When one considers the most notable sociological shifts in the last sixty years, the fact there are now more single adults than married adults living in the United States must rank near the top. There are many factors that have contributed to this social experiment called singleness. People live longer, resulting in more widows and widowers. Couples wait longer to get married. Although the divorce rate has stopped increasing, many people simply choose to remain single. Because of the change in social norms, and the equalization to some degree of earning power, many women choose to live single because they can live single.
Benjamin Spock advised parents to place their newborns in rooms of their own (The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care – 1946). This advice, which was contrary to sleep conditions of most families in the world throughout human history, paved the way for the “singleness” movement which defines the living conditions of the 21st century in the United States.
So how does this social experiment affect the church in the United States? If the church is to minister to and make disciples of the present culture, there must be a realization by the church that 50% of the adults they hope to reach will be single. Is the church prepared?
Many churches have few or no singles in leadership. The majority of decisions effecting ministry and vision are made by married men with children. One cannot help but recognize the irony as the founder of Christianity was himself single. Even liberal secular theologians who incorrectly argue that Christianity as we know it began with Paul fail to recognize they have a founder who was single. Yet a single pastor or leader in the evangelical church can be a rare commodity indeed. The lack of single leadership within the church must be discussed.
In addition, the social obstacles singles must overcome inside many churches can be daunting. The pressure to marry can be overwhelming. The perception that something is wrong with a person if they do not marry is always present. If two singles of the opposite gender hang out it is assumed they are having sex. If they are of the same gender there is suspicion of a homosexual relationship.
In a very practical sense a case could be made that many churches are merely family support groups. But by family it is the traditional nuclear family that is in view. Is an adult single living with an aging parent considered a family unit in the church? How about the single parent? In the case of singles living alone, what “family support” does the church provide?
The social climate of the United States has changed. To be successful at making disciples in the 21st century, the church must recognize the unbelievable opportunities, unique needs, and latent prejudices that this modern “social experiment” called singleness reveals.