Ministering to Singles in the Church
About the Guest
Lisa Anderson, author of the "Dating Manifesto," and host of "Boundless," offers five things the church must do when it comes to singles, including preaching and applying the gospel, providing space for fellowship and opportunities for intergenerational ministry, honoring singleness and marriage, and getting back in the business of making good matches.
Lisa AndersonLisa Anderson is director of young adults for Focus on the Family and host of the popular weekly radio program and podcast “The Boundless Show.” Her writing is featured in newspapers, magazines, and at Boundless.org. Lisa is a frequent guest on radio and TV, and speaks around the world on relationships, faith, and the many challenges facing today’s young adults. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Lisa Anderson, author of the “Dating Manifesto,” and host of “Boundless,” offers five things the church must do when it comes to singles.
Ministering to Singles in the Church
Bob: Does your church have an organized ministry for single adults? And if so, what’s the focus? Lisa Anderson says, “Here’s what the focus ought to be…”
Lisa: Many people think of single adult ministries and you think: “We have to have bonfires; we have to have bowling nights; we have to have fellowship. We have to go and give them a lot of practical applications for how to live their life and how to succeed.” But what we really need—and, honestly, what we all need, if we just put ourselves all in this category—is to understand who we are in Christ: “Who is God? Who are we?” If we could start there and understand that, we would be off to a great start.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. I know tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and we’re talking about ministering to singles today; but you can probably find a connection in there somewhere; don’t you think?
Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, when I think back to 2016, one of the highlights of the year for me—and I think for you as well—we were together with about 350 leaders from all across the country who had gathered together for a summit to talk about ministry to couples who are blended or who are in stepfamilies and talk about how we can, as the body of Christ and in local churches, help blendeds and stepfamilies thrive and be all that God wants them to be.
Dennis: And we did that with our friends at Focus on the Family®. Jim Daly said: “Yes, come on out here. We had an orphan summit about a decade ago with FamilyLife. Let’s do this again—this time, on behalf of blended families.” Bob, it was a great time.
The staff at Focus on the Family did a great job. It was a privilege, together with those who have a heart for blended families; and I think they were really, really encouraged by the training and the teaching that occurred there.
Bob: One of the things we announced that weekend was about plans for an upcoming simulcast event that we want to make sure our listeners know about. It’s coming up in April. It is a Blended & Blessed™ one-day seminar that’s going to be hosted in hundreds of local churches, all across the country. It features Ron Deal and a variety of other speakers, all talking about how blended couples/blended families can thrive in local churches.
I just want to encourage our listeners to go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to get more information about how your church could host one of these events or where the events are being held so that you could attend one of these events in your community. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for the information about the Blended & Blessed summit when you go there.
As we were meeting with these leaders in Colorado Springs, back in the fall, we had our friend, Lisa Anderson, who works at Focus on the Family, come and join us and speak to the blended leaders about another group of people in local churches who often feel like they are on the outskirts of the local church—and that’s all of the singles who are attending.
Dennis: Yes; Lisa Anderson is one of my favorite people. She is bubbly, energetic—very smart. I think she has the pulse on one of the key needs that the church needs to address today. I think you’ll agree with her by the time you hear her message.
Bob: She has written a book called The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose. In this message, she talked about what churches can do to be more proactive when it comes to ministering to single adults in their congregation.
Lisa: I want to talk about, actually, how the church—really, what the church must do when it comes to single adults. Single can apply to never married, single again, single parents—you all know this / you occupy this space—it runs the gamut. But I think we can all agree that, generally, churches are not programmed for singles. They’re programmed for families, for the most part. You can kind of pick and choose your little pieces to what applies to you, but not so much for single adults. I’m just going to kick through these really quickly for you—what I really feel are a few things that the church absolutely must do for single adults.
The first one is a little weird, and it seems kind of obvious. I’m going to start off with it because I think it’s super important, and it’s often overlooked. That is that the church has to preach and apply the gospel. Many people think of single adult ministries and you think: “We have to have bonfires; we have to have bowling nights; we have to have fellowship. We have to go and give them a lot of practical applications for how to live their life and how to succeed.”
But what we really need—and, honestly, what we all need, if we just put ourselves all in this category—is to understand who we are in Christ: “Who is God? Who are we?” If we can start there and understand that, we would be off to a great start. To understand that God is truly sovereign and truly good is something we struggle with every day. Satan is constantly lying to us about this. The way it plays out for single adults is: “I’m not enough,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m destined to be rejected,” “No one wants me—I have too many problems.” It just plays out in so many different ways and has in my own life. If we could solve the problem of identity in the church, we would probably solve about 85 percent of the things that end up being these skirmishes, and kerfuffles, and problems; you know?
Okay; I talk a lot about dating / single adults.
