By Julie Pearce
The National Church Life Survey 2001 statistics indicate that 68% of church goers are married. The Australian Bureau of Statistics census information shows that 48.6% of the population in 2001 and around 50.4% of the population in 2006 are not married. Even allowing for variations in data collection, it is clear that a) churches are dominated by a disproportionate number of married couples and b) the number of singles is on the rise.
The National Church Life Survey  states that … weekly attendance as a proportion of population has… dropped markedly from 9.9% in 1996 to 8.8% in 2001. Hence the percentage of singles is increasing and conversely church attendance is diminishing.
You do not need to be a Rhodes Scholar to conclude that continuing to direct Church at families and overlooking the variation in population demographics has contributed to the decline in church attendance.
The old model of children, youth and then marriage no longer exists for many. Instead, Christians may attend Children’s Church/Sunday School where ‘children are loved and welcomed,’ move on to youth group where they are told they are ‘the future of our church’.
Depending on the church, they may join a young adults group. But eventually they find themselves belonging to a group where they don’t quite seem to fit in. They find that their needs are often overlooked and they are no longer considered a valuable asset to the Church. It is not surprising that a significant number of adults then leave.
Singles frequently report being ignored or overlooked. Most church leaders do not do this deliberately of course; they simply haven’t considered the impact of changing demographics on church attendance. Some would be horrified to learn that their genuine and heartfelt conviction that ‘everyone is welcome’ is not the message that is being received by many singles.
But an increasing number of church leaders most certainly are aware of the plight of singles and stubbornly refuse to listen to their singles’ pleas for recognition. Singles in these churches are viewed as an annoying and troublesome group and sermons and social activities continue to be geared towards families.
From an evangelistic point of view, this stance is puzzling. With roughly 50% of the population now single, this is a huge pool of potential followers of Christ. Changing the way we do church to include addressing the needs of singles has the potential to transform churches, halt the decline in numbers and inject much needed passion, energy and finances into our churches.
If committed Christian singles, grounded in Christ are leaving the Church, then how many more singles are missing out on salvation? Like any new activity, going to church for the first time can be stressful and intimidating. Many singles are searching for God in their life but find attending church lonely, irrelevant and difficult.
Perhaps part of churches’ reluctance to help singles stems from a misunderstanding of what singles require from their churches? Most singles merely want to feel that they belong at church; that they are welcome and valued. Many singles have been hurt by churches but the reverse is also true; many churches have been hurt by singles.
Unfortunately, singles groups seem to have a higher than usual proportion of angry, negative or un-likeable people. Although such people may be in the minority, like any minority group they tend to be very vocal and often tar others with the same brush.
As an alternative to singles social events which are commonly rewarded with low attendance and loud complaints, churches can help their singles in other ways… by helping them become ‘un-single’ and expanding sermons to include inspiring messages for singles.
A number of churches tend to treat the symptoms, not the cause. Rather than helping and encouraging their singles to find a partner, they focus on helping singles be ‘happier’ or ‘better’ singles. Some Christians will gladly pray for their singles but don’t think to introduce them to the single man or woman sitting at the next table.
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18 (NIV) He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the LORD. Proverbs 18:22 (NIV)
Imagine the impact if more churches reinforced the assertion that marriage is God’s will for us by teaching positive, solid and inspirational scripture. Stories such as Boaz and Ruth and Isaac and Rebekah can be held up as examples of Godly men and women taking action to change their marital circumstances and receiving God’s blessings as a result.
Pastors can also help their singles by urging their congregation to make the effort to introduce their singles to one another. Large churches in particular have a huge network of people.
Why not use it? Singles would also benefit greatly from more Christians encouraging their singles to overcome fear, pride and lethargy and taking steps to change their situation. “Go on…ask her out for a coffee! So what if she says no. She might say yes!” Or “go on. Join a dating service. You’ll never know unless you give it a go.” Sometimes all singles need is a boost of confidence to help them on their way.
With more and more people becoming increasingly isolated in today’s society, many look to church more than ever, as a place of community, where they can make friends and find a partner.
Church has the potential to be a light on the hill and a source of great inspiration and hope to un-churched singles. Most Christian singles know they need church. Maybe it’s time for the Church to realise that they need singles?
Julie Pearce runs the Fig Trees introduction agency for Christian singles in Perth, which can be found on the internet at www.figtrees.com.au