Redefining Singles Ministry

When I moved to New York, I visited churches for a year. One of the reasons I settled at the church I joined is that it doesn't have a singles ministry. No one asked me to serve on the worship team of the singles service or teach in the singles Sunday-school class; my pastor instead asked me to serve on the education committee. And no one invited me to a singles mixer; instead, I mingle with married friends, engaged friends, widowed friends, and other single 20-somethings at the church suppers on Sunday evenings.

I didn't want to be part of a singles ministry because the majority of my needs don't have anything to do with being single. I need prayer. I need to serve others. I need to be held accountable for my sins. And I figure married people need those things, too. I don't want to be segregated with people who, superficially, are just like me. The eye cannot say to the hand, after all, "I don't need you."

Lots of single Christians don't agree with me. Indeed, a lot of my Christian friends, who go to different churches, say they chose their church precisely because it offers a vital singles ministry. Singleness, they say, does come with special needs, and thank God the church is recognizing that more than it did 20 years ago and is responding.

Sue Nilson, singles ministry pastor at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, a large seeker-sensitive congregation just north of Dayton, Ohio, has worked with single Christians for almost 15 years. Good singles ministry isn't a holding tank where single Christians wallow in those issues, she says; it is "a place to process them so that singles can then go on to be great leaders for Christ, in the church and the world."

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about singles ministry as Nilson. Terry Hershey was once one of the country's leading singles ministers. In 1981 he joined the staff of Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in southern California, and he co-founded the now defunct National Association of Single Adult Leaders. His books and seminars established him as an authoritative voice. But in the last 20 years, he's done some rethinking on the singles issue. "Churches should never be divided along gender or marital or generational lines," he now says. "As soon as we ghettoize people - Oh, I'm glad you're in our church today; are you single? Then go to room 207 - then we've done something wrong."

Hershey now believes churches don't need singles ministers as much as singles advocates. And advocacy, he says, "has nothing to do with instituting a program. It has to do with how we help provide childcare for single parents who are in our church. It has to do with how we plug people in who are single adults so they know they can serve here and have support here. That's singles ministry."

January 09, 2007 at 5:50 PM

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