Singles and the Church
About the Guest
On today's broadcast, bachelorette Wendy Widder, author of the book A Match Made in Heaven, tells what it feels like to be a single in a church made of couples. Joining her are various guests.
Wendy WidderWendy Widder started out as a fifth grade teacher. However, her love of words and scripture eventually led her to writing for Logos Bible Software. She has a PhD in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (University of the Free State), an MA in Hebrew & Semitic Studies (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and an MDiv with an emphasis in education ministries (Grand Rapids Theological Seminary).
Wendy Widder talks about what it feels like to be a single in a church made of couples.
Singles and the Church
Bob: Every Sunday morning at your church, there is a group of people sitting in pews all around you who are wondering if they are really in the right place. The reason is they're single. Here is Wendy Widder.
Wendy: Singles are people just like you. The needs that you have when you come into the church, they have. When you come to church, you need to find a place where you belong, where you're valued, and where you can build relationships. That doesn't matter if you're single or married, and it takes on different nuances if you're single or married. But singles are people, too. We have the same emotions and feelings and responses and thought processes and very often the church doesn't want to know about those; they don't ask about those.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 14th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So how about it? Do singles fit in your church, and does your church know how to minister to them?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. Dennis?
Dennis: You know, Letterman has his top 10 …
Bob: … yeah …
Dennis: … and, from time to time you've had your top 10 on this program.
Bob: I've worked some out on occasion, yes.
Dennis: I received an e-mail from a single listener the other day, who had her own top 10.
Bob: Top 10 what?
Dennis: Well, she's a single, and she'd heard her pastor give a message about being single in the church, and so she sent me her – well, it's really not top 10, but it is 10 statements that we make about singles today in the church. And she just kind of was poking fun at what us married folks say to the singles but also, at the same time, I think, kind of gouging us a bit to say, "Don't you think we know some of these things?"
Bob: These are things we say to them – top 10 things people say to singles, is that the idea?
Dennis: Well, certainly, top 10 things we say to singles in church.
Dennis: All right? And just so we properly set our guest on the program today – Wendy Widder joins us on FamilyLife Today. She is an author. She is a publicist for Kregel Publishing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And she has written a book called "A Match Made in Heaven."
Bob: And it's about singles in the church, right, Wendy?
Wendy: That's correct.
Bob: Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Wendy: Thank you.
Dennis: And we're also joined on FamilyLife Today, for the first time ever …
Bob: … yes, this is really kind of the first formal studio audience we've invited in, but we have asked some local singles to join us as we talk about singles and the church and what's going on right and what needs some improvement, right?
Dennis: That's right, and so they're out there, right?
All: Hello, how are you doing?
Dennis: They've got stage fright. They don't want to talk. They'll open up here in a minute. Well, anyway, you all can comment on these as we go through these. Anyway, she said, "These are things singles really get sick of hearing." Number 1, "You better hurry up and find someone, or you're going to be an old maid." Now, that's a kind statement.
Number 2 – "Single and over 30? You have missed out on life." Number 3 – "I have a friend you need to meet. They have a real nice personality." Yeah, that resonated. "You're not married? What's wrong with you?" Now, I can't believe that really gets said.
Unidentified Speaker: It does get said.
Bob: It does get said?
Dennis: You're kidding? Wow. Wendy, have you heard it said?
Wendy: Maybe not directly said but certainly implied.
Dennis: Wow. Number 5 – "Your biological clock is ticking," and the lady who sent this to me said, "I guess they don't think we already know that." Number 6 – "I understand how you feel and what you're going through." They were married early in life – early 20's – no. They don't have a clue. Huh? There you go. Number 7 – "When a man is single, we need to get him married. When it's a woman, she needs to accept her singleness." Eight – oh, this is an ouch, but I could hear somebody in the church doing this – "What sin in your life has kept you from marriage?" Number 9 …
Bob: … somebody is nodding now. Have you heard that said?
Unidentified Speaker: I've heard it said before.
Dennis: Oh, wow. Number 9 – "You're single? You have a lot of money and time."
Wendy: That's a favorite.
Dennis: She said that's not always true. Number 10 – "Your problem is you're just too picky."
Unidentified Speaker: I am.
Dennis: One of our guests said, "I am."
Bob: Yes, that's right. Now, here's my question – has anybody ever said to you – "Man, I wish I was single." Have you had that from married folks?
Unidentified Speaker: Yes.
Bob: Have you – somebody who envies your position? Because I've heard people – well, I've heard you, Dennis, say that single people and married people are like flies on a screen door …
Dennis: … that's right …
Bob: … the ones who are outside are trying to get in, and the ones who are inside, too often, are trying to get out.
Dennis: That's exactly right.
