Letting Go of Stereotypes
I have heard a fair share of stereotypes about Single Adult Ministry (SAM) and, based on my own experiences (and those of others involved in this ministry), I have found it to be one of the most misunderstood ministries within the church. There are many who cast it aside as a glorified matchmaking club — a place where lonely and desperate people go for the sole purpose of finding love and seeking completion in other people.
As a matter of fact, years ago, whenever people encouraged me to get involved, I gave them the same answer pretty much every time: “That’s not for me. I’m happy where I am right now. If God decides to send someone into my life, that’s fine but I’m not desperate for love.” No matter how much they tried to tell me that that wasn’t the point of the ministry, I stuck with my stereotypes. They were safe and didn’t require anything of me. It took a long time for me to change my mind — OK, let’s be honest: it took a long time for God to change my mind (I’m pretty stubborn) — but it finally happened.
I looked around my local church and saw several single adults who had been through some difficult situations. Some had been through divorce. Some had lost their spouse to death. Some had never been married — and were fine with it — but needed fellowship with like-minded people. That was when I began to wonder something for the first time: could a singles ministry help these people in my church? Could it possibly be a place of healing? The question intrigued me and I finally listened to my pastor and started to work with the ministry.
As I began to work within the ministry and learn more about it, God began to reveal the nature of Single Adult Ministry to me. He also began to show me how it could benefit the church. He also began to show me how it could benefit me personally. Since then, I have been one of its most ardent supporters. Still, before my life could be impacted in any way, I had to learn to let go of the stereotypes I had heard and built up in my own mind.
And that brings us to the purpose of this article — the first in our new Singles Ministry Startup Series. We will be discussing a wide variety of topics related to starting a singles ministry. We’ll be talking about how to organize conferences, how to get people involved, and ideas for activities to do with your group. We have so many ideas we cannot wait to share with you!
I have learned, however, that it is important to have a solid foundation when you are attempting to build anything. That is the purpose of this particular article. I want to explain the nature of this ministry and the need for it. I also hope to help dispel any misconceptions and provide some explanations that will help you to understand this ministry better and that will help you to educate others about it. Both are important.
Let’s begin by looking at the twofold purpose of singles ministry.
Purpose of Singles Ministry #1: To Minister to Single Adults
If you are curious about the need for Single Adult Ministries, check out the statistics on the single adult population in the United States. With single adults currently outnumbering married adults, the need for this ministry is on the rise. Within the single adult population in your church, you will generally find a variety of categories: namely, those who have never been married, those who have been divorced, and those who have been widowed.
Within these groups, you will find people in a variety of spiritual states. Some are incredibly active in the church and some aren’t quite there yet.
There are those who are so active that you may forget they have any needs of their own. There are those who want to be used but are still hurting so deeply it is difficult for them to look past their own pain. There are also those who are not even aware of how long they have been hurting and have learned to disguise pain so well that they have forgotten it even exists. All of these individuals are deeply important to God and all of these individuals can benefit from Single Adult Ministries.
You will find single adults in your church who have moved past the initial healing process and have learned to depend on God in a deeper way. You will often find that they are active in almost every ministry in your church. They keep the church clean. They work in Sunday School. They serve on the music team. They do countless things every week. They are hard workers.
SAM is there to help these individuals receive what they need from God so that they don’t run on empty. It aims to minister to them so that they can receive renewed strength as they minister to others in the church. For some, they work so diligently and tirelessly that they do not have a place or a time to simply receive things from God. Sometimes they do not make the time because they are so busy caring for everyone else that they forget about themselves. SAM is there to remind them that they deserve — and need — to receive things from God as well.
The Pre-Active (Because We Believe They Will Find Their Place in the Church)
You will find some singles who are not yet active in the church or who operate on the sidelines as much as possible. Sometimes it is because they have not yet found a place to belong. Sometimes it is because they do not see a need to get involved. And sometimes – very often, in fact – they are not as active as others might think they should be because they are in the process of healing.
Those who have experienced the death of a loved one or have lived through a divorce from a spouse are healing from a very particular kind of loss. It takes time for them to get to a place where they feel comfortable working in the church. They need some time to let God heal them. Some have been active in the church in the past but, after such a tremendous loss, they are reeling from the effects and just need some time to recover. They often plan to serve again when they are able but, for the time being, they need time to let God put the pieces back together. SAM is there to help them in their time of healing and to minister to them as they try to figure out who they are now that they are not defined by their relationship with their significant other.
Within every subcategory of single adults, there are also those who desperately want to be married – at any cost, almost. This is also a group that may or may not be active in the church because they still need healing. These are the ones who often fall victim to stereotypes. They are the ones who feel as if they need someone to complete them. Life, past experiences, and even human relationships have taught them that they are not enough on their own. They are searching for completion in another person and hoping that if they can just find the right man or the right woman everything will somehow be OK. SAM is there to help them find what they need in God — to help them realize that we are complete in Him so that, should marriage ever come their way, they will be able to offer a complete person to the one they love.
