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How to Start a Christian Singles' Ministry at Your Church
I’ve been in churches with 20,000 members that didn’t have a singles’ ministry. By this I mean a group that meets regularly and is specifically designed for single adults of any age and circumstance – never married, legally separated, divorced, etc. Teen and young adult ministries don’t count. Almost every church has activities for this segment of the congregation, and rightly so. What is typically lacking is a ministry for older adults who have yet to be married or are single again even though they probably constitute the largest minority population in the church. Over 50% of Americans have been or are currently divorced.
Why? Pastors and priests are oftentimes afraid of putting these kinds of ministries together for fear of what might happen should things get out-of-hand. They have images of - at best, a lonely hearts’ club - at worse, a pick-up joint operating on church property. Some pastoral leaders also simply refuse to acknowledge that this target population – basically, the divorced – exist in the church, let alone that it has unique needs for Christian fellowship that deserves to be addressed. All church resources are directed at its married members and their families. Then there are those who want to minister to this segment of the congreation in a special way, but have no idea of how to go about it.
Well then, here we go…enter you! Time to take a leadership role in this wonderful ministry. Why? Because the main reason these groups aren’t flourishing in most every church is because single parishioners - like you - aren’t starting them! To do so is not difficult and the need is great. Several years ago I started a ministry in my church with two other single Christians and we went from 3 to hundreds of members within a few months. And yes, there were marriages. But there was also thousands of hours of wholesome Christian fellowship for men and women – that had nothing to do with dating - who are typically far too isolated and, in many instances, recently traumatized in the always difficult process of divorce. Restarting one’s life as, oftentimes, a single parent with limited means is not easy either. A quality Christian singles’ ministry can help ease the load.
But as I’ve pointed out, convincing your pastor or priest that a singles’ ministry is a needed and viable ministry within your church maybe a job in itself. So before you ask for a meeting room and maybe a small startup stipend, you better be packin’ a factual, well-planed proposal that explains exactly what the ministerial needs of most divorced Christian are, alongside some practical and wholesome ways your group intends to meet these needs. I hope the following is helpful in doing just that. (In fact, you might want to give your church leadership a copy of this article.)
CONSIDERATIONS, ISSUES & SOME GOOD TIPS
When we started our ministry, we asked for one meeting room and the kitchen equipment to make coffee and tea during meetings. We also bought bottled water and pop. Sweets during general meetings were also served (a tradition, I believe, that continues to this day). I’m a Catholic so we asked our priest to announce the group’s advent during mass, and put its meeting times in the church bulletin. We also set out flyers around the church, rectory and school. Knowing there were no groups of this nature anywhere in the relatively small town we lived in (we called around so we knew we weren’t re-inventing the wheel), we contacted about a dozen area churches and did likewise. (The decision was made to make our club inter-denominational, we wanted to draw in other Christian singles from outside our church for a number of reasons: the need was there; it made for more interesting discussions and meetings; it created a greater pool of possible future spouses – hey, Christian singles have to have some way to meet - etc. Your group can just serve your church’s membership, it’s up to your group leadership to decide.)
For our initial meetings, we set things up so we had tables of 10 to 12 people who faced each other to facilitate talking, which was all we did for the first few meetings while the group rapidly grew from 3 to 10 to 25 to, well, hundreds, as word of mouth spread the news that there was somewhere in town for single Christians to go. We meet – had general meetings - twice a month on Wednesdays at 7:00 to 9 pm. (You have to give people enough time to get home from work and make dinner.) We always had greeters at the door and name tags.
Initial conversations centered around personal introductions and issues that interest singles, especially the difficulty there is in meeting other Christian singles and single-parent child rearing issues. Eventually we brought in quest speakers who spoke on a great variety of topics but it is very important to always have a time when every member can talk. Many older, single again people lose their married friends – meaning, all their friends - when their marriage ends. They are typically far too isolated and in need of adult social interaction with people in a similar situation.
GO FREE CHILDCARE! We quickly learned that many of our members couldn’t afford babysitters while they attended meetings and events, so we set up a childcare room in which members volunteered to serve on a rotating basis. This service alone made membership mushroom. (Remember to get church permission to do this as liability issues come into play.)
Activities & Events
As the ministry grew, we let the membership plan activities and events. Over time these included: Movie Night (members went to the movies together); Dinner Out Saturdays (members went in small groups to local restaurants); Challenge Volleyball! (very popular!); Guest Speaker Night (once a month during general meetings); Coffee Clutch; Potluck Picnics and Christmas Parties; Cedar Pointe Family Getaways; and more. Every Sunday many of us also met in front of the church and went to mass together. And for many of the larger events we provided daycare.
I cannot stress enough how isolated and friendless many new members may be…divorce can be totally life altering. Having lost married friends in the divorce, many have absolutely no one to do simple social activities with – few people want to go out to dinner or see a movie alone. The club changed that solitary equation for its members. Indeed, many a life-long friendship started at the ministry.
We always had a coordinator and sign up sheet for each event. Sometimes 8 people would sign up for an event like Movie Night, 20 for Challenge Volleyball!, and 200 or more if it was our Christmas Potluck Party. And I cannot number the activities that members on their own planned with other members -- shopping trips, Super Bowl get-togethers, etc.
Finances: Our singles club was always financially self-sustaining. We paid for everything ourselves by “passing the hat” during meetings and sometimes charging a small activity fee for events. Movie Night admission was, simply, the price of the theater ticket, plus $1. Dinner, the price of the meal you selected, plus $1. General meetings and Challenge Volleyball! were free. Cedar Point trips, the price of park admission and gas for those who drove, plus $1 for everyone who went. Potlucks, a dish to pass, plus $1. Funds were used to buy beverages and food for meetings and events – sweets for general meetings, the main meat dish for a potluck or picnic, etc., with excess monies oftentimes donated to charity – soup kitchens, our host church with did not charge us room rental, etc.
Note: We purposely planned inexpensive events and kept activity fees minimal or non-existent because many of our members were struggling financially. I suggest you do likewise.