Bob: And so you can look at one another and go, "Gee, I wish I had what you had," and then once you get it, you go, "Oh, I didn't realize this came with it."
Dennis: Yes, and it's into this culture of discontentment – actually, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy, chapter 6, he said, "Godliness is actually a means of great gain when accompanied with contentment." And the Christian community has within its power to be a great encouragement or a great discouragement to the single community, and it can use some of these needs that swirl about in the single culture to be able to reach out to them with the message of Jesus Christ.
Now, Wendy, you said in your book that singleness is not something that you dreamed about as a little girl. In fact, I'm quoting you here – you said it was something you dreaded "like an incurable disease, dooming me to a life of loneliness and despondency. It was something I prayed only happened to other people." You actually wrote that.
Wendy: Yes, I did.
Dennis: Is that how you feel?
Wendy: That's how I felt. I wouldn't say it's how I feel now, but it's definitely how I felt.
Bob: At what point do you remember feeling that way? Because obviously we're all single at some point, but there has to be a time where you start looking around and going, "I am, and I don't like it."
Wendy: I really expected that when I went away to a Christian college, I would find my husband and get married after graduation, because that's what everybody I knew did. And when it didn't happen, and I moved back to my hometown, I looked around, and I thought, "Well, I already know all these people, and we weren't going to get married before, we're probably not going to now." And I began to have to deal with that. And then I took a position as a Christian schoolteacher in an elementary school, which, if you think a little bit about, that's not a great place to try to find a husband. It's a wonderful environment to work in, but most of the women – well, most of the teachers are women. So there weren't many prospects at the workplace, either. And so, as I worked my way through my early 20s and saw people dropping like flies and disappearing off the scene, I really had to come to grips with this could be the way things are. I didn't really think they would stay that way, and maybe they still won't, I don't know that, but it's where I am right now.
Bob: But the church, the covenant community of God, that should be your refuge from all of that, shouldn't it?
Wendy: Yes, it should be.
Bob: And did you find that to be the case?
Wendy: At that time I was attending a church where they did a decent job of really coming around singles, and we had a singles ministry, specifically for us, and I was involved in the leadership there and loved serving with them, loved serving the singles and being part of the church. And my situation was a little unique. I was able to go back to the church I had grown up in, and my family has been there since my mother was five. So I had a lot of history there, and I knew everybody, and they knew me. It wasn't really until I moved to a new state and had to find a church – a new church by myself – that I really became aware of how difficult it is for singles to fit in a church.
Dennis: There is a poll that we ran across on the Internet that just asks singles if they felt valued in their church, and I looked at the poll, and only 14 percent said "Definitely, they felt valued." Mostly they felt like outsiders; some felt rejected. Now, I want to ask our guests in the audience – which group are you in? Do you feel valued or do you feel more like you're an add-on in the local church that you go to? And we'll preserve your identity here, as you speak.
Unidentified Speaker: Do you mean valued as, like, an individual of what your gifts are to give to the church?
Dennis: Yes, right.
Unidentified Speaker: I think that – in our church, I think most of the singles are – you know, they participate in a lot of things, and some of them are Sunday School teachers, some are involved in, like, the music ministry and things like that, and they're pretty active, I think, throughout a lot of the structure of the church. But, a lot of times, then, we just spend – over the course of things that, you know, things like the Valentine's banquets and other, sort of, church functions where it's a lot of family stuff or married couple stuff, sometimes the singles are kind of, like, you know, well, "Us, too." We have things …
Dennis: … feel discriminated against a bit.
Unidentified Speaker: Accidentally discriminated against.
Bob: I was thinking, our church is going to have a Family Camp this summer – that's what we're calling it – "Family Camp." And then in the promotional material it says, of course, singles are welcome. We want to encourage singles to be a part of it. But just the fact that it's called "Family Camp" – doesn't that send a message that says you're welcome, but you really don't fit here. What about any of the rest of you? Do you feel like you're a valued part of the community of faith? Or do you feel like you're left on the outside?
Unidentified Speaker: I would say that I feel valued but rarely recognized.
Dennis: Now, what do you mean by that?
Unidentified Speaker: That opportunities that we have are great to do things, but the only time that we're spoken about in the context of the body of the church and especially, you know, "Remember these singles, take care of them, too – they're important to this body, too."
Dennis: An afterthought.
Unidentified Speaker: Yes.
Dennis: A singles ministry in a local church is much more than just an event of a group of singles meeting on Tuesday night to have dinner together and to have a program. It really has to permeate not only the church staff but the people who attend, don't you think? I mean – families that are in a church need to recognize that there are many who attend church who are single parents. They're single by – some single by choice; some single not by choice; widowed; divorced; all types of singles. And I have to admit, as a family person, it's really difficult to be thinking about the needs that singles have because so many times there are so many needs around the marriage and family issue in our churches.
