Chapter 48

Creating a Singles-Friendly Sermon

How to preach to 40 percent of today's adults

For me and for many singles I've talked to, Sunday morning can be the loneliest time of the week. Why? Because we see church as a couples' and families' world. Sermons, announcements, even the way Sunday school classes and small groups are structured can communicate that we're not part of the program.

Yet singles make up 40 percent of the U.S. adult population. We are the fastest-growing population group. How, then, can you be sure your church welcomes single adults? The good news is that the most significant ways don't require a program or a budget. But they may require a change in perspective.

Listen and ask questions

Dan Yeary, pastor at North Phoenix Baptist Church, encourages pastors to gather ten to twelve singles and ask pointed questions: "How can I preach for you? What's the church doing that's helping you, and what could it be doing? Singles will perceive that you care and feel a sense of ownership in the church because they've been given a fair hearing."

As you're talking to singles, be sure to seek out people of different ages who are single for different reasons. The issues and needs important to a single 23-year-old can be vastly different from those of a still-single 39-year-old, or of someone whose marriage ended in divorce, or of a widow. Singles with children will have different concerns from those without kids, or those whose children are grown.

Use language carefully

Like everyone, single adults want to be acknowledged and valued. Yet in some churches, language from the pulpit assumes every adult is married. Illustrations are drawn primarily from marriage and family relationships. Women are referred to exclusively as wives and mothers.

A simple change in wording can draw immense gratitude from your single members. If your sermon application concerns close relationships, refer to "roommates and friends" as well as "spouses and children." When speaking about households in the congregation, say "families and individuals" instead of just "families." Instead of "family picnic," announce "an all-church picnic." You'll show unmarried adults that you know they're there. By varying illustrations, you communicate that the various forms of single life are normal and as valid as marriage.

Many statements meant to encourage families subtly communicate that single life is second-best. The speaker at a church women's retreat declared, "God's highest calling for a woman is to be a wife and mother." The speaker could have affirmed moms, yet avoided injuring the unmarried and childless, by saying, "One of God's highest callings is to be a wife and mother."

As you talk about divorce from the pulpit, be sensitive to the fact that some in the congregation are single again—many not by choice. Ask yourself as you prepare a sermon, "If I were divorced, would I feel condemned or rejected if I heard this statement? Have I implied that a divorced person is a lesser child of God? Have I balanced my charge to stay married with the acknowledgment that people fail and that God offers forgiveness for all types of sin?"

Keep statements biblical

In movies, music, and family reunions, Christian singles hear the message, "You're nobody till somebody loves you." Even in church, marriage is often seen as the norm, a kind of passage to adulthood. Children and young people hear, "When you get married and have a family," not "if you get married … ." Single adults hear, "You're such a nice person. I don't understand why you're not married."

This mindset is more reflective of a culture that exalts romance than of Scripture. The Bible honors marriage, but it gives an equal (or, arguably, higher) place to the single life. Consider Paul's teaching about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, which comes far from exalting marriage as the ideal. The best thing Paul can say about marriage is, "If you do marry, you have not sinned"!

The whole congregation—singles, couples, and parents of future single adults—needs to hear that according to Scripture, staying single is often preferable. It takes courage to promote this countercultural but thoroughly biblical view. Jesus and Paul were single adults, as were many other Bible leaders. Scripture shows and teaches that marriage is optional, not inevitable.

Choose topics for all

Most singles expect to hear a family-oriented sermon now and then. But a five-week or three-month series on marriage and family issues gives singles the message: "This church is not for you."

If marriages or families need special attention, consider teaching a Sunday school class or weekend seminar. Or preach more broadly on related topics such as love and forgiveness.

As a single adult, I have seen that what my pastor communicates about marriage and singleness can profoundly affect how I see myself. When the message about singleness is negative, doubts about God's love for me and the wisdom of his plan for my life gain a strong and destructive foothold. When the message is positive, I find it much easier to be thankful for and content in my circumstances. What's more, the church that welcomes me as a single adult is a church I want to commit to and serve within for a long, long time.