Imagine this: you’re single. You’re Christian. You’re not getting any younger. And you’re in a church small group.
Does such a scenario give you a little anxiety?
From asking someone out and then having to face them again at group, to feeling the pressure to be ready to marry the person before going on a second date, the waters are dangerous. As the average age for marriage in America continues to rise, the stakes are even higher. For Christians, we add the factor that we feel the need to find our perfect ministry partner to catalyze our own faith and change the world.
How do we deal with this elephant in the room of singleness within Christian small groups while not crushing our cherished community?
- Dive deeper
Recently, I’ve had conversations which have echoed each other: talks with Christian women in their mid-to-late twenties who are still single and feeling scared, tired, frustrated, and confused that their mingling hasn’t produced a ring. Panic ensues.
But it’s not just that they want a man and picket fence. There’s much more happening on a deeper level: shame. Sitting at a coffee shop doing a Bible study, we talked about “things in our life we wish were there” and skirted around the subject until someone came out and finally said it: “I wish I were married. And I know Jesus is enough, but if I’m real, I want more. And I’m starting to wonder if I’m even enough for anyone to want me.” This mirrored another situation in my small group as the subject was again avoided until someone said it: “Yeah, we’re talking about praying for big things, but many of us around this room have a prayer that hasn’t been answered. We’re still single. How do we deal with this?”
There’s also shame around talking about singleness and even admitting that, when single people walk into a room full of Christians, you can guess what’s one of the first things on their minds: the opposite sex. And since our minds are supposed to be fixed on Christ, no one wants to talk about how they’re prone to wander.
I could go on. There are also questions of what prayer really means in face of unanswered prayers. There’s the reality of ealousy of others who have something we want. There’s the nsecurity in the way we are. There’s the doubts because of seemingly irredeemable issues in the past..
There’s a lot beneath the surface. If we want to handle singleness well in our small groups, we need to be willing to go deep, to dig into what’s at the root of and tied to the word “single.”
- Do more
Often, when we feel awkward with a topic or know it’s delicate (or just flat out don’t want to deal with its depths), we start to do less. We don’t talk about it in group. We don’t talk about it with people in our groups when we’re meeting outside of the group time. We don’t even pray for it. If we minimize contact with the issue, we minimize the damage done, right? Not necessarily.
What would Christ do when he knew something mattered to the people around Him? Not avoid it. Instead, he’d seek to meet people where they were with this need they had. Often, this topic needs to be addressed in some way with your group. To do so, get to know the specifics of your group. How many are single? How many are married? And what are they feeling, thinking, and needing with this topic?
Handling this topic better in your small groups means doing more digging: digging into the individual concerns, pains, and joys. Then, you have options of what to do next. It could mean many different results: What would it look like to dedicate a specific night of small group to talk about singleness and marriage, or having a Q&A session between those married and not? What would it look like to dedicate time specifically to pray for the marriages of people in your group and to pray for the singles? What would it look like to ask more intentional questions to specific group members about the topic of singleness and marriage, and then build it into your small group schedule or have a separate night to talk through your group’s specific challenges?
Often through doing just a little more,, we can relieve the pressure and actually start making progress.
- Don’t be afraid (or selfish)
Singles need the group’s leadership to step out when it comes to this topic. They need leaders who first know the pulse of the group and can see how much or little may need to be said, but also leaders who are not afraid of diving into difficult and delicate topics. They need leaders of action and not just words. Do you see people in your small group that really maybe should go on a date, even if this could mean an awkward few weeks if things don’t work out? Try encouraging them to do so. Do some single people in your group really need mentorship around this topic right now, and maybe you see a married man or woman in your group who could step in and fill that role? Try asking if they’ll invest in others in this way. Has dating become the only focus of your group and you need to recenter your group back to a focus on Christ and not only on each other? Try bringing the focus back.
More deeply understanding your group and moving through the fear to action can be hard and takes time. As leaders, we sometimes don’t have much time and often have had not wonderful experiences ourselves. Maybe we’ve been burned in a dating relationship. Maybe we’ve been single, then married, then divorced and just feel too burnout or inadequate to speak into the topic. Maybe we think it’s not that big of a deal and people just overcomplicate things. But, we can’t stay silent and comfortable when we see a need. We just can’t take that selfish route, whether that means moving past pride or insecurity (or both).
Don’t be afraid of stepping on toes. Don’t be afraid that you have nothing to offer. Don’t be afraid that this is an over-talked about topic.
Have the courage to know your group and to know your group’s needs. Then, dive deep. And, do something.