Bob: And they're diverse needs, too, even as Dennis was talking about it, Wendy, I was thinking about the fact that you can't really take singles and say they're a homogeneous, like-minded, like-lifestyled group of people. Because you may have a single parent who has three kids at home who is in her 50s; and you may have a single who is just out of college two years and has never been married – they are in two very different life situations, and yet they're both singles, right?
Wendy: Right, and sometimes we lump them all together and say, "Here is the singles ministry. We're going to try to meet all of these needs. All these people are single," without recognizing that they are diverse, and people who have been married and whether they're divorced or widowed and have children – they're more like a family than they are single, and yet they have the unique challenges of singleness as well.
Bob: It's one thing for a large church congregation of several thousand to be able to say, "Okay, we're going to have one group for the young singles, we're going to have another group that's the older singles who have never been married, and then a third group that are the older singles who have been married." I mean, you've got enough population to be able to maybe fill some of those groups. But in the average church in America, where there may be a couple of hundred people, you may have 20 singles in your church, and all of them are from such a different background. You get them all in the same room at the same time, and they'll look at each other and go, "I can't relate to you."
Wendy: Yes, we have nothing in common.
Bob: So what's a churchman to do?
Wendy: Well, I think it goes further back than just saying, "What do we do with these 20 singles who are all different." We have to ask the question – when we have our church divided into age and stage of life groupings, where all the young marrieds meet with the young marrieds, the older people meet with each other, the parents with teenagers meet with each other, and when we structure the church that way, we forced everybody to break into groups, and we're stuck, so to speak, with this conglomerate of single people who – they're all single, but that may be about all they have in common. And I think we have to go beyond that and say, "Well, maybe this isn't the best way to always do ministry. Maybe this isn't the best way to have things broken up."
Dennis: Well, if you look at a parent of a teen, they are in desperate need of fellowshipping with other parents here raising teens.
Wendy: Yes. I don't dispute at all the value of meeting with people who are like you. We have friends who are like us, that's why they're our friends. But there is also value in diversity, and God is a God of great diversity, and we miss that in the church if we only stick with people who are just like us.
Dennis: If you were advising the lay community, which is the church. I think, many times, we point our fingers at the paid clergy as being the church – it's all of us who are members of local churches. What's the one piece of advice you would give the lay community, as they relate to singles in the church?
Wendy: I think an overwhelming piece of advice is that singles are people just like you. The needs that you have when you come into the church, they have. When you come to church, you need to find a place where you belong, where you're valued, and where you can build relationships. That doesn't mean if you're single or married, and it takes on different nuances if you're single or married, but singles are people, too, and we have the same emotions and feelings and responses and thought processes and, very often, the church doesn't want to know about those. They don't ask about those.
Dennis: So engage them around …
Wendy: … as people – become their friends, get to know them.
Dennis: Right, around their needs. I'm going to turn to our audience and give you a shot at this one. You're speaking to a few – several thousand, several hundred thousand family members who are not single right now. They were at one point, but they've forgotten what it was like. What's the best piece of advice you could give them about relating to the single community in their churches?
Unidentified Speaker: Have them over for dinner.
Dennis: Have them over for dinner?
Unidentified Speaker: Mm-hm, something that simple.
Unidentified Speaker: To build a relationship, especially if you're in a new community, and you're in a community where maybe you don't have immediate family. One of the things that you're missing is, is family – is being around children, being around, maybe, an older couple that reminds you of your parents or your grandparents. It's very important that you not just always hang around with other single people. That can be very, very shallow. You want to be a part of a family; you want to be able to relate; you want to, you know, just sit around and eat a home-cooked meal, because it's hard to cook just for one person.
Dennis: Okay, someone else?
Unidentified Speaker: I would just say it would be nice to connect with older men. I've noticed, as of late, I've been desiring to connect with older men just because, I mean, they've been in my shoes or something similar, and they've lived a life and made mistakes and, you know, most of the guys in our church are just godly men that have been seeking after God for so long. It's, like, I have to go completely out of my way to hang out with these guys. And then once I am in their presence, I have to voice it and say, "Hey, I would like to get to know you. I would like to just draw from your wisdom and maybe develop a relationship." So I feel like I would just have to go, you know, maybe an easier way to go about that or cherish great some pathway or something there.
