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A question for pastors and other church leaders about singles’ ministry

I want to ask those of you in the audience who are pastors or who are leaders within your church–because I know there are a number of you–a question about singles’ ministry.
Someone asked me the other day if my church has one. It doesn’t. There are lots of reasons why.

I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of creating a Christian meat market. I know where to find one of those already. If I wanted a date tomorrow, I know what church to go to and at what time, and I could walk out of there with a date without trying all that hard. And if I don’t like what I find, I can always go back next week.

Creating an evening church service for lonely people to go to is slightly more conducive to fostering healthy relationships than the local singles’ bar, but they both have a number of things in common, and one of them is that God isn’t going to be the main focus of the majority of the people at either place. It’s simple human nature.

My church has had Bible studies for singles using the small-group model in the past, but those groups had similar weaknesses. Usually the groups started out really well. But the group would implode over the course of a year or two. After a few weeks, half the people in the room would be trying to impress other people in the room, and the other half would be talking and giggling about how their last date with so-and-so went. And as time went on, you’d have couples there who were clearly more interested in each other than with the Bible study. The couples would eventually drop away, and the frustrated people would drop away, and pretty soon you’ve got no group. And God wasn’t much in focus for more than a few weeks with this model either.

There are approximately 170 single people in my church. Some of them inevitably are perfectly happy being single. Some of them inevitably are miserable. Probably most of them would seek someone out if they knew where to look and what they were supposed to be looking for.

So I’m wondering if it isn’t time for a new approach. There are lots of books that tell you what to look for and how to find it. There are also lots of venues for trying to find Christian singles, so I don’t see much point in trying to compete with them. I’d rather do something supplemental: Create groups where people walk together through the process of learning how to find and develop a healthy relationship.

So here’s the idea. Get a few small groups together. Perhaps go smaller than small groups and use the accountability group model with five or fewer people. Definitely don’t mix genders. Smaller groups and keeping the gender the same encourages people to be open and honest, rather than shy or trying to be impressive. Walk through any number of the available books on singlehood together, doing the exercises and talking about them. It’s one thing to know all this stuff. It’s another to think about it, understand it, and have people walking beside you every step of the way, offering mutual encouragement and accountability.

The encouragement is necessary because the process can be frustrating. The accountability is necessary because some people just aren’t emotionally healthy enough to have a good relationship just yet, and without help it might take years but with the right encouragement and with leaders to point them in the right direction, the time required could be much shorter.

As more people get interested, you form more groups. As groups get smaller due to people getting attached, you merge them or add new people to them.

I think this might be an idea whose time has come, but I’d like to hear some other opinions.

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6 thoughts on “A question for pastors and other church leaders about singles’ ministry”

  1. I’m not a leader in our single’s group. However, there were some major ground rules set when the group started.

    It’s not a meat market. period. end of subject. It was formed to build up and encourage the over 30 singles. To build friendships. To become closer to God.

    We have a Sunday school class with contemporary subjects affecting singles.

    We hold some function at least once a month. Every other month includes children as about 1/2 of us are single parents.

    The one issue we have had with someone trying to use it as a “dating service” was pulled aside and it was explained that the group wasn’t for that. (In case you were wondering, he was “easter egging” his way through the females in the group.)

  2. oh I forgot, the group has been together since June of 2002 so it’s holding quite well and we’re actually growing.

  3. Dave,
    I haven’t been in a church since the summer of ’66.
    When I need something from my Father , I ask. If he thinks I need it, I get it.
    Ask G-d.

  4. Well…

    I guess being married for a whole lotta years puts me on the other end. But I remember a couple of painful years where all my friends got married, I rented a LOT of tuxes, and at every wedding, I had a different date (or was stood up).

    My $0.02 – don’t put God in the middle of your relationship. Put Him in your heart. Look for someone else who has the same values, and look to have a good time. Have a singles dance, or mixer night, or ball game, or any of a hundred other things. Yes, it’s not going to focus on God and you, but it seems that’s the problem.

    First, focus on the other person, and the friendship. If you do it right, God will ALWAYS be in the middle.

    For what it’s worth…

  5. …don’t put God in the middle of your relationship. Put Him in your heart.

    I’m with John on this one. I’m afraid, at least from my perspective of being married over 10 years, that Dave’s idea for small “accountability groups” seems a bit too, I dunno…rigid maybe ? It has the flavor of something thought up by an engineer trying to solve a problem (and I have sympathy for that, having an engineer’s mindset myself 😉 However, I quite frankly screwed myself with that “I can approach fixing my state of singleness as an engineering problem” thought process for a number of years.

    Do some of the singles you know need that sort of thing first to help them become more emotionally mature ? Probably so. But the majority just need a safe, low-pressure social setting to meet people who have “the same values, and look to have a good time.”

  6. Another model–
    My son attends a small mission congregation. He was really impressed by the way he was accepted by the group. Their approach is to integrate the young singles, so the small group he’s involved with includes a couple families with children, some newly married, a couple singles and a couple teens. He felt that mix was more valuable than the college ministry where he had participated, more instructive and supportive. And he has a great supportive, Christian circle of school mates for comparison.

    Just a thought–try a circle with a broad range of people rather than the standard singles group.

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