Second of two articles. Click here for Part 1.
August 2005 – With keys in one hand and a Bible clutched in the other, I get out of my car and take the first step of what I know to be the longest walk of my life. After overcoming the urge, more than once, to turn around and go home, I take a deep breath as I begin walking up the front steps. At the top, I am greeted with a handshake before merging unnoticed into the crowd as I make my way to an empty pew. I keep myself occupied by reading the church bulletin. It’s Sunday again, and I’m single!
“It can be dispiriting to sit alone in a church seemingly full of married couples. Many single people – generally happy, well-adjusted folks – feel utterly uncomfortable in church,” said Camerin Courtney, an editor for Today’s Christian Woman, as quoted in Lauren Winner’s book titled, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity.
Courtney goes as far as to admit that it’s not uncommon for Sunday morning to be the loneliest part of her week.
So why is there such a disconnect, and how is this sense of isolation affecting twenty- and thirty-something Christian singles?
The effects of isolation
According to George Barna and his team of researchers, only 31% of twenty-somethings and 41% of thirty-somethings attend church in a typical week. In addition, there is a 58% drop in weekly church attendance from age 18 to 29.
“That represents about 8,000,000 twenty-somethings alive today who were active churchgoers as teenagers but who will no longer be active in a church by their 30th birthday,” said The Barna Group.
“The church doesn’t realize how many people avoid services because they are too focused on families and they alienate singles,” said Lana Trent, coauthor of Single and Content (also cited in Winner’s book).
To put it quite frankly, Winner sums up the problem when she writes that “the church does not do singleness very well.”
Unfortunately, when the church doesn’t do singleness, the singles don’t do church. As a result, Christian singles are often left to face the world without spiritual guidance from the body of Christ. Eventually, many compromise their beliefs , specifically in regards to sexual purity before marriage.
The oversight of an issue
“This topic is rarely addressed in churches, and when it is, it is usually just the same, soft, cookie-cutter talk that you hear year after year,” said Jason Illian, a motivational speaker who targets young-adult singles with Biblically-based messages on sex, love, and relationships.
Whether or not the evangelical world wants to admit it, today’s Christian singles are inundated with sex due to living in a culture that craves it. In fact, there appears to be an increasing trend of sexual activity among single adults who claim to be Christians (See AFA Journal, 7/05). So where is the church when it comes to satisfying this immoral hunger with the food of spiritual truth and discipline?
“I’m not sure if they [churches] don’t think it’s important or if they just don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” said a 34-year-old Baltimore single who is discouraged by the church’s silence regarding sex as it relates to singles.
“Very rarely do churches give romantic relationships the time and attention they need,” Illian added. “In their defense, however, it is exceptionally difficult to preach on love, sex, and relationships to a diverse crowd, but I think our God is big enough to figure out a way. …”
Provisions of a healthy community
“[But] repeating Biblical teachings about sex is simply not enough,” Winner wrote in the May 2005 issue of Christianity Today (CT). “Urging self-discipline isn’t enough. Reminding people of the psychological cost of premarital sex or infidelity is not enough.
“What we need,” Winner contends, “is something larger and deeper: a clear vision of what chastity ultimately is and the most important context in which it is practiced” – that context being the body of Christ.
Dr. Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist and published expert on dating and relationships, agrees.
“If all people [and churches] are doing is saying to their singles, ‘Don’t to that,’ then it’s not going to help very much,” he told the AFA Journal.
Cloud explained that it is important to realize that much of this illicit sex among singles is happening out of a sense of “loneliness and isolation, as well as being cut off from other people who would support them in their abstinence.”
In