Dennis: Jared [sp], I really want to affirm you for saying that, because I do think there is too much distance today, generationally speaking, between young men coming up and older men who have made many of the same mistakes that you may be destined to make yourself, and I think the responsibility goes in both directions. I think the older men in a church need to feel the responsibility to dip down and to challenge some young men to spend some time with them. But I also think that there are a lot of men who are just waiting for someone to come to them and say, "Would you mind taking me on for 12 months? Let's have lunch once a month and get together for breakfast, and let's just talk about life issues. Would you be willing to do that?" I would be surprised if 75 to 90 percent of those men wouldn't say yes. So I think sometimes single men don't ask the older men, and I think the older men, many times, don't feel like they have anything of value to share. How much of a need is this among single women?
Wendy: It's huge. Before I moved to Grand Rapids, I was at a church in Milwaukee, and I was asked to speak to the women's group, and we had a panel discussion of a variety of women, and they asked me to talk about discipleship and mentoring, and that's a term that scares people. They feel like, "I'm not the expert. I don't have anything to say." But I told those women, what we want is a relationship. We need an opportunity to build represents with you because – especially for my generation and the one just below me – a lot of us haven't been properly parented. Our families fell apart, whatever happened to the things that we were supposed to learn from our parents? We missed. I don't say that for myself, I think my parents did a fabulous job, but there are lots of singles, especially, who never learned practical life skills, and they are just crying for women – I'll speak for women – to come alongside and do life.
Dennis: You know, no matter how good of a job your parents have done, at every stage in our lives, single or married, parent, it doesn't matter, we need people in our lives to speak truth and to develop us. And what's going to happen as we have a greater and greater identity crisis, where the issues of masculinity and femininity become even more muddied and more confused, that if this kind of mentoring doesn't happen in the church, we're going to have an even bigger crisis than we have today. And so, Bob, I think this needs to be a matter of discussion among singles, where singles ought to be asking one another, "Well, who are you connecting with on a regular basis to mentor you," as a woman, as a man? And perhaps around some of us older guys, those mentoring relationships take time to develop, but there's a real payoff on down the road.
Bob: As you look at the relationship between singles and the church, you weren't just taking potshots at an ecclesiastical structure. You were really looking at the community of faith and saying, "Let's figure out how we can fit together better," right?
Wendy: Definitely. I love the church, and this is definitely not a book to bash the church, but I'm part of the church, and so the fault is mine as well. And there is room for improvement all the way around, and if we don't figure this out, and we don't figure out how to communicate to singles that they belong in the family as fully functioning members, then we're headed for trouble.
Dennis: Well, we're also missing a huge demographic population.
Wendy: The fastest-growing household type in America.
Dennis: We're missing, literally, millions of young men and women who are going to be making choices that need to be influenced by Jesus Christ. He needs to be their Lord, their Maker, and their Master, and if we don't, as the community of faith, reach out to them and engage them spiritually, emotionally, relationally, I fear that other groups will.
Bob: And it would be too bad, Dennis, if people heard about Wendy's book and thought, "Oh, this is a great book for singles." Well, certainly, it's a good book for singles, and it would be a good book for church leaders to read, but if you know singles in your church, this is a good book for you, because it will help you expand your vision for what your relationship with those singles in your church could look like and should look like.
Dennis: And it's also a great resource for parents who may have a single adult son or daughter, and they're just looking for some ways to encourage their son or daughter as they move into adulthood and wanting it to occur in the best possible way.
Bob: The book is called "A Match Made in Heaven," and we have it available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY to request a copy or go online at FamilyLife.com. In fact, we also have copies of the other book that Wendy has written called "Living Whole Without a Better Half." It's about the issues singles face. And if you'd like to order both books together, we can send you, at no additional cost, the CDs or the cassettes of our visit with Wendy Widder this week. So ask about those resources when you call us at 1-800-FLTODAY or when you go online at FamilyLife.com. Again, Wendy's books are called "A Match Made in Heaven," and "Living Whole Without a Better Half."
You know, I've been encouraged, Dennis, over the years, by the single listeners who write to us here at FamilyLife Today and tell us that they are regular listeners. They tell us how the program has helped them understand relationships, helped them understand what marriage and family is supposed to look like, and it's helped them as we've dealt with issues like this for singles. Many of those singles have also partnered with us by becoming financial contributors to our ministry. Some of them are Legacy Partners who give on a monthly basis, and we want to say thanks not only for listening but also for standing with us. It is those contributions that keep FamilyLife Today on the air in your city and in cities all across the country.
We are a listener-supported program, and more than 60 percent of our annual budget comes from folks like you who either call to make a donation at 1-800-FLTODAY or who go online at FamilyLife.com. You can donate online. Or if you want to write a check and mail it to us, you can do that as well. If you need the mailing address I can give it to you – it's Post Office Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas, and the zip code is 72223. Again, write to FamilyLife Today at Post Office box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas, and the zip code is 72223.
Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to look at the relationship between singles and the church. We'll have Wendy Widder back with us. We'll have our studio audience back again, and we hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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