Being single in a church of families is a different experience. You can feel alone. You can feel free to come and leave when you want. And in some cases, you can feel awkward, like you’re waiting on the sidelines of a middle school dance, waiting for someone to invite you to the floor.
Since getting married a few months ago, I’ve noticed a shift in how I experience church. First off, people ask me about my wife all the time, to which I answer in a positive cheery tone. But the most surprising difference I’ve felt is how I’m considered to be someone who has matured.
What I mean is, people treat married couples as if they have entered into another realm of sanctification. Married people are somehow on a fast track to godliness because they’ve chosen to go through life with someone. They understand this church thing.
Meanwhile, singles are left on the margins, where they are horribly misjudged and pushed into relationships with other singles in the church, because that’s what we married couples do when we see singles.
Something is odd here.
In a culture where adults are getting married later in life, something needs to change about our emphasis and misconceptions. And if single adults are outnumbering married adults, something needs to change fast. We as the church body need to ensure both sides are being served in an equal capacity.
In solving this issue, I don’t want to blame the church for not serving singles. That would be an ill thought out accusation to place. Not only that, but blaming the church leadership would place the solution out of our hands, which I believe shouldn’t be the case.
If I’m honest, the reason singles are marginalized is because of individuals—like me. It’s not a flaw of a higher church leadership structure. The church structure only reveals the faults of individuals stacked on top of each other.
You see, I believe it is our outlook that is feeding into the problem. It is the outlook of the singles and the married couples that’s driving the wedge in our churches, making one group feel marginalized and another feel prioritized.
Let me explain.
There are many barriers that exist within people in a church. There are young and old, children and no children, people with careers and the unemployed, etc. This diversity is part of the reason I love church, but it can also be a hindrance to what the church is called to be if we mishandle it.
What I mean by mishandling is, we can treat the diversity within the church the same as diversity within the world.
Yes, in the greater culture we celebrate the ideal of diversity, and yet, we barely gather together with people in different places of life. We instead see our differences first. We see the societal, economic, age and race-based walls dividing us before we see our similarities.
The church is different because it cuts across these boundaries. It appeals to the mom, the CEO, the pubescent teenager, and the convicted felon. It doesn’t shut one group out, nor does it serve a certain community of people (unless specified in their mission to be a ministry to one group of people).
Church is a place where differences are both minimized and celebrated in the presence of a diverse God.
Yet, we can still enter into church noticing and discriminating our differences rather than celebrating and learning from one another. And this plays out clearly with the large division between married and single people in the church.
Singles and married people can forget that while church doesn’t solely appeal to families, it’s still a family event.
Meaning, we are all part of the same family. There’s no room for a division between singles and married couples in the church.
I confess, I used to not like calling people different from me my family. It felt weird because most people in church were white while I was Indian, and when I tried dating a Christian, I didn’t want to say I was pursuing my sister in Christ. It left a gross taste in my mouth.
But I can’t shake how much being in an authentic church body resembles family life. A family learns and grows from one another. A family is well aware of the value of each member. A family is not individualistic or closed off from one another.
As a church family, we are in some way active and present in each other’s lives—so we might as well learn from one another instead of prioritize one group over another.
Now don’t mistake my words: by calling us a family, I am not saying we should throw differences out the window. That’s not how it works in a family. Rather, in a family, each member retains their difference, yet offers a unique value to the whole—meaning that differences are welcomed.
So I ask: what needs to happen with singles and married couples so we can operate as a family, and not as a harsh split in our churches? How can we make singles feel more welcomed? How can we adjust our attitude as married couples?
Here are some of my suggestions:
1. Married people should stop assuming they know what it’s like to be single. There are many married people in the church who got married in their early twenties and have no clue what it means to be single today.
2. Single people should stop assuming married people are unavailable to hang out. Just because they have each other doesn’t mean they’re never lonely. Married people need friends outside of their marriage as well.
3. Leadership should embrace singles. A friend once told me how she felt churches favored married couples as leaders over singles—like they were the most fit for ministry. No person should be skeptical of their leadership discriminating in this way. I’m not saying a church should hire a single person just because they’re single, but rather, don’t rule them out because they are single.
4. We should all practice humility. This is what’s needed most of all. Married people need the humility to accept there’s still much to learn from the single congregation. And singles need the humility to reach out and learn from married couples as well. After all, this is what healthy families do—they muster the humility to reach across the divides and make amends.
Oftentimes, we can trumpet our own stage of life as being the priority within the church. As singles, we can think singleness should be addressed more. And as married couples, we can think we need more married men and married women meet-ups.
But if we instead see that we are put into this church thing as a family, I believe we can open ourselves up to more perspectives than just our own.
So singles, shake hands with married couples. Married couples, sit with singles or invite them over for dinner. Church is not the place to notice our differences. Church is a family event, and we work better as family if we grow together.
That’s the church we should all strive to create.
Note: This article originally appeared here on JesusHacks.com and is used by permission.