When I was a child, I remember scanning the congregation during boring moments of the sermon. I was looking to see who had their arm around whom. I observed that, sometimes, husbands put their arms around their wives, sometimes wives put their arms around their husbands, and sometimes the couple sat too far apart to show such affection. I didn’t even look at the single people to see how they sat. And from what my single friends have told me, this experience of being overlooked (even by a restless child) is indicative of the single experience in the church.
This past August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50 percent of the adult population (older than age 16) is single—a statistic up from 37 percent in 1976. Is this represented in our congregations? When you scan your congregation during boring moments in the sermon (or if you’re behind the pulpit or microphone and you look out), who do you see? What is the single experience in the church today, and how can those of us who are married help the church become a more welcoming place to those among us who have never married or are divorced or widowed? Though it may seem like a difficult task, there are small, intentional ways we can include everyone in the church community fold.
Because I wed soon after college, I’ve spent little time in church as a single person. However, I have had several lengthy conversations with friends like Karen and Kristie who shared with me experiences and ideas about singleness and the church, both as lay people and from current positions of pastoral leadership. Here’s what I learned about how married people in the church can better engage with our single sisters and brothers.1