A few months ago I published an article about singles in the church in The Banner (the denominational magazine of the Christian Reformed Church in North America). I was glad after its publication to hear that my thoughts resonated with the experience of other singles, and now I'm writing some further thoughts about that article.
When I wrote my original article, I suggested that well-meaning churches unintentionally send three messages: 1) that singleness is a problem 2) that families are the only relevant unit 3) that singles are not adults.
When I developed these themes, I was thinking about the kinds of language that I hear in churches, but I was thinking more about stories from people that I know. I have had wonderful experiences of church family, but I know that my academic career and my involvement in music leadership also make it easier for church folks to talk to me about those things instead of my love life. Other people’s stories, though, make me sometimes cringe.
One of my friends complained that people from her church were always talking about setting her up with their nephew or friend from work, but never followed through. She would be happy to go on these blind dates, but this situation was like the worst of both worlds: lots of reminding her about how she’s single and that’s not ok, but no fun blind date stories (or potential match) to show for it.
Another friend had been in a relationship with a man from her church for about a year, and they had done pre-engagement counseling at the church. We all knew they would get married eventually, but the man took his time proposing, much to the chagrin of my friend. As this waiting period dragged on, people at church continued to ask her if they were engaged yet, intensifying her frustration.
In both of these stories, the women already felt frustrated about their relational situations (or the lack thereof) and well-intentioned church members bringing it up just reminded them of their disappointment. On the other hand, a lot of my friends who are single and in their twenties, especially men, don’t go to church at all but claim they would if they had someone to go with them.
I like to think that my experience is not unusual. I feel that church is a place I know I can go alone, because once I get there everyone is family. But somehow, a lot of my peers don’t get this impression, and maybe they aren’t willing to live through the introductory period to become a part of that family. These people are a lot harder to reach, and I’m not sure what we can do as church members. One strategy is to talk to our individual friends in this position and make them believe they will be welcomed in our churches, but I would love to hear about some others.