are valued. It’s quite another to show us.
If you’re here, it’s likely because you think that singles are a valuable part of the Body of Christ. You’d like to do your part to make your church more welcoming to singles, but perhaps you’re not sure where to start. Here are five ways your church (the people and the institution) can show singles they’re valued.
Singles come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak. Never married, divorced, widows, single parents, LGBTQ singles, BIPOC singles, etc. Within those different experiences are individuals with different goals, desires, and pain points. In my four years of writing and podcasting about singleness, I’ve noticed that a huge barrier to trust between single folks and the rest of the church is our assumptions. Some singles want mixers, others would rather shower with a bear than attend a mixer. Some want to get un-single, others want to cultivate deep, platonic relationships. When it comes to showing singles they’re valued, a great way to start is to ask what they need, rather than assuming you know.
Having singles up front and in the room where decisions are made shows the whole church that singles are valued—as they are. Writer Anna Broadway describes this phenomenon in her recent Christianity Today piece. Seeing a single woman leading and using her gifts, Anna writes, “It gave me a picture of the purpose my own life could find, even if God continued to withhold marriage from me.” Not only does this show singles there is an unequivocal place for them in the church, but it also broadens our cultural imagination of what the Christian life can look like.
Your singles have a variety of gifts and passions—some they know about, some that are waiting to be called out. I’m not just talking about asking someone to volunteer with kids’ ministry. I like to think about the many ways Jesus involved people in his work. In the story of Lazarus, Jesus asks the mourners to roll away the stone, then to take off Lazarus’ grave clothes once he’s risen (John 11). In the Feeding of the 5,000, a boy provides the five loaves and two fish and the disciples pass out the miraculous feast (John 6).
There are many small and informal ways singles can be invited to participate in the life of the church, and in the larger work of the Kingdom in our neighborhoods. Let’s say your church is hosting an event. Are there any singles who might like to help plan, host, or teach?
I have to follow up with some comments on mutuality. Too often, when I talk about the value singles offer the church, the first response is about how singles have more time to serve. While engaged participation can help us feel valued, we cannot create an environment that communicates that we are only as valuable as we are useful. If you’re expecting singles to serve, how are singles also being served by the community? This ranges from sermon topics and illustrations to expanding who we think of as eligible for the meals ministry.
When I talk to singles about what they need, more often than not, it’s what any human needs. True community. We were not created to be alone, and for singles, our relationships can feel tenuous. Small and large actions that communicate trust and commitment can go a long way. One simple thing my church has encouraged is for married folks to let their single friends know they can invite themselves over for dinner any time. Singles don’t want people to invite them to things out of pity or obligation, but because it matters that we are there. This shows us that we are a valuable part of your life.
The gospel creates a way for us to be reconciled to one another across our differences. If each of us is made in the image of God, who is infinite and diverse, we know God better when we interact with people whose lives are different from ours. Our expression of faith becomes richer when we see the many ways Christ is making himself known to each of us.
What feels most doable to you? What would you add to the list?
MaryB. Safrit is an author, podcaster, and coach passionate about serving single Christians. She is the host of Unsuitable with MaryB. Safrit, a podcast on which she interviews single Christians about their lives and faith. She currently lives in New York City. You can follow MaryB. on Instagram @maryb.safrit, or head to marybsafrit.com to find more resources for singles.