I grew up in the church and married at thirty-one. During my twenties I spent time in and out of relationships and wishing to be married. When the wedding didn’t happen, I felt frustrated.
Equally challenging was the fact that I felt out of place at church. I fielded questions such as “Are you married?” or “Have you tried (fill in the blank) to meet that special someone?” An added challenge of integrating single people into the church is the sometimes overwhelming focus on marriages and families.
God took me through a growth process before I met my husband. And that path has proved essential to the health of my marriage. Along the way I have gathered a few ideas about how the church can encourage single people and integrate them into the community of faith.
1. Remember that worth is determined by something other than relationship status.
It’s important to treat single people as the individuals that God created them to be, and remember that they can be whole without mates. Studying Psalm 139 helped me see that God created me uniquely, and he thoroughly understands me. The third verse of this chapter, “You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways,” helped me accept that my worth comes from knowing and believing in Christ, not in being chosen by a spouse. Bible studies and retreats that focus on becoming a man or woman of God must include more than information about being a wife/mother or husband/father. Something as simple as offering Bible studies for women in the evening can help single women, because not all women are stay-at-home wives and mothers who can attend daytime studies.
2. Invite single people to gatherings at your home and/or with your family.
When I was studying at DTS, I joined the choir at my church. That group provided a wonderful community, as the members invited me to spend holidays and enjoy summer barbecues with them and their families. I felt included and welcomed into their lives. And I never felt that I needed to explain why I lacked a spouse. God constantly reminded me that I needed to trust him, even though I didn’t understand why he kept me single during that time. God’s guidance helped me understand Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
3. Understand that there is no formula for getting married.
Ultimately, God is the one who orchestrates marriage. When I served as the maid of honor for one of my friends, I expressed my frustration about being perpetually single in an environment in which it felt like everyone around me was marrying—or at least meeting someone they liked. I said, “I guess you are getting married before me because you are more ready for marriage.” She laughed and said, “That’s not how it works. There is no formula or way to explain how God orchestrates marriage.” That encouraged me.
4. Instead of quoting verses, encourage single people by getting to know them.
Those who told me to “focus completely on the Lord,” quoting 1 Corinthians 7:32–35, only magnified my frustration. Another favorite verse was “Take delight in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (i.e., a husband, Ps. 37:4). The best encouragement came from those who acknowledged that singleness can be painful and lonely, followed by prayers for God to meet my emotional needs. This was a great help once I got married, because these friends helped me develop a habit of looking to God to meet all my emotional needs rather than expecting only my husband to do so.
5. Avoid “encouragements” like “Your prince/princess is out there somewhere.”
Or “You’ll get married someday.” While such assurances may seem encouraging, they can actually discourage the hearers.
God never promised to bring spouses to all who follow him. Making such promises can give the recipients false hope, making the hearers feel as if something is wrong with them if marriage has not happened. Instead, engage in conversations about dreams that are not dependent on a spouse. Be sensitive to how difficult it may be for single people to be alone, and encourage them to explore their interests or try something new.
6. Move away from traditional Sunday school classes geared toward grouping by age and marital status.
Instead, move toward a community-group model. Many people now marry later than post-college. Incorporating the unmarried into intergenerational fellowships will help your church stay relevant to a growing number of single people. A thirty- or forty-year-old single person has little in common with the life stage of freshman college students, so lumping them all together in one college-and-career group can hinder the fostering of meaningful relationships. Community groups enable members to relate to each other like a family with multiple ages and stages of life. Such a model can embody what Luke describes in Acts 2:46: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” It’s easy for this kind of fellowship to flourish when we are all in different stages of life. There is benefit in spending time with members of God’s family who live in differing seasons.
Carly Isaac Graham, who holds an MA in Biblical Counseling from DTS (2011), has worked as a psychiatric counselor for the past two years. She resides in New Jersey.