As never before, singles in America are putting their mark on society
in everything from dining habits to car designs. The 2000 U.S. Census
revealed that for the first time there were more single-member households
than traditional families. More than 27 million Americans, or about
10 percent of the overall population, are single. This accounts for
one in four households, more than those headed by married couples with
children (under 25 million) according to Census data.
Members of the Christian Life Center singles group in Fort Lauderdale,
including Pastor Gloria Young (third from left), build a Habitat
Most single adults live with someone else, such as a roommate or relative
such as child or parent. When counting all single adults in the United
States those who have never married, or are divorced, separated
or widowed the total mushrooms to 82 million. This includes 6
million cohabiting couples.
Only three decades ago, 70 percent of American households contained
a married couple. That has declined to 52 percent.
"Society in the past has been geared for families," says Tom Coleman,
53, head of the new Glendale, Calif., secular advocacy group American
Association for Single People. "People werent seen as individuals,
but as part of an extended family. We want singles to be respected for
who they are."
Madison Avenue certainly has taken notice of the largest unmarried
adult population in U.S. history. But Christian single adult ministry
experts say denominations have been slower to respond to the needs of
"Singles are the most dominant factor in American society today," says
Colorado Springs pastoral consultant Rich Hurst, 49, co-author of Deepening
Your Walk: A Spirituality for Single Adults and Giving the Ministry
Away: Empowering Single Adults for Effective Leadership. "Singles
by and large arent in church. If the church wants to [thrive]
this century, its going to have to get serious about reaching
The Assemblies of God saw the need and organized a national Single
Adult Ministries office based in Springfield, Mo.
"If the church is to be effective in reaching, nurturing, discipling
and training adults, we cant avoid singles," says Dennis Franck,
50, director of the agency.
"Demographics in this country are demanding that we do something,"
Single Adult Ministries will conduct seven regional conferences this
year. The three-day conferences are designed both to train volunteer
and paid leaders and to provide spiritual growth teaching to nonleaders.
In the Assemblies of God, 2,100 local congregations have some type
of ministry geared to singles. The concept makes perfect sense to Franck.
"Why do we have womens ministry or ministry to seniors?" he asks.
"We do so because they have specific needs and interests. Its
the same with singles."
Franck, who has worked in single adult ministries for 23 years, says
the spiritual needs of singles, such as prayer and worship, are the
same as for married adults. But the personal needs are much different
on topics such as sexuality, relationships, career choices and church
"If singles dont get teaching and perspective from church, they
will get it from non-Christian friends or the bar scene," he says.
Franck says while there is nothing wrong with the Fellowships
longtime family oriented emphasis, congregations shouldnt inadvertently
"We need to discuss the issues they are facing and give them biblical
teaching," Franck says. "They want friendships, and if they dont
find them in church they will go somewhere else to meet people."
Ideally, Franck says, churches that are large enough should target
three age-specific singles groups.
Christian Life Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has a weekly attendance
of 2,500, with 700 of those being single adults. The ministry at the
A/G church started in 2000, yet there already are three age-distinction
groups for twentysomethings, those 30 to 55 and senior adults. In addition,
there are specific ministries to single-agains (the widowed and divorced)
as well as to single parents.
"The biggest challenge I face is trying to convince singles that they
are complete, even though they arent married," says singles pastor
Gloria Young, 47. She says singles are capable of greater devotion to
ministry because they have fewer family obligations than married members
While social events and retreats are popular, Young says ministry activities
are, too. For example, in December, single church members helped to
build a Habitat for Humanity home.
Likewise, Christian Outreach Center in West Columbia, S.C., divides
its 130 singles into three age groups. Singles pastor Carolyn Heuer,
47, notes that the needs of the recently graduated college student,
divorced middle-aged dad and widowed retiree are vastly different.
Every six months, Heuer conducts research to find out more about who
exactly is attending events. Such surveys led to the formation of a
group just for senior singles in 2000.
Heuer says most of the singles visiting the A/G church have no religious
background and thus they need discipleship. They also may have struggled
with addictions and been through multiple divorces.
"Its not enough to simply say there is a class on Sunday morning,"
Heuer says. "Singles need Christian fellowship." Twice a month, the
church sponsors a Christian coffeehouse. Annually up to 20 singles participate
in an overseas missions trip.
Harold Ivan Smith, author of Young Adult Ministry: The NeXt Generation
and Reluctantly Single, agrees that conventional programs may not appeal
to unchurched singles.
"There is a growing subculture that certainly doesnt see the
traditional church as important to them," says Smith, 54, of Kansas
However, Smith says the uncertainty after last years terrorist
attacks presents a great opportunity for the church to reach the growing
ranks of singles.
"For many, September 11 heightened their awareness of their singleness,"
Smith says. "There is a real sense of aloneness. A lot are asking where
they can find meaning in life. Working long hours to get ahead in their
career is no longer a priority for many."
Ultimately, Franck says, single adults come to understand they can
be effective and complete people without being married. Rather than
maintain that distinction of being an individual, single adult ministries
are designed to integrate singles into mainstream activities of the
church, such as greeting at the door, singing in the choir and helping
in the nursery.
The A/Gs seven regional singles and training leadership conferences
this year are as follows: March 15-17, Waxahachie, Texas; April
25-27, Wesley Chapel, Fla.; Sept. 12-14, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Sept.
19-21, Elk Grove, Calif.; Oct. 24-26, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Nov. 8-10,
Portland, Ore.; and Nov. 15-17, Wyckoff, N.J. See the Single Adults
Ministries Web site at singles.ag.org
for more information.