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Singles ministry a rewarding challengecomment (0)

September 8, 2005

By June Mathews

Singles ministries — some churches have them, some don’t. But the reality is, singles make up a growing percentage of the church population.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the number of unmarried American adults has been steadily rising over the past 35 years. In 1970, 36 percent of American adults were unmarried. In 2000, the number had risen to 44 percent.
As the number of single adults increases, so does the challenge to minister to singles in ways that are relevant to their lifestyles and circumstances. 
“Every church of every size has single adults,” said Eileen Wright, an associate in the office of discipleship and family ministries, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “That doesn’t necessarily mean every church needs a single adult ministry, but it does mean that churches need to think about single adults in their planning.”
Churches can succeed in singles ministry by considering some fairly basic principles, according to an informal survey of singles ministers across the state.
Andy Heis, minister of singles at Gardendale’s First Baptist Church, noted that an effective singles ministry takes age differences into consideration. While there are some instances when mixing younger and older singles works, that’s generally not the case. 
He’s experienced great success with a murder mystery event that the younger singles at his church hosted for the older singles crowd. But he’s also seen how younger singles are just happy hanging out together while older singles enjoy trips and planned activities more.
JoBeth Riddle, a member of First Baptist Church, Pelham, and coordinator of an interdenominational singles supper club ministry called Safe & Single, has seen the same age-related distinctions.
“The younger singles don’t really want to hang out with the older divorced singles,” she said. “They just don’t have that much in common. The bottom line is to offer a variety of things from which singles can pick and choose.”
Another key to singles ministry success, according to Jason Kennedy, minister of singles at East Memorial Baptist Church, Prattville, is developing a strong core of leadership. And the best leadership for singles, he believes, generally comes from the singles themselves.
“I try to establish good leadership from within the ministry,” he said. “Right now, I have two people in our ministry that are real go-getters. I pray constantly that God will send faithful singles to our ministry.”
Wright also noted that many singles are willing and able to serve on church committees and in leadership positions within the larger church body. “We need to be looking at singles with different eyes,” she said. “Singles are viable, active people that run the whole gamut of ministries and opportunities.”
Singles ministries also strive to provide a place of Christian caring and encouragement, said June Kilgore, director of the single adult ministry of Southside Baptist Church in Dothan. “Singles need to know that somebody loves them, and you do everything you can as a leader to bring that about.”
Kilgore said, in her ministry, fellowship with spiritual input has proven to be the best way to let singles know that someone cares while emphasizing that everyone is created with purpose.
“Jesus is our first focus,” said Kilgore, “but you have to have a balance between that and fellowship.”
Providing this caring atmosphere, however, is sometimes misinterpreted, leading some to think of the singles classes as a market for mates — one of the most difficult misconceptions for singles ministers to overcome. 
“One of the things I don’t like is when we’re called a ‘club,’ and that people think everybody here is looking for a mate,” Kilgore said.
Most singles don’t like to be alone, but aren’t necessarily seeking marriage, said Brenda Green, singles ministry director at Woodmont Baptist Church, Florence.
“A lot of singles come to church looking for relationships — not couples’ relationships, but friendships,” she said. “They may be lonely or coming out of hurtful relationships, some of them fearing rejection, condescension or judgment.
“But we’ve also got to provide for them spiritually. People stay because of the relationships, but because of the spiritual aspects, too. You’ve got to have a balance.”
This balance, along with staying focused on the ministry’s purpose can help avoid the “mate market” perception, Riddle said.
“We want to provide a healthy Christian resource for people to meet, but we are not a matchmaking service,” Riddle emphasized. “Sixteen couples — maybe more by now — have met and married through our ministry, and we’re glad, but that’s not our purpose.”
Kilgore agreed, “This is truly a place where God abides, and He can work through singleness.”
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