Did you know that for the first time in history there are more single adults in America then people who are married? That’s right; 51% of the United States is now single. Let me ask you a question…what percentage of your church is single? Chances are if you look through your small groups or Bible fellowship classes the percentage of single adults that are actually involved is a lot less then 51%. So where are all the single adults? And I would take that a step further and ask where are all the YOUNG single adults? We know they're out there but for some reason they aren’t coming to church.
The majority of Christian young people will never attend a singles ministry regardless of whether or not it affects their spiritual growth.
For starters, I am extremely confused as to why churches segregate singles to begin with. I grew up assuming that singles ministries were a completely normal part of the church. I guess if I put my brain on overdrive I can maybe see why someone in their late 30s would like a ministry separate from families and kids. But fresh out of college still confuses me. What makes it more difficult is I've had a really hard time explaining to the people I work with that as Christians when we meet in smaller groups to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ it matters whether or not you’re single. I work with 35 professionals in an investment consulting firm and 18 of them are single. I cringe at the prospect of them coming to church, which some have, and then directing them to a singles ministry which hasn’t changed a whole lot since the 50s. Sure we divide our small groups based upon age, but I still feel like I have to apologize and give them a list of reasons why we are going to a class for single people. I usually tell them the same thing I've always been told which is the whole "different stage of life" story. But let's be serious and admit that separating people because they are single is weird and if you're honest with yourself I think you'd agree. What's sad is that I've actually heard married couples say they're not comfortable with single people in their small group because their classes are focused more on marriage and family. I completely understand the need for bible studies based around marriage and family but 50 years of those lessons is a little extreme. At some point we need to quit dissecting our marriages and our love languages and realize that the closer we get to Christ the more our families will reap the benefits.
My church has an amazing singles pastor who I would consider to be a really good friend He has a huge heart and I love the fact that he is honestly doing everything he can to change the stereotype that singles ministries are made up of weird socially awkward people that enjoy hanging out with other weird socially awkward people. Unfortunately he has a long road ahead of him and until it changes most churches will have a hard time reaching young adults. You're probably thinking it's ridiculous to assume that the reason young single adults are not attending church or getting involved is because their only option is a singles ministry, but I honestly believe it plays a much bigger role then we think. And I believe it plays an even bigger role in why they're leaving as well.
Times are changing. Young men and women are waiting a lot longer to get married and most churches still assume the youth is getting married at 18. In reality most young adults are focusing on their careers and marriage comes second. That’s probably an issue in and of itself but it’s a fact. Al Mohler recently dedicated an entire radio broadcast to it and also wrote about it in his blog (excerpt below).
American evangelicals are not "becoming slow and lax about marriage." To the contrary, this is now a settled pattern across the evangelical landscape. Regnerus gets the facts straight, reporting that the median age at first marriage is now 26 for women and 28 for men -- an increase of five years since 1970.
Keep in mind this is the median age. For every young man getting married for the first time at 22 there is another one getting married for the first time at 34. It's pretty safe to say that almost every young adult is getting married after college. That means when a student graduates, gets a job and then settles in and begins looking for that special someone, 9 out of 10 churches direct them to a singles ministry filled with people from 18 years old to 80. People that are nothing like them and are literally at a completely different stage of life. Even if churches do have some separation by age in their singles ministry it still carries the same ugly stereotype. Unfortunately most of these young adults will graduate single, quite a few will drop out of their small group and eventually the majority will fade away from the church.
If you're having a hard time with this ask a few students in your college ministry what they plan on doing for a small group if they are still single when they graduate. I work with college kids on a regular basis and contrary to how I advise them a good majority have told me they will drop out of their small group and only attend the main service when they graduate. In their words a singles ministry indirectly emphasizes the fact that everyone is single and your focus tends to be removed from growing in your faith.
I know there isn't one solution to an issue this widespread, but I believe it’s time for churches to tweak things a bit. If what Al Mohler says is true and being single into your late 20s is the norm I would suggest that young adults under the age of 35 married or not can and should enjoy fellowship together. When a student leaves your college ministry, single or married, they should still be a part of the same class. If you're a large church then maybe you'll have 4 or 5 of these larger, joined classes, but the key is that everyone is together for certain aspects of the class. As it stands now most of your Bible fellowship classes probably have a social time before class begins so combine the groups for this time and THEN break off into classes. Some classes will be focused on marriage and family and quite a few of your small groups won't change at all. The main difference is that young single adults and dating couples (who generally don't go to singles classes) are still apart of the fellowship that exists in a big class. They can participate in class gatherings, cookouts, community outreach but still walk through the issues of life in their breakout groups.
I also think it’s very important to have a few groups that are based around certain topics; such as Theology courses. These would be set up so married couples and singles can go to them together. Have a small group for dating couples so they can start asking the compatibility questions way earlier then when they take the "engaged couples" class. At some point it's fine to have a singles ministry and it might be different for every church, but fresh out of college is not the time to start.
My point in all this is simply to emphasize the fact that young adults under the age of 35 should not be herded into a "special" class simply because they're not married and I'm pretty sure if you do they won't come back.