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Diversity of today’s singles requires variety of ministry approachescomment (0)

May 20, 2004

By Anthony Wade

The wide span of generations and interests among Alabama Baptist single adults makes a single approach to ministering to them nearly impossible.
    “There is a vast difference and you really can’t minister effectively to all of them,” said Randy Davis, single adult pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover. “They are all in such different stages of life.”
    So some churches approach singles ministry based on singles’ interests, not their ages, according to Eileen Wright, associate in the office of discipleship and family ministries with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. She said interest-specific approaches seem to work.
    But regardless of their interest or age, single adults “need to be salt and light in their realm, so that others will recognize there are great things happening with them.”
No matter their age, singles are making contributions to their jobs and communities, Wright said. “It’s unbelievable all that they do in their jobs and communities. They are strong there and they can be strong leaders in the church —  bankers who can serve on finance committees, for instance.
    “Churches need to recognize single adults have talents, gifts and abilities,” she explained. “God doesn’t hold off those gifts until they get married. Everybody’s needed in the church.”
    Cynthia Watts, minister to single adults at First Baptist Church, Dothan, agreed. “For several years [our church has involved] the single adult in every facet of the church. They teach Sunday School, lead choirs, work in the broadcast ministry and serve on churchwide committees.”
    Defining exactly who singles are is the first step in reaching them, single adult ministers say.
    “The way churches see single adult ministry is pivotal to how they do single adult ministry,” Davis said. “This philosophy sets a tone or mood for ministry. We are trying to radically influence our world for Christ.”
    With a Web site named “Radical Revolution” and a 2004 theme for ministry of “Life Wide Open,” Davis said Hunter Street sets a clear tone for defining singles ministry. “It’s about living a life of passion toward God and that sets a mood for where we are going,” he said.
    Wright said singles’ participation in visitation can aid in establishing a direction for its ministry. This helps in seeing ages and situations present in their communities.
    Once the needs are known, develop specific ministries. “The solution is to develop strong niche ministries within your singles ministry,” Wright said. “If you have more widows in your group concentrate on developing a great ministry there. If you have divorced singles develop a divorce care ministry, if young professionals, go there.
    “The key is to show some intentionality in ministry so that you are doing the best you can for the kinds of needs and interest represented,” she said.
    Davis added, “I think it comes down to purpose. Most singles want to know their purpose in life and would like to be doing what God has called them to be and do.”
    Watts said most single adults in their 20s and 30s do not consider themselves “single” nor do they care for the label. Instead they see themselves as not yet married as they make the transition from college to adulthood.
    She said most of them plan to get married and are not pursuing a life of singleness.
    So at several Alabama Baptist churches these singles are in groups called “Graduate and Professional” or “Young Professionals,” Watts said.
    When Davis leads leadership seminars on singles ministry he often asks participants how they see singles ministry.
    “They use words like ‘lonely, hurting, divorced, bitter’ words with negative connotations,” he said. “Not all singles are not down and out, emotionally devastated. They are heads of businesses, corporations, non-profits community agencies, managers in retail, business and industry and leaders in the church.
    “However, the negatives are part of life,” he noted. “We have a divorce care program and sadly that ministry is growing in numbers.”
    The prevailing age range of single adults will bear on the decisions churches make about the future of singles ministry, Wright noted.
    “Each church will have to answer the question of where older singles, such as those in their 60s and beyond, fit into the mix.
    A crisis in single adult ministry could come when so many baby boomers retire. This poses the question of whether they will remain in singles ministry or perhaps desire that a “senior singles” ministry be established, Wright said.
    “The majority of churches address singles ministry with volunteers,” Wright  said. Among the more than 3,200 Baptist churches in Alabama there is a full- or part-time singles ministry staff person at 85 churches.

Conferences encourage communication between singles

Alabama Baptist single adults are finding wider networks of Christians through singles organizations and conferences.
    There are numerous groups on the national, regional and local scenes that are well-equipped to offer this kind of ministry.
    “Conferences help them see they are not alone — that there are other individuals with similar circumstances,” said Cynthia Watts, minister to singles at First Baptist Church, Dothan. She noted conferences are not only for personal sharing but for a “broadening of ideas.”
    Singles conferences are not new to Watts, a member of the planning committee for the Labor Day Singles Conference at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center, Ashville, N.C.
    She said major events must consider age ranges and life statuses of single adults. One of the most popular elements of conferences is breakout sessions. “The great value of this type of conference is having options for single adults from baby boomers through senior adults,” she said. “They want to be in control of what they attend.”
    She said a recent singles conference in Columbia Association attracted more than 200 singles mostly in their 30s to 60s.
    Encouraging communication among a wide group of singles and providing a once-a-month social gathering is the forté of a Birmingham-based group — the Safe & Single Interdenominational Supper Club Ministry. The organization was founded by its president, Jo Beth Riddle, a member of First Baptist Church, Pelham.
    She began the ministry in December 2000 with four people. Now, the group has more than 1,000 singles identified on its mailing list and conducts meetings where up to 120 singles gather. They meet at restaurants, public parks or homes for food, fellowship and Bible study. Child care is made available when possible.
    “The ministry exists to impact singles communities and let them know they are appreciated, loved and made to feel important in God’s eyes,” Riddle said, noting it also has an evangelistic twist.
    The meetings equip Christians to share their faith with others and invite people who are not Christians to participate. Participating can bring other blessings, Riddle said. “I have never promoted this ministry as a dating service, but 14 couples have met in my ministry and married. We are human, so these marriages have been a spiritual blessing,” she said.
    Another Birmingham-based organization gives more options on the national level. Under the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association the Strength to Stand Singles Conference targets younger single adults. These Smoky-Mountain-set conferences provide single adults the means — through nature, speaking, singing and drama — to find a deeper, more effective relationship with Jesus.
    For more information on singles ministry organizations visit the resources section of www.thealabamabaptist.org.

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