“I feel like I don’t fit at all.”
“I wish there was greater understanding that we are not ‘strange.’”
“What about us—are we valuable?”
“I sometimes feel isolated, scrutinized, and ignored.”
I heard statements like this over and over again as I interviewed people for my new book. The really dispiriting thing is, these people were talking about their experiences at church.
Part of the purpose of my book, One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church, is to hold up a mirror, lovingly but unflinchingly, to today’s evangelical church. I wanted to call to its attention something that many members participate in, yet are barely aware of: a heavily family-centered culture that often pushes single people aside. The problem isn’t that the church supports families; on the contrary, that’s a good thing. Families need all the support they can get. But single people do too, and too often, our needs are being ignored. The problem is that, in always putting families first, the church creates a hierarchy that makes single people feel, as one woman put it, “second best.”
The results, while not everyone can see them, are tangible and real. Single people left out of ministries and social activities. Single people not allowed to serve as leaders or pastors. Single people told they can’t join certain small groups, even those ostensibly meant for “mixed life stages,” but must stay with their own kind (even if that means spending their whole lives in a young adult group). Single people who show up faithfully to every wedding or baby shower, gift in hand and ready to help out, but whose own milestones and special occasions are ignored. Single people who strive to live faithful lives before God but whose struggles are given little recognition or support.
Talking to these people, and reflecting on my own experiences as a single Christian woman, I felt afresh the frustration, pain, and loneliness inherent in our stories. Yet there was more than that. I said before that bringing all this to light was part of my purpose in writing the book—but it was only a part. Another part, equally significant, was to hold out hope—hope that the church might be willing to recognize and change its approach to this growing population in its midst, hope that the single experience in church can get better.
The responses to my book have strengthened this hope. People are listening to stories they’ve never listened to before. They’re telling me that they’re waking up and starting to understand that changes need to be made, and that they need to be willing to make them. They want to reach out to the single people among them, and they want to help their church leadership to reach out, too.
All of this has been enormously encouraging. But it can’t happen unless the church is willing to listen, and to continue listening, to the voices of its single people. As a group, we’re used to being treated as people whose problems and stress just don’t count as much as other people’s: “You think you’re tired, you should try having a family and see what being tired is really like!” Or as projects that need to be fixed: “Let me find you a nice man (or woman) and you’ll be all set!”
That’s not what we need. What we need, instead, is just what everyone else in the church wants and needs: relationships among the community, in which our voices can be heard and valued—where instead of being shouted down or fixed, we get to do our part to help make things better for everyone. Our voices may tell of very different kinds of lives than the church is used to hearing about, but they are an essential part of the God-created symphony that comes together to worship and honor Him.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.