Many unmarried people (and some of their parents) ask this question every Sunday. The pastor of a megachurch asked me a variation of this question in reference to his own daughter. Some churches with single adult ministries do not make individual single adults feel comfortable and wanted. Some are intent on attracting the "right" kinds of single adults.
Finding a fit with a congregation can be challenging. What are you looking for? And what is nonnegotiable? For instance, I want solid preaching that is faithful to Scripture, relevant, and stretches me to live Jesus' teachings. So, I am willing to overlook realities in the congregation such as parking, music, or whatever-sometimes lots of "whatever." In this consumer-oriented world it's too easy to say, "The church just didn't meet my needs."
At times, I as a single adult need to be an educator and enhance the perspective of a pastor or Sunday School teacher-not by intimidation but by clear friendly explanation. One pastor's most enlightening conversation began in a church parking lot after a Sunday night service. He and his wife stopped to ask a young single woman, "How are you tonight?" Led by the Spirit, they invited her to join them for a meal, where they listened to all she needed to say. After that conversation, the pastor and his church saw single adults as people, not just program participants.
We must audit our hearts. In a 30-second attitude check ask: Am I in a spiritual place where God can use me to encourage another person in the congregation? Many people do not feel part of a congregation they attend, questioning if they "fit in." Too many folks become spectators, always on the margins of involvement in congregational life.
I admire Evelyn Ramsey, a single adult physician who gave her life in mission service in Africa and New Guinea. At times she must have felt enormously alone and isolated. Yet, Ramsey assessed her single life, "I realize now there would not have been any way I could have read the books I have read, written the words I have written, gone to the places I have gone, studied the courses I have studied, learned the languages I have learned, maintained the schedule I have maintained, mended the people I have mended if I had been encumbered by a husband and a family." In her single season she seized the opportunity to enrich lives.
Sometimes, when no bridge links single adults and married adults in a congregation, a single adult needs to build a pontoon bridge. Single adults, in large, small, and medium-sized congregations, cherish the promise in Psalm 68:6, "God places the lonely in families" (NLT). God also draws single adults into congregations that are largely composed, at the moment, of married adults and their children. The single adult, the congregation, and the Kingdom benefit from that fellowship of mutual care.
Harold Ivan Smith is a faculty member for the American Academy of Bereavement and author of When You Don't Know What to Say (Beacon Hill Press), is a single adult who frequently ministers to other singles.
Holiness Today, March/April 2009