Many Christian circles revolve around a “Focus on the Family” culture. But running head long into this emphasis many miss another cultural reality – “Emerging Adulthood.” It now takes young adults longer to leave home and establish their own families, a lot longer—if at all.
As Our Culture
This phenomenon of the last few decades is fueled in part by the longer pursuit and expense of education. People are slower to want to establish a family when they have debts equal to a house payment. Add to this the changing sexual morays of our culture – temporary cohabitation versus long-term personal and family commitment – and you have the sociological phenomenon known as emerging adulthood. Young adults wait to get married; many are forced to because there is a smaller “pool” of options. If they get married at all, it is not until their mid-thirties, which is a full decade later than the previous generations. The impact on churches is significant. This means there are not only more single people to minister to, but the church’s emphases, largely structured around the family, rules out a large segment of the young adult population, the future of the church.
As Our Future
Integrating singles of this age group is one of the great challenges for churches today. No longer is having a college group enough. The alternative, a college and career group, has to span more than a decade of different ages in order to work, and it often does not. So other things must be done alongside or in place of the normal groupings. Otherwise we risk losing not only this generation, but their children’s generation as well. Your church’s concern for the young adults in your community tells a lot about what things will be like in your church thirty years from now.
As Our Family
So what does all this mean for the church? It means we need to affirm singleness with more than just words. We need to work to be sure singles are not left out (or isolated) by sermons and church programs which focus primarily on families. This is done by placing singles in church leadership positions, addressing issues specific to them from the pulpit (not just referencing them as “the lucky ones” in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7), and encouraging family-singles friendships rather than viewing them largely as objects of sexual temptation. Single young adults must become a part of the fabric of our community and our kingdom efforts. After all, lest we forget, Jesus was single, Paul was single, and church history deeply respects those who embraced singleness and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.
Only by affirming the value of singleness can we help this group face the kinds of choices they will have to make about how they live in our modern world. Roles acknowledging the value of singles to the body of Christ need to be obvious. Sermon illustrations need to go into the singles space and sometimes park there. The value of integrity and sexual faithfulness for this group needs more attention. Texts like 1 Corinthians 7 need to be discussed and affirmed in the church, while struggles such as discontentment and self-centeredness should also be specifically addressed. We need to be careful not to send a message that says you are not complete if you are not married. I know I have been guilty of communicating this message, but I have repented of it. This type of message alienates those who have made a choice to plan their lives carefully, not wanting to launch a family overburdened with debt, and those for whom marriage is a desire, but never comes about.
We need to think consciously and structurally about how our churches affirm, incorporate, and challenge the single folks in our community. The Hendricks Center has and will be dedicating some of our Table podcasts to this topic because we think it is so important. Let’s make sure emerging adults have a place in our pews, our committees, and our families. Only then are they truly affirmed as part of the functioning growing body of Christ.
About the Contributors
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today’s Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, the Institute for Global Engagement, and Christians in Public Service (CIPS). His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.