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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Singles contribute to Alabama Baptist churches in variety of wayscomment (0)

September 11, 2003

By Anthony Wade


Alabama Baptists are ministering to singles, but defining who singles are grows more challenging with widely varying ages and circumstances of life.
   
“There is really no way to tell what the singles makeup of Baptist churches in Alabama is, but I can say that it would be a very rare case to find a church with no single adults,” said Eileen Wright, associate in the office of family ministries with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
   
She said that in Alabama, about 40 percent of the general population is single. Among those, 19 percent are never married, 13 percent are separated/divorced and 8 percent are widowed. The counties with the most single adults are Jefferson, Mobile, Montgomery and Madison counties, where the state’s largest metropolitan areas are located. Two other counties, Tuscaloosa and Lee have high singles populations, due to the universities that are located there.
   
Wright said individuals who are single run the gamut from college age through senior adults. Some have never married, others have lost a spouse after a lifetime of marriage and others are single due to divorce.
   
“In society at large they are well-respected in their occupations — some are doctors, lawyers — but they come to church and they are sometimes looked upon as being in a substandard category because they are single,” she said. Sometimes churches approach ministering to singles in their 20s and 30s as if they were older youth, she said.
   
The ministry philosophy at Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery is one that works against a bias toward singles by integrating them into the total life of the church, rather than segregating them, according to senior pastor Gary Sanders.
   
Sanders, who has never been married, said, “A lot of our singles are in small groups that are inter-generational.”
   
The church has socials and church gatherings sometimes exclusively for singles, but for the most part singles love to be included with families and children of the church.
   
“Our primary ministry structure is relationship-based, putting a lot of emphasis on family and small groups. However, there are some groups for singles only because in our culture some singles do prefer them,” he said. “We encourage singles and families to have more interaction and integration than the typical church, which generally ministers to different groups by segregating them.”
   
As pastor of Gateway for nearly 15 years and as a church pastor for 20 years, he has earned the respect and trust of the church.
   
When asked if being single makes a difference in his ministry, he said, “Here it does not make a difference, but with ministering to the larger body of Christ it might — where people don’t really know me. Where I am I don’t feel prejudice or judgment, I feel loved, affirmed and respected.”
   
Sanders, 46, said, “Through my years of being single I have sought to live for God’s glory, to practice contentment and keep my focus on the eternal. I often remind myself that I am complete in Christ, that God’s grace is totally sufficient for me as a single. I am not hindered, by my singleness, from fully pleasing the Lord.”
   
At Gateway, which currently averages 250 in Sunday morning worship and has as many units identifying themselves as single as those being married, Sanders said they follow the idea that God established the two great institutions of family and the church.
   
He has carefully structured the church program of discipleship and counseling to utilize mentors. This involves people of the church in appropriate mentor situations, such as asking a younger woman to talk with a trusted and spiritual older woman of the church. And he sometimes refers people to a professional counselor.
   
Though he does require premarital counseling for men and women who have asked him to marry them, he brings in a mentor couple of the church who have a successful marriage to meet with the couple as well.
“Our church is really big on family-based ministry. We really stress that,” he said.
   
First Baptist Church of Florence associate pastor to students Kevin Johnson, now 36, said as he ages he sees singleness differently.
   
“You watch other people struggling and some divorcing and you think are hurting because you don’t have a spouse. But I’d rather be single than married to the wrong person and have that hurt my ministry,” he said.
   
Johnson said he enjoys his work with college and youth at First, Florence, and said the church is supportive of his ministry. The members are loving, accepting and thoughtful toward him.
   
“I hope that Christians realize that we are living in an age where to reach people you are going to have to reach singles, and often, who better to do that than someone who is single.” he said.
   
Though being single can open doors of ministry it can also shut them, Johnson said. “I’d love to be the pastor of a church at some point,  but there is a stigma in a lot of churches that they wouldn’t call a single man to be their pastor,” he said.
   
According to Johnson, the difference being single makes in ministry can be positive, especially when working with students.
   
“I have more time to get up and go with them. If I have to go out at odd hours, I don’t have a wife and children to consider,” he said.
   
Johnson said having close friends or mentors is important for anyone, whether married or single, but for single men in ministry, it is even more vital.
   
“I’ve realized that you need mentors and people to watch your blind spots,” he said.
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