If you are married, you are six times more likely to attend church than if you are single.
This is based on a rather simple observation. About half the adults in America are single, while the other half are married. Only about 15% of the adults who attend our churches are single.
What about your church? What percentage of your church is composed of single adults? If yours is a typical church, it is a pretty small number. It is far less than half of your adults.
I didn't think too much about this until, two and a half years ago, I went through and unwanted and unexpected divorce. Suddenly, statistically realities became very personal for me. It occurs to me that most pastors and staff don't think too much about this because most pastors and staff are married. We tend to view life from our own perspective. Mine recently changed.
One of the things I noticed right away is that church is sort of a couple's world. I noticed in my own seminars how often I spoke of reaching couples. There are numerous choices for couples classes, but precious few for singles. I have heard lots of sermons on Christian marriage, but not so many on living life single for God. Compare the number of books in your Christian book store on Christian marriage to Christian single life.
After the dust settled and I got over most of my own grief in divorce, I started thinking about how we can effectively reach the most unreached half of the population. Here are some converging trends I see that I think will create a singles revolution in church life. This is all new stuff for me, so it may be a bit rough around the edges.
A Proven Model
The most proven model for reaching singles is a not a local church; it is local churches working together. These are often called Metro. One example of this is the 7:22 hosted by North Pointe Community Church (a.k.a. Andy Stanley) in Atlanta. This "Metro" is led by Louie Giglio of the Passion movement. (Much of the cutting edge contemporary Christian music is coming from this passion movement. You may not have known it, but you have heard their songs.)
Here is an excerpt from the 7:22 web page as to their vision.
From the viewpoint of a single adult, this makes total sense. I want an opportunity to make friends with Christian singles across the city, not just in my local church. The presence of this city-wide, interdenominational, inter-church fellowship is a way of strengthening the singles' ministry of all the churches.
I am involved with Southwest Christian Singles, a much smaller, simpler organization. Still, I have been amazed at the outreach and ministry potential. Nearly every event has newcomers. I have had self-described atheists call and ask if they could come to events and come to our Bible studies. When was the last time that happened in your church? My experience personally and my observation of effective singles ministries leads me to the conclusion that a city-wide interdenominational inter-church ministry is the best way to reach and minister to singles. Our group is fellowship driven and advertised almost exclusively through email.
Speaking of Email. . .
This all became much easier with the advent of email. Singles have always wanted to get together. It was just too much trouble to get the word out before. Someone had to make a bunch of calls, pay for flyers and postage, and it was all a lot of work. Email is free, easy, and quick. It makes it possible to put together a city-wide, interdenominational, inter-church singles group.
A Means of Reproduction
"Great!" you may be saying, "But I don't have the resources to pull off one of these huge metro events." I see another trend that, in time, will converge with this Metro trend and is going to change the face of church as we know it, including singles' ministry.
On July 19, 1998 a new church was born. Not only a new church, a new kind of church. Currently, they have 1500 in attendance, and here is the rub: they have no preaching pastor and no plans to get one. The church is Heartland Community Church. Instead of live preaching, they enjoy the preaching of Bill Hybels and John Ortberg each week by way of video. Let that picture settle in. Where will we be in ten years if this develops into a trend?
Northcoast Community Church uses a slightly different spin. They have thirteen services a weekend, only three of which feature live teaching. The rest are either live video feed or taped video. The culture is O. K. with receiving teaching from a big screen.
Willowcreek is experimenting with another model where they videocast their services to Wheaton. Other locations are planned. Local small groups and other ministries are coordinated by a pastor for the Wheaton Campus. I have a friend on staff at Saddleback who tells me they have similar plans. Second Baptist, Houston has a similar arrangement in place.
These are examples of a trend I see that will transform church life as we know it. They demonstrate that people are open and responsive to high quality teaching by way of video. It is made possible by the video projector. Watching a service on a large screen with a bright video projector and a solid sound system is a completely different experience than watching it on a 25" screen with a 3" speaker. Also, the video projector means that nearly every large church in America is producing video. Even churches that are anti-TV ministry are producing video. They are magnifying the speaker on large screens in the auditorium. It is a pretty short trip from there to duplicating these videos.
I noticed when I attended Willowcreek this last fall that I looked at the video monitors about half the time, and I was sitting on the third row. I am sure if I were halfway back I would have watched the monitors most of the time.
Bottom line: these city-wide, interdenominational inter-church singles groups are reproducible.
What if. . .
What if we could put together a hot band with really worshipful music? What if we could get a hold of Louie Gigleo's messages by way of video and project them on a huge screen? What if we bathed the whole process in prayer and cried out to the Lord of the harvest to do what we can never do? What if we sensed His leadership in pursuing this direction? Do you think we could fill the hall with singles thirsty for connection and thirsty for God? We could. Trust me on this. We could.
The law of sowing and reaping teaches that if you plant the same seed in similar soil in similar conditions you will get similar results. There is a certain predictability in our universe. God has made it so. This is why a farmer in Georgia can plant seed in his farm and get similar results to a farmer in Alabama. It is why a church planter in Georgia can do similar things to a church planter in Chicago and get similar results. It is why we have Willowcreek style churches all over the nation. Similar activities done in similar environment get similar results. God said it would be so in the strongest possible language: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." Galatians 6:7
So, how do we put together a city-wide, interdenominational inter-church ministry to singles?
One problem. . .
I think I could put together the music, but the truth is, Louie Gigleo's messages are not available on video. Neither are Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Jim Cymbala, Andy Stanley, Ed Young Jr., Ed Young Sr., or a lot of other communicators we would like to enjoy. But, most of these speakers do use video in their worship service to make it easier to see the speaker. My guess is that in many cases it is just a matter of time before these videos are available.
Many speakers are already available. In my Singles' Bible study, we are using some of Dr. Kent Hovind of Creation Science Evangelism talks on creation. We have used some of Townsend and Cloud's videos. I plan to use the Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson next month. Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, and Jack Hayford already have videos available, as well as many others.
So, how do we get started putting together a city-wide interdenominational inter-church ministry to singles?
Move slowly, but move.
I believe in the adage, "Grow into ministry, don't go into ministry." There a few sharp turns on the path to success. Here are a few simple steps to get your church ramped up to reach singles:
I am new to this world of singles, and, like a lot of singles, a rather accidental single. I am excited to see how God will make this work together for good. I look forward to attending at Cook's Single Adult Ministry Conference in February, as well as presenting the Double Conference while there.
God loves singles. The epidemic of loneliness strikes more deeply with singles than with married adults. It occurs to me that the party-driven, Double Your Class philosophy may work better for singles than anywhere else.