Singles and the Church: Why It Sucks to be Unintentionally Overlooked

In the movie Bridget Jones, Bridget is having dinner with some pretentious married people. One of them says to her “Bridget, why do you think there are so many people over thirty and single these days?”  Bridget looks her straight in the face and says “Well, I guess it doesn’t hurt that we have scales under our clothes.”

We singles often feel like we have scales under our clothes in our churches. Not a gross disfigurement that makes everyone stare. Not an outward, in your face prejudice that is thrown at us. But something more subtle. Something that makes us feel like even though we look pretty normal on the outside, there is quite possibly something wrong with us underneath the surface.

According to an article in the New Yorker, there were four million adults living alone in this country in 1950. Now there are thirty one million, almost eight times as many. More than half of adults in the United States are single at this point in time.

We could safely say then that half of our church congregations are also single. And yet this huge demographic is often overlooked. Why is this?

I want to be careful with this post, because I don’t want to point fingers at anyone. I love my married friends, I love my pastors, and I don’t think they have ever meant to hurt us. I don’t think they have ever meant to leave us out.

And yet, we have been hurt. We have been left out.

Maybe we can look at some of the reasons that this might be happening so we can help the single friends in our lives and churches not feel like they have scales under their clothes.

Reason #1- People underestimate the difficulties that singles face.

I have talked in past posts about the idea of disenfranchised grief.  Instead of mourning over something that happened, disenfranchised grief is mourning over something that has never happened.  We have never lost a child, but we have never had a child. We have never been through a divorce but we’ve never had a spouse.

It is a strange kind of grief because most people don’t recognize it as a validated loss.  Singles often feel a deep sense of grieving, and yet we don’t feel like we deserve to be grieving because nothing concrete has happened to us.

And so, people are unaware that there is such a deep grieving going on. They don’t understand how much we need this grieving to be addressed.

Another problem is that most people that are married remember their singleness with a lot of fondness. “All those fun dates! All that freedom!” They don’t often realize that once you hit 25 and are waiting five, ten, fifteen years, it is a whole different story. There is a long history of dating ending in horrible heartbreak. Freedom is there in abundance, but only because we don’t have a family. Most of us would trade in our freedom for a family in a heartbeat.

There are funny ways that church culture reflects their unawareness of our disenfranchised loss—not in what they do give us, but in what they don’t give us. The sermons that aren’t given, the prayers that aren’t offered, the books that aren’t written. As if what we are going through is not that important or difficult.

Think of all the great books out there about marriage or about parenthood. Then try to think of all of the books out there about being single. There are so few good ones. (Unless if you count my book Getting Naked Later! Wink wink!)

The books that are offered to singles often try to convince us that we need to be thankful for the gift of singleness, a stance that can make us feel ashamed of the grief we might feel. Or they are books that give us formulas on how to get married, which often sends the message that we have to get married to arrive as a human. These books for singles are often written by married people, which again gives us mixed signals on the validity of our life experience.

Now, think of all the good sermons you’ve heard about marriage or about being a good parent. Think of the vast array of seminars that are offered. Then think about all of the sermons you’ve heard about the trials of being single and how to deal with them. I honestly can’t think of one single time I’ve heard a pastor talk about this after twenty years of being a regular church goer. I’ve never heard of a seminar that deals with the problems singles face. If singles make up half of our congregations, shouldn’t our problems be addressed more often?

Reason #2- Influencers in the church are not often single.

This brings me to my second point: the people writing the books and the people giving the sermons aren’t single. The problems singles face are far from these leader’s minds because it’s been such a long time since they have been single.

When you think about this, it begs the question “Why aren’t there more influencers in the church who are single?” I recently read an article in The New York Times in which a single pastor named Mark Almlie was interviewed about how hard it is for him to find a job. He had applied to 500 jobs to no avail. “I’ll get an e-mail saying ‘wonderful résumé,’ Once I say I’m single, never married, I never hear back.”

Think about it…is there any other job in the US that is so biased towards married people? I can’t think of one. In all of my fifteen or so years of working in the church, I have heard of two senior pastors that were single. One of those was twenty when he started pastoring, thus nullifying the “you’re over 30 and single so there must be something wrong with you” effect.

This can easily send us a message that says “your voice is not as important if you don’t have a family. You don’t have enough wisdom to speak to the rest of us if you aren’t married.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Part of the reason I wrote this was to help us singles feel validated , but I’d love for us to talk about it more and talk about how things might change…

Here are some questions:

Do you think that there is a bias towards married people in the church or am I overstating the problem?

Why do you think singles are often unintentionally overlooked in the church?

Have you ever felt ashamed for feeling so much grief over being single?

Have you had experiences in your church body or with your pastor where you felt seen and validated?

Have you ever struggled with being a leader in your church or in ministry because you are single?

What can we do to give a voice to single people in the church?

Let me know what you think, because my next post will probably be based on what you all say on this topic.