According to recent Pew data, the number of married Americans is at its lowest point since at least 1920. In 2015, only half of Americans ages 18 and over were married, compared with 72 percent in 1960. Put another way: Singles are on the rise and beginning to outnumber marrieds. The church, however, doesn’t reflect those numbers. According to a recent Barna study, while more than half of Americans (54%) between the ages of 18 and 49 are single, only 23 percent of active churchgoers are single. “Your church should be filling up at least half of your pews with single people,” writes Joyce Chiu for Barna Trends. “So what will get them there?”
In my recent book, One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church, I share my own experiences as well as those of many other single Christians with whom I’ve talked over the past several years. What emerges is a portrait of an evangelical church that is still firmly family-centered even while the demographics within it have shifted. Single people make up more and more of the church body, which means forward-looking local churches benefit from understanding us and incorporating us meaningfully into community life. Although single and married believers are in the same boat together—we’re all at church to worship and serve God—nonetheless singles have unique needs. We want to be visible; we want to belong. We also have unique contributions to make in advancing Christ’s kingdom.
So how can your local church create a welcoming space for singles?
Recognize that single people’s needs may look different from yours.
When a single person talks about feeling lonely, it’s common for a married person to counter that he or she often feels lonely, too. That’s not surprising. Studies show that up to half of us experience loneliness “at least some of the time.” However, studies also show that singles are more likely than married people to feel lonely. Furthermore, singles often experience a qualitatively different kind of loneliness that includes physical as well as emotional isolation. So when we reach out to you for support, be willing to listen to our stories, take us seriously, and acknowledge our feelings.
If you have the capacity, draw us into your family life, too. Micha Boyett, author of Found, invited a single friend named Leigh to live with her family for an extended period of time. The arrangement gave both women a chance to learn something about each other’s lives. “Single people can feel invisible in the place they most need to be seen,” Boyett writes. “Leigh has helped me see that more clearly.” Although most families aren’t in a place to house someone, nonetheless you can invite single people to hang out with you at home, participate in family activities, and enjoy the occasional meal. All of us, single and married alike, can learn something from putting aside our preconceptions and simply being in community with one another.