Hurst spoke to CT while hosting Cook's ninth annual Single Adult Ministry (SAM) convention in March. Nearly 700 men and women traveled to Denver for the event, giving a glimpse into the current state of singles ministries in the United States.
Single people are one of the fastest-growing groups in America, Hurst says. A Rutgers University National Marriage Project report found that the nation's marriage rate has dropped by 43 percent in the last 40 years. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that single adults and single parents continue to be the fastest-growing household types in America. Since 1980 single mothers have increased 42 percent, single fathers have increased 99 percent, and people living alone have increased 36 percent compared to married-couple households, which only increased 9 percent during the same period.
With such growth and diversity in the singles population, churches are finding that they have to be strategic.
"Single adult ministry is becoming more specific," said Angela Hamm, singles minister at First Baptist Church of Lewisville, Texas. "The groups are becoming more broad—Gen Xers, single parents, elderly—and you have to break it down more to meet needs."
Ministry to single people in their 20s must be different from ministry to single people in their 50s, she added: "The only thing they have in common is their singleness."
To address the varying needs of singles in the church, the SAM conference offers more than 80 workshops and 15 special seminars. Hurst estimates that 80 percent of the teaching focuses on the practical aspects of ministry. Indeed, workshop titles like "Starting a Single Adult Ministry," "Young Adult Children of Divorce," and "Meeting Real Financial Needs with Real Answers" dominated the program in Denver.
Most leaders agree that involving single Christians in all aspects of church life is essential to a successful ministry, but not everyone at SAM placed the whole burden on the church.
"It's also up to the singles to take the initiative to plant themselves," said Terry Thompson, a lay leader at Capital Christian Center in Sacramento, California. "The church is looking for workers. Most of the time it doesn't care if you're single."
Though encouraged by the church's increased sensitivity to singles issues, Rich Hurst is not yet ready to declare victory. Asked why he continues in singles ministry after two decades, his eyes moistened.
"It has been painful to watch the church ignore this," he said. "I've been in churches where single adults are treated like second-class citizens. I've watched as the church goes to do something with the new generation while single moms beg for help and the divorced are thrown out of the church. For me, it's been the Scripture, 'If you do this unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.'"
Margaret Feinberg is a writer based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
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Cook's Single Adult Ministry site has more information about conferences, as well as devotional literature, and other articles.
See today's related article, "Solitary Refinement | The church is doing better than ever at ministering to single people. But some evangelical assumptions still need rethinking."
Articles on Christian online matchmaking services, Christian dating books, and an interview with Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) will appear on our site later this week.
Christianity Today's earlier coverage of Christian single life includes
Sex and the Single Christian | What about the unmarried in their postcollege years? (July 7, 2000))
Women Churchgoers 'Face Growing Difficulty in Finding Partner | British magazine says church is out of single men, especially older ones. (June 7, 2000)
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