An Open Letter to Churches from A Single Person

Dear Churches,

I know that generally your hearts are pure, and you have great intentions. Therefore, I am writing to let you know some things you may or may not realize about the single people in your congregations. I’ll cut right to the chase. Walking into your doors for the first time is generally ten times more nerve-racking and awkward as we venture in on our own. Some of us fear looking awkwardly isolated or feeling more alone than we already feel in light of all of the relationships and community we see around us.

Sometimes we try to get involved, and it feels like there is no place for us or no room for us. We graduated out of the youth and college ministries but never made it into the marriage ministries or couples’ social groups.

Similarly, it is generally harder for us to feel known. We don’t have anyone helping us to establish connections, and we are not going to be known simply by our associations with other family members in the church. Personally, when I was growing up in a church with my family, everyone knew who I was. Between the six of us, we had at least one member of our family involved in every aspect of the church. People often knew who I was simply by association with my parents or siblings.

As incoming singles who are on our own, we don’t have this luxury. And this can be a serious problem for us in larger churches! We don’t have well-known parents who have been serving at that church since its beginning. We may not have kids in the children’s ministry. Single women do not have well-established husbands serving in leadership roles. Single men don’t have wives signing them up for social gatherings with other couples.

All of that being said, we often have to be ten times more intentional and proactive if we want to feel like we are really known by many people in our churches. Unless your church is super intentional about welcoming us into the family, finding true community there can take a really long time, and some singles may just give up and move on.

Also, sometimes we who are fairly new are more likely to feel overlooked for serving positions because we don’t have those connections. I know that some new singles may need more guidance before they are ready to serve or lead anything. However, some are solid, spiritually mature people who have the time and availability to help in big ways! I know it is easier to hand opportunities to that person who grew up in your church, and promoting them is fun because they are, in part, a product of your teachings and influence! It is easier to promote the popular couple with the cute kids than it is to invest in and take a chance on that single person who is not as noticeable.

But this is what real ministry and discipleship looks like. I would ask that you would consider them. Yes, they need to be able to prove their character and credibility first. But once they do, let them serve- in big or small ways. The churches we are praying to find are the ones who make the single people who have been there for 3 months feel like just as much a part of the family as the people who have been there for three years. Personally, I have found a church like this in the past year, and it has been a louder statement of love and acceptance to me than anything else I have experienced in a while.

Sometimes we get a bit tired of hearing messages on singleness from people who clearly know nothing about what it is like to be single in this day and age. If your message, series, or conference on singleness or dating is delivered by someone who has been married for three solid decades since age 20 and includes testimonials from engaged people and married people alone, we may feel a bit misrepresented. Talk to us. Ask us questions. Many of us are open to sharing our stories with you all. We want you to minister to people of our kind effectively.

Sometime it feels like church-goers as a whole view our singleness as a problem that needs to be fixed or an ailment that needs to be cured. Therefore, people come out of the woodwork trying to set us up with any other half-decent single humans they can think of! This can be awkward.

Similarly, sometimes church gets weird really fast thanks to an aspect of our Christian dating culture which stresses that church is the place to meet people. It is to the point where some singles only go to church for this reason alone- to prey on other singles. This totally doesn’t distract from the sole purpose of encountering Jesus Christ AT ALL! I mean, who wants to encounter the ultimate Lover of our souls when, instead, we could encounter someone we can eat salmon with this Friday night! The best is when we go out on a date or two with fellow church members, and it totally flops. Then we get the joy of spending Sunday morning worship services avoiding eye contact and dodging men or women with whom “it didn’t work out”. What fun! In addition, zig-zagging through mazes of pews to avoid a church’s notorious serial dater is a fabulous pre-service work-out!

I know you really can’t referee this exciting escapade, but I just thought you should know about it. Also, my dad first spotted my mom at a church… hence my existence. So I am not against meeting someone at church; I am just more concerned about us singles meeting and encountering Christ when we are with you.

One more thing I think you should know, something that the rest may never tell you: Singles are probably among the people in your congregation with the most need. No, they may not be in physical need or financial need, but emotionally and rationally, they are likely running on low. Let me tell you something. For people who live alone and/or do not have families around, Sundays can be the loneliest day of the week. And the greeters they meet at your front doors may be the only face-to-face conversations they have all day if no one else befriends them or invites them to be a part of what is happening.

Many singles are actually kind of hoping that your churches will be their sense of family right now, since it is the closest thing they can find. The irony is that many of you excel at ministries and programs for individuals who already have families (children, youth, couples), but you don’t have anything for singles. I totally understand that some of you do not have enough singles for a small group or ministry of its own. You don’t have to. Just help us feel at home in a way that works best for your church.

I want to end by letting you know that I have nothing but love for you. I know you have the best of intentions. I know that some of you are in no way trying to make singles feel excluded or awkward. Maybe you just don’t know how to best include them, or maybe you have tried, but it was not well received. No worries, I am also writing a letter to my fellow singles that I will share soon. It is about how we can get on board with your efforts, collaborate with you better, and build credibility with you more.

Thank you for considering my thoughts. They were based on, not my experiences alone, but also those of many singles with whom I have spoken, of all ages, and from many walks of life. If you made it to the end of this letter, it is pretty clear that you do care, and it is very much appreciated.

With Nothing but Love,

Elizabeth Whitley

P.S.- Quick shout-out to Thrive Church in Greenville, SC. Thanks for being such a wonderful church family to me during this time of my life. I have not had to deal with these issues while among you. Thank you for intentionally building bridges instead of unintentionally building barriers. Thanks for having enough room for me and for making me feel so welcomed since day one. Love you all!

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