When you see singles in your church—and someone’s mad because “She’s dating him,” and “He said that he was going to date her,”—what does this look like? Everyone’s clamoring for attention—clamoring for being understood / being validated. It is because we do not believe that God is who He is and that we are who He says we are—identity. We have to get back to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how it applies to our life, and how it is the foundation for everything that we are, and how we apply that to daily experiences and the choices that we’re making.
The second thing we have to do is provide space for fellowship and community within our churches. This is—you know, I have a love/hate relationship with singles groups. I have been in many—I’ve been in small ones / I’ve been in big ones—it’s run the gamut, for sure. The idea of them is necessary—you have to have single adults who feel like they have a tribe. Many singles—or folks who are single again—are in a church or in a community because they’ve had to move there for a job or for some kind of experience.
Many of them are alone—they don’t know people. You need people, as a single person, who are going to be that chicken soup for you when you’re sick. They’re going to be your ride to the airport. They’re going to kind of have your back. They’re going to be the people you socialize with. We have to create that space for them so that they can have their own little tribe / their own little space within the church. It’s necessary. What we don’t want to do is make it only about them.
That said, one of the other things we have to do is provide those opportunities for cross-pollination / inter-generational ministry—multi-life stage ministry. Single adults need mentorship and accountability. We have to start enfolding them—me—into your life. What better place to do that than to have married couples—who are boots on the ground, within the church, modeling great—and by great I mean realistic and healthy—marriages to people who ultimately want to get there? For single adults, that’s about
90 percent of the population—
—90 to 93 percent of single adults want to be married or married again at some point.
So this whole idea—even though for the first time in U.S. history, we are a majority—single—in our country—I’m not sure if everyone knows that. It is true: “Power to the single people. We are now a majority.” Most don’t want to be in that space / most don’t want to occupy that space, long-term. So what does that look like?—for us to acknowledge that and say: “Okay. What does it look like for married couples and others—older folks in the church—to enfold their single adults and single parent families into their lives?” That means: “What does it mean for you to speak into the life of their kids?—for you to invite them over, not just on holidays, but on any given Sunday? As you’re walking through life, what does that look like?”
Accountability—we have to have people in our lives—who are up in our grill—telling us what’s what. As a single person, it’s extremely easy for me to leave church on a Sunday, go home, and do whatever I want to do—
—listen to people sometimes; maybe not listen to people other times / take some great advice; reject advice. I don’t have someone in my face all the time telling me what’s what. We have to have accountability/mentorship within the church.
The flip side of that is: “What does it look like for us to have a sense of protection within the church?”—especially for those single women / those single moms. I mean, this can mean anything from protection from the kind of sketchy, predatory guys that are going through the singles groups and all of that to also just looking out for the needs of them. You know, when it comes to—I had, a few years ago, where my fence at home got busted down. It made me realize I’m the only person in the world that has to care about this fence. I do not have a husband that cares about this fence. Do I go to Lowe’s? Are there fence people at Lowe’s? Do I talk to a neighbor? How do I figure out how to fix this fence? I did not know—I had to figure that out for myself.
And to speak into that space and put your arm around the shoulder of a single mom / a single woman in your church is absolutely critical.
I think we also need to—you know, in the sense of protection, we talk about protecting marriages a lot and what that looks like. That’s absolutely necessary, but dysfunctional marriages tend to start with dysfunctional singles. Once we start growing and maturing the single adults in our church—I talk a lot with 20-somethings/30-somethings in my role—but moving throughout the continuum—as someone who has walked through a divorce: “Are we ensuring that they are growing spiritually through that? Are we ensuring that they are getting access to some great counseling if they need that? Are we ensuring that they’re not jumping into another relationship in three weeks after their relationship ends? What does it look like for us to have a protective arm around them in that sense?”
I think we also need to—and this is kind of a weird thing that I talk about a lot—one other thing the church really needs to do is honor both singleness and marriage. You’ll hear people here—I talk about my own boss, Greg Smalley, uses this a lot—
Hebrew 13:4 / that marriage is to be honored by all—that includes single people. Like I said—this is whether or not you are in a relationship and moving towards marriage, or this is whether you are committed to celibate service and choose to never marry again. We are called to honor marriage, and what does it look like in that space?
I think too often we talk about marriage either as if it’s like the flu / it hits you like the flu—I mean, I’ve had some of the worst messages about marriage from people in the church, who are like—again, you get all the crazy platitudes, like, “Lisa, just be glad that you’re single instead of in a bad marriage.” Okay; well obviously! Or you get the whole: “Just go on another mission trip. If you just go on another mission trip, you’re going to forget all about marriage. Don’t worry about it,” or “I wish I could be in your space; because you have this great job, and you travel, and you do this and you do that.
