"Why aren't you married yet?" "When are you going to settle down?" "Why can't a pretty girl (or handsome guy) like you find a husband (or wife)?"
Singles sometimes hear these questions from well-meaning friends or relatives, which can make them feel as though they are fifth-wheels — even at church.
But societal and church changes in attitudes about single adults have helped congregations begin to see the need for ministry to them.
"Churches are more accepting of singles than they were 30 years ago," noted Dennis Franck, national director for single adult and young adult ministries for the Assemblies of God.
Society accepts a singles lifestyle more readily today than in the past. "Society is ahead of the church. It's not always healthy acceptance, but it is acceptance, and that has affected the church," he said.
And singles, primarily "the more mature and emotionally healthy ones," are "integrating into the church more than they used to … and are getting involved and serving, but there is a large group that is not and that needs an entry point into the church and ministry," Franck added.
He identifies six levels of church sensitivity and targeted ministry to singles — from little sensitivity and no ministry to very high sensitivity, with a targeted, multifaceted ministry overseen by a fulltime staffer exclusive to the ministry.
Options for ministry to single adults vary depending on makeup of the broader community, the church family itself, the number of singles involved and available resources, regardless of church size.
Tommy West sees single adults as an unreached people group "white unto harvest." The minister of education at Crestview Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas, became part of the congregation after experiencing divorce himself.
Crestview had a strong single adult Bible study with about 30 participants. The church also offered Divorce Care, a support and discipleship program for divorced individuals. "The church saw [the singles ministry] … and let it become a full, growing ministry, not just an appendage," West said.
West stepped up as part-time minister of single adults and then full-time minister of education.
As the congregation began to outgrow its facility, singles leaders, including West, suggested moving the ministry into a nearby house the church owned. The move opened the door to additional opportunities.
"Just having the house has been a great point of entry. Many have been hurt … and are not ready to walk into the church building," he said.
Although his duties encompass more than singles, West continues to office in the house in order to be available to them. In addition to activities and programs, participants can just kick back and relax at Solo House. The ministry provides a television and movies and a games room and stays open until 10 p.m. twice each week.
The church also offers special events, discipleship training, topical studies, conferences and retreats.
Solo House has a couple of computers and provides wireless Internet access, making it easier for some to search for jobs. "That gives us a great point of connect," West said.
The ministry has attracted primarily singles aged 40 and over, and leaders considering ways to reach younger individuals, particularly single parents. The church offers Divorce Care 4 Kids, and "we're praying the Lord will send a person to lead a teenage component," he said.
"One of our dreams is to move toward a more fully developed single-parent ministry," West said.
They hope to offer a couple of hours of respite for single parents at least once or twice a month. "An ultimate dream is to get several men involved in that ministry as positive male role models," he added.
Crestview has been the host facility for Texas Baptists' singles conference for three years and will be again in 2012.
Ministry to single adults takes on a different flavor at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo. Most of the connection takes place in small community groups that form along life-stage, age and interest lines, not only for singles, but also for the whole church.
A single parent, Stacey Hamby, has moved into a different community group — one formed around single parents of teens — as her daughter enters middle school and approaches the teen years. Each group in which she has participated has become her close friends. "They are my church family," she said.
"Singles want to make friends," she added. In the groups, singles "can make friends in a place that feels safe and where people share values."
She believes singles, especially those who are Christian, need to take some responsibility for finding a place. When she became single again 10 years ago, no specific ministry existed for single parents in her church. She joined a small group for 20- to 30-something singles and then realized there were so many other single parents. As the parents recognized the need, they were able to form a separate group.
Small churches may feel they don't have the resources or enough singles to offer a ministry geared to them. The Church of the Nazarene suggests churches, even across denominational lines, could partner to minister.
"We designed [a ministry approach] for churches under 100 [members] because most of our churches are under 100," explained Linda Hardin, single adult ministry consultant for the Nazarenes.
Although some churches might be concerned the multichurch approach would drain singles away from their congregations, that rarely has been the case. "Some will go for social activities or Bible study at a larger church," Hardin said. "But if they have found a place of ministry and a sense of belonging in the small church, they tend to stay connected with the small church."
Bridging a gap
Singles ministry doesn't have to be confined to singles but can bridge some additional gaps between people. In addition to two groups for singles, Curtis Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., offers the Mingles, a group that includes single parents, marrieds whose spouses don't attend church, and singles and marrieds uncomfortable in traditional singles or couples classes.
Regardless of the form ministry takes—from an occasional special event to a staffed program — churches need to see singles as part of the congregation.
"Provide some way for singles to find a place. It doesn't have to be a full-blown ministry," West said. "But you give up something [in the life of the church] if you don't give some emphasis to single adult ministry."