There are also some who may want to work in the church but feel their ministries cannot effectively get off the ground until they have a spouse. They have dreams and desires to be used of God but they do not feel that they can be used in ministry unless they are married. They worry about how others may perceive them. They are concerned, again, that they might not be enough on their own. SAM is there to help these understand that they can work for God right now and, again, that He can make up the difference wherever they may be lacking. Then, should marriage ever come their way, they will come equipped with a ministry that will help them work for God as a seasoned team.
Sometimes there are some in this group who are not involved because they are simply so lonely they can think of little else. Some struggle with low self-worth and define their worth by how desired they are in the eyes of others. They feel that they are worthless if they are not in a relationship. SAM is there to help these individuals understand their value and who they are in Christ — that they are important to God and that their worth is not defined by how others view them but by the fact that valued them so highly that He gave everything for them.
It is tragic that these individuals are fall prey to ridicule, both in the world and, unfortunately, even in the church at times. One of the reasons singles ministry exists is to help these individuals to heal so that they can be used of God.
Purpose of Singles Ministry #2: To Equip and Empower Single Adults to Minister to Others
The second part of the SAM purpose is a powerful one: after ministering to people’s needs and helping them find healing and renewal, the goal is to equip and empower them so that they can help minister to others in their churches and in the world around them. This is the part of the ministry that is often overlooked but it is a vital component. It is not simply about singles attending SAM events, receiving wonderful messages and instruction, and then keeping everything for themselves. It is about helping them to become who they need to be so that they can do the work God is calling them to do. The best part of this is that it is not an isolated theory: we see this happening constantly!
We receive more messages than you can imagine by single adults who come to events and testify of their lives being changed. We hear story after story of people who come into this ministry and receive emotional healing and, often immediately after conferences, services, and even retreats, return to their churches completely revived and ready to work for God. There are stories of people who finally realize that they indeed can teach a Sunday School class. There are others who realize that they really do have what it takes to teach Bible studies and be soul winners. There are those who finally surrender to the call to preach. There are those who accept a call to the mission field. There are even some who feel a burden to start their own Single Adult Ministries because they finally see the need and the potential of the ministry.
We must remember that this is not a linear process: it is not simply a matter of ministering to single adults — helping to meet their needs and helping them to find healing and belonging — and then getting them to the place where they minister to others and never return to the place of needing to be lifted up again. Instead, it is a cycle. As anyone in ministry can tell you, it is far too easy to minister from a place of brokenness for so long that your need to be refilled prevents you from being as effective in ministry as you were meant to be. Working in ministry does not mean you are perfect, that you have all the answers, or that you never need to be ministered to. Rather, it puts you in a place of constantly pouring out and being refilled (and pouring out and being refilled, and so on).
In fact, imagine the impact that this would have on our churches if we applied this to other ministries as well! What if Children’s Ministry went beyond reaching children not only for them to learn but also so that they, in turn, could pray for others and reach out to them? What if every ministry was about helping those involved but also about discipling them? Singles Ministry, then, is so much more than a support group. It is a place of hope and healing that allows people to receive the strength they need not only to make it through life but to reach out to others.
What Can I Do?
If you are inspired to get involved, there are several things you can do! This is the first installment in our new series: Singles Ministry Startup Series. Every two weeks from now through summer we will be publishing an article as part of a series to help you start, maintain, and/or revive a singles ministry in your church. Please stick with us and stop by for the next one!
For some readers it might not be feasible for you to start something right now. That’s OK. There are still a number of things you can do. In all honesty, the fact that you see a need for this ministry and believe it is just that — a ministry — is a great place to start! Even if you cannot start something at the moment, learn who the single adults in your church are. Encourage them! Sometimes something as simple as a smile and a prayer can make such a huge impact. Offer to spend some time with them. If they are single parents, offer to watch their children sometime so that they can go grocery shopping without constantly having to watch for little hands that want to open every shiny box. Be an encourager!
For other readers, this might just be a confirmation of something God has been dealing with you about for awhile now. Start by understanding what this ministry is (hopefully this article has been helpful for that purpose). Read “What Is Singles Ministry?” for a cursory view. Learn who the single adults in your church are and pray about how you can help. It may involve becoming a part of (or being more active in) your local group. It might involve starting a group from scratch. If that’s the case, discuss the ministry with your pastor. Our next article — “Starting a Singles Ministry: The Basics of SAM” — will give you some guidance on this topic also.
Thank you for your interest in Single Adult Ministries! Please continue to keep us in your prayers. God has some great things in store for us! These are days of tremendous revival and we can’t wait to see what He will do through you.