“And you know, in your free time, could you lead our AWANA program?—because I’m sure you have tons of it [time].” So, it runs the gamut. We all need understanding of one another.
But what does it look like to honor singleness without making it appear that single people—single parents / single others—are these super saints? Let’s not be super singles. I think, in the church, it’s like we’re so concerned about offending single people that we don’t say anything at all. We’re like: “Well, I don’t want to tread into any weird spaces. I’m just going to act like that’s totally legit; and whatever they’re doing, I don’t want to speak in. I’m certainly not going to address their love life, because that’s awkward.” So we choose not to say anything at all. But on the flip side of that, we don’t want to completely ignore the fact that many of them do want to be married and they want to be in that space. So honoring both of that is super helpful to do.
It’s funny, because—you know, I had a friend who had a church out on the east coast. She sent me an email of something that was in her church bulletin, and it was for Valentine’s Day. Of course, you know, churches do a lot of Valentine’s Day activities. Of course, they came up with one for the singles. The slogan for it, or the call to action in the bulletin, was, “Singles, come and date Jesus.” [Laughter] Okay—Jesus is the best; okay? He is my number one—He should be all of our priorities. But Jesus has never bought me flowers; okay? Jesus has never taken me to my favorite restaurant. So this concept of “Let’s, as singles, just all be dating Jesus,” it’s a little bit tricky. It’s a little bit questionable as far as treading into that space. When you talk to your single adults, what does that look like? It’s a hard space to be in.
Then it was crazy—because she showed me—and then further, underneath the fine print was, “Oh, and single parents, you’re going to have to pick your kids up halfway through the program; because we were only able to get childcare for part of the program.” That’s really encouraging and validating! So now, you’re out here on Valentine’s Day, dating Jesus, but your kids—they have to be picked up halfway through—so kind of problematic with the church marketing team on that front.
Anyway, to both honor singleness and marriage is a tough space to walk in; but those who can do it well recognize that—as the family of God and as brothers and sisters in Christ—we have the privilege of honoring one another, and supporting one another, and encouraging one another in whatever stage of life we’re in. Again, I tell this to my married friends—I’m like: “Yes! Jesus needs to be my number one, but He needs to be your number one too; okay?—because singleness is not a waiting room for marriage. You’re not going to enter marriage and all your problems are going to be solved and you’re going to find Tom Cruz and he’s going to complete you.”
You know, I have to say this to single people all the time—but a lot of times, as marrieds, you all out there want to kind of give some false hope to our single people, even saying to someone who’s been through a broken relationship or a husband/wife walked out on them: “Don’t worry. You know, you’re going to find someone else. You’re going to get married again.” We don’t know that / we don’t know that they’re going to—so we can’t promise that to them—but we can promise them that God truly is going to be there with them and that you, hopefully, can as well, as you’re going to help them walk through.
Well, finally, and hopefully this is a little bit hopeful and challenging for you all, I would love to see the church get back into the business of helping make good matches. I don’t know when we decided that this is for us to abdicate this responsibility; but it’s become the case where, like I said before, we don’t want to make any of our single people feel bad. We’re like: “Let’s not even address it. Let’s go through another book study.
“Let’s go do a service project. Let’s go…”—but heaven forbid we should talk at all about dating or about moving towards marriage. It’s really doing a disservice to the single folks within our church, because it’s very—I mean, “Where better?” This is where, a few generations ago, this used to be the norm, and still is to some extent, within places like, say, the Indian community / the Jewish community, where families are helping their people move towards relationships in a godly, biblical, intentional way.
Now, we’ve gotten to the point, because the church has abdicated, we’re just leaving singles up to their own devices. They’re out online, and they’re on Tinder, and they’re doing speed-dating, and they’re in bars—I’m talking about Christians as well—this is the same space that they’re occupying. So what does it look like for us to step into that space?
I think it looks like, first off, like I said before, stepping into their life as mentors and being: “What are you about? What’s going on here?” It means, maybe, asking them some tough and challenging questions. It maybe means setting some people up. Just so you don’t feel like—you know, some of you are just like a collective groan—“Uh seriously, I have tried that; and it did not work out!” I always go after my single friends and I say: “If you’re not willing to be set up, you are cheating yourself; because who better to help you move towards marriage and to find someone who’s a great fit for you than the people who know and love you best? Wouldn’t it be best to have this space happen within the church itself—within the context of worshipping, and serving, and growing, and being accountable to one another?” That’s what the church needs to be doing.
So married folks, and empty-nesters, and boomers, and everyone else who’s here, this is where you’re so needed. I talk to my single friends and I say: “Go out there, and show up, and plug in, and get involved, and make your needs known. Don’t be ashamed to say that you want to get married.”
