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Home > Issues > 2012 > Summer > What Happened to Singles Ministry?
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It was the late 1970s. John Travolta was taking the dance floor, and the church in America had a problem. How would it deal with the increasing number of single adults created by a growing divorce rate, career minded professionals placing work before settling down, and others delaying or never agreeing to the confines of marriage? It was a brave new world. Being single was in!

This zeitgeist, coupled with the attrition of the unmarried demographic from their pews, caused Christian leaders to mobilize. There was a new target for ministry professionals: singles. The race for success in reaching them was on, and by the late 1980s singles ministries had become a staple at many churches.

Almost 25 years later, much has changed. "Single" is not a term people normally choose to describe themselves. Being single, while accepted among those in their twenties, is often seen as something of a stigma after passing a certain "acceptable" age. In America that age is around 30 years old.

You almost never see a 20-something "singles ministry." Instead, 20-somethings congregate in groups with more relationally non-descript titles like New Beginnings or Careers, and the groups include both single and married.

But ministries for singles over 30 are harder to find.

The last 25 years have seen the church alter the way it relates to and reaches singles. The fervor to target singles directly is no longer front and center. On the contrary, ministry to singles is seen as a burden to many churches. What started out as a brilliant success has disintegrated into the realms of an epic fail.

Singles ministry proved to be harder than the original pioneers expected. It took too much time, too many resources, and produced too few sustainable results. We are now living in the post-singles ministry era.

Before writing this article, I contacted 16 churches about their singles ministries. Many of these churches you would know. I was looking for a thriving singles ministry.

A few of those I spoke with recounted the glory days of their ministries, days when 300-500 singles packed their facilities. While some of these churches still had a singles ministry, no longer did any have a full-time person focused on singles. Most were now only running a skeletal version of their once full-bodied singles ministries.

Also sobering was the fact that none of these successful churches had been able to sustain a singles ministry for more than three years. I discovered a cyclical pattern of failure and restart. Groups had either been recently launched, shut down, or were in the process of regrouping for another re-launch.

In the end, singles ministry had proven to be unsustainable for all of these churches, even though there was still an often-vocal single contingent clamoring for a ministry they could call their own.

The question became: what's the appropriate amount of resources the church should devote toward singles ministry?

A Better Model

In 2005 I was hired by San Diego's North Coast Calvary Chapel to be the ...

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From Issue:Transformation, Summer 2012 | Posted: October 1, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 28 comments

John Morgan

January 01, 2013  4:04pm

I've got a single book on my desk. I'm afraid it has come to the point where the term "single" actually has no meaning today. That was taken away years ago by premarital sex and divorce. And of course the final blow that has kicked us out of churches is the cynicism and discrimination that comes with our "alternative lifestyle" culture. There are many churches today that actually have a ban on hiring single pastors. It is unfortunate that we live in a society where marriage and family are worshipped like idols and those who are concerned about the Lord's affairs are not even welcome in church. Based solely on his age and the absence of a wedding band, which group would you chauffer Apostle Paul in to?

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Anonymous

December 24, 2012  12:01pm

I have been apart of singles groups for most of my adult life. However, I recently moved to another state. Prior to moving I would not have agreed with what was written in this article. Singles in California are treated with suspension and as children. I spoke to a Pastor about events for singles because married people have different priorities. He acted as if I was calling down evil to enter his congregation. I agree strongly with the point that teaching about dating, and loneliness is not what a mature christian single is looking for in a group. People tend to forget that most have been the prayer partner or accountability partner for friends who are now married. Marrieds need to break the wall. We don't want their spouse. Unfortunetly, I have been given more respect from marrieds outside the church than within. We are like the singles during bible times. We all have our cross to bear.

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Dave Nickerson

November 03, 2012  7:45pm

I think this article focuses on the wrong thing. It seems to focus on how to meet the needs of singles, but the real need for singles is Jesus - and there is no focus on Him at all in the article. If the singles ministries would focus more on Jesus and less on meeting the needs of singles, the ministries would be far more stimulating. If the singles ministries would focus on learning about who Jesus is and what He came to do for them, instead of setting themselves up as meat/meet-markets, there would be greater success in singles ministry. Get back to looking at Jesus, dying to your singles-self, discipleship, and following Jesus to the cross, and you will find singles, 20 something, 30 something, divorced, single parent and other relationships in general will have a far greater reach to cure the ails of those ministries.

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KATHLEEN L Kexel

October 17, 2012  10:55pm

So what about singles' ministries for those of us in our 50s and 60s?

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Al Schoneman

October 13, 2012  11:42am

I agree with and have lived many of the abuses recorded in this article. Broken singles still struggling from old abuses, addictions, abandonment and not healed, they bring the effects of their former lives to singles ministry. Many are unwilling to see that recovery ministries would help heal their brokenness. They have not heard the words of Jesus and when they do, they don't think these precepts apply to them. Healed singles and those on the path to healing, see the brokenness and leave. All of these things are apparent to even the most casual observer. The question I pose is this: What is or should be the goal of singles ministry? Is it to equip singles to integrate with the larger church and serve the bride of Christ? Is it a recovery ministry disguised as a social group? Or is singles ministry just a hook-up place where singles can find the love of their lives? I think singles ministry should be a temporary residence, not a base camp for the long haul.

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