By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
Although churches have made a greater effort to reach out to singles and create groups geared for singles within a community, we can often forget about those who feel like pariahs or disappointments.
We can often have so many Christians in singles ministries with personable attributes who lead successful lives (at least, successful by our cultural terms), and when churches highlight or place such people on a pedestal, those who have not accomplished as much or who don’t possess as much social savvy may feel lost and forgotten.
To reach all singles in a church—the successful and those who feel like they’re in a rut—consider implementing the following in your church’s single ministry.
A belief that everyone can contribute
Yes, not everyone has the boldness to stand on stage to play with the worship team or read a scriptural passage out loud when singles groups split off into small groups, but everyone can contribute something to the group.
I also want to encourage singles ministries not to just have background roles available for those who feel like failure-to-launch folks, reserving only esteemed positions for those who have, by our definition, a more successful life. Let everyone have a chance to participate in big ways, not just the most flourishing or post-child believers.
A "No one sits alone" policy
My church back home implements a policy that the introvert in my ministry both love and hate. We have a few simple and fast rules we abide by and “Nobody sits alone,” tops the list.
Singles ministry can sometimes get a little cliquey, leaving many sitting alone or out of conversations.
Even in the New Testament, cliques had formed in various ministries and various peoples. Peter refuses to eat with the Gentiles for fear of what others will think of him (Galatians 2:11-13). The disciples gawked at Jesus when he talked with a Samaritan woman at the well. She, too, was an outcast because she’d married several times and lived with a man who wasn’t her husband (John 4).
Cliques never really disappear throughout history. But we can prevent them from happening in our ministries. Whenever someone seems as though they’re off on the outskirts of conversation, consider inviting them to join your circle or discussion group. If someone sits alone, introduce yourself and ask them some basic ice-breaker questions.
If you implement a “Nobody sits alone” policy, singles who feel like outcasts will feel more welcomed in your ministry. They’ll have a likelihood of returning the next week if they know at least one name or made one friend.
The power of a personal testimony
Something about representation really matters. If I see, week after week, extroverted singles speaking, leading worship, and taking the reins of the all the major roles in the singles ministry, I’m going to feel terrible about myself. I’m an introverted and awkward believer who doesn’t know how to make basic conversation.
But, if I see someone step up one week who has a similar disposition, I’ll likely return to that singles group because, well, “There’s someone just like me.”
We run into a danger of borderline prosperity gospel if we have speaker after speaker go up and talk about why God has made their life so great and successful.
To curb this “Everything is awesome,” testimony tract, we need more singles who share their testimony who happen to be in difficult seasons. Maybe they just lost their jobs, found out they’re pregnant and the father doesn’t want any part in the picture, or have severe social anxiety and have to work themselves up enough to show up to the singles event.
No matter what the case, have Christians share their testimony, the good and bad, the faith and doubt. Then, and only then, can someone who struggles with the same situations can say, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Reshaping your idea of what success looks like
Now twenty-two years old, I’ve had to wrestle with the idea of success. I’ve seen those my age married and already with one or two kids on the way. Others have pursued grad school, earn more than 80K a year, or work at a local grocery store, just making enough to pay rent for their apartment.
As I work a minimum wage job, have no prospects of a relationship or marriage any time soon, and stuck in Ohio for the time being, I can often view many of these stories as far more successful than myself.
Sometimes churches can run into a danger of making certain singles feel as though they are unworthy of praise. The question, “So what do you do for a living?” itself can isolate audiences. I’ve seen it played out like this:
Church member: So what do you do for a living?
Single: I’m in medical school.
Church member: (Claps Single on the back) Good for you! Wow!
Church member: So what do you do for a living?
Single: I work as a waitress at fill-in-the-blank restaurant.
Church member: (Face falls) Oh, nice.
Paul saw success a little differently. The Apostle boasted about his weakness and his dependency on Christ (2 Corinthians 12:5). He’d received beatings of every kind, landed in prison many times, and watched in his cell as believers abandoned him. One of the New Testament’s most notorious of pariah’s, Paul contributed to a huge portion of the second half of the Bible.
We should see, measure, and exalt success more in the following ways:
- Does the person exhibit more love and compassion than they had a year ago?
- Does the person fully rely on God and praise Him no matter what the circumstance?
- Does the person do something outside of their comfort zone for the sake of the Gospel? Even something they may not have a spiritual knack or gift for?
In the same way, we need to define failure a little differently than we have before. Failure, as my mother used to always tell me, means quitting. It means not finishing a task, not putting in your full effort, and doing something for the wrong reasons.
A person on a worship team may move the audience to tears, but if he in his heart plays just to puff up his pride, that is failure.
In the same way, a person who is shy but finds the boldness to speak to someone about the Gospel to someone, even if they aren’t interested, is a huge success in God’s book!
Encourage the “outcast” singles to keep coming back
Most of these tips encourage ministries to redefine terms. Most of the time, we have failure and success backwards.
The more we allow for the so-called “least of these” to play a vital role in the ministry, the more of a chance a church has to shape lives and show others a glimpse of heaven. We have to keep in mind success looks different to everyone.
Although my bio below states I’ve published 400 or so articles, including a book by the time I graduated college, I often feel like a pariah, especially when it comes to singles ministry. I’ve often left groups after a couple meetings because I didn’t know how to break into a cliquey circle for a discussion.
We are all part of the body of Christ and every body part plays a vital role. Success happens when the body works together.
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 400 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze (Illuminate YA), just released, and they contracted the sequel for December 2020. Find out more about her here.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Luz Mendoza