They say: “Lisa, I’m doing that, but the folks in my church are turning me down. They’re saying they don’t have time for me, or they don’t know what to do, or they don’t know what to say.” I’m saying: “Let’s step into this space. Let’s encourage them and recognize that more—it’s about 86/87 percent of the world will be married at least once in their lifetime. Like I said, well over 90 percent wants a healthy relationship. In the Christian space, that number’s even higher—wants a healthy relationship / wants to be married. Let’s help them get there.
I think it’s a weird space to be in when we look at addressing singleness within the church. I mentioned this—you know, we feel so awkward about it. I, too, I never thought I would be single this long. I’m now over 40—I mean: “What in the world?” My mom, bless her heart, moved in with me six months ago.
She’s 87 years old. She has moderate dementia. She believes she knows why I’m still single—she shares with me reasons most days. [Laughter] You know, for my mom, it was so easy—she met my dad, stalked him at a few basketball games, went to a senior banquet, and got married. They met in seminary in the ’50s. She’s like: “Lisa, this is very easy. I don’t know what your problem is!”
I’m like: “Mom, it is not like that anymore. This is much more difficult.” She’s just like, “Pfff,”—she just thinks I have this line of men ready to propose to me, and I’m just turning them all down. I’m like: “Mom, it is a rough place to be. We are seeing brokenness. We are seeing fractured relationships. We are seeing people that have taken on—in unprecedented numbers—a background of fatherlessness, and not even growing up with a role model in this generation / not even understanding or seeing good marriages around them.”
I would encourage all of you to step into that space boldly.
Find the singles—the single parents / those who are single again—within your churches. Put your arm around them. Help find other people who will step into their sphere. Do not let them wallow in their own brokenness, in their own sinful attitudes, in their own bitterness and griping.
I have an entire chapter on grieving singleness in my book; because I think that’s something, too, that’s unspoken. There are a lot of griefs around being single, whether you are single, never married, or single again. We have to be willing to acknowledge that and be willing to go to the Father—pour out our complaint, as the Psalmist says, and move forward. The person, not to pour out your complaint to, is the person that you want to be dating; okay?—because then you’re crazy; okay? I have been that person—that is crazy and caddy, and it’s not going to get you anywhere. But God Himself is big enough to handle it and, actually, has the power to do something about it.
Bob: Well again, we’ve been listening today to Lisa Anderson talking about how churches can more effectively minister to singles in a local church congregation.
This is part of what it means to be the body of Christ; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is. If you want to minister to a single person, invite them over for lunch after church next Sunday—a lot of singles long to be near families. They’re away from their own, because they’ve had to move because of job opportunities. If you want to really encourage them, invite them to be a part of your family and just honor them as members of the church.
Bob: Yes. We actually did that. Mary Ann said, “We ought to invite this young man, who goes to our church, over for dinner on Sunday night.” We did that this week and had a great time with him. I think it’s a part of serving one another. It was as much of a blessing for us to have him over as I hope it was for him coming over.
Dennis: And Bob, I think hospitality in this high-tech, low-touch world of ours is really in need of being revived. If anyone ought to be able to do it and offer community, it ought to be followers of Christ—people in the church, who have a love of Christ and are supposed to be reaching out to others.
Bob: Lisa mentioned her book, The Dating Manifesto. We do have that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I would encourage singles: “Get a copy and read Lisa Anderson’s The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order The Dating Manifesto. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.”
You’ll also find information on our website about the upcoming Blended & Blessed free one-day live event / live stream that we’re going to be doing for stepfamily couples, single parents, dating couples with kids—anybody who cares about blended families. It’s all happening April 29th, and information is online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If you are looking for a playlist—something to have a little romantic music for your Valentine’s Day—we have a Spotify® playlist available. It’s on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; or if you follow us on Twitter® or Facebook®, you’ll find a link to the playlist there. If you’re not following us on Facebook or Twitter, you ought to go ahead and “Like” us and add us to the list of people and organizations you follow. Stay up-to-date with what’s going on, here at FamilyLife.
Again, if you’d like a romantic musical playlist that has been curated by our staff, here at FamilyLife, you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. You can stream the Spotify playlist. Or send the link to your sweetheart; and both of you can be listening, in separate locations, as you prepare for your romantic date night together tomorrow night.
If you’ve been listening to this program and you’re single, I’d just recommend you stay away from that playlist altogether. You don’t want anything to do with it—it’ll just make you feel sad and lonely, and we don’t want to do that.
We want you to have a nice Valentine’s Day. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet somebody in the WalMart® aisle. In fact, tomorrow, Lisa Anderson shares a story about a guy who asked her out on a date when they were shopping for cards together—well, they weren’t together—they were shopping for cards at a WalMart. He asked her out for—you’ll hear the story tomorrow when you tune in to FamilyLife Today.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow, on Valentine’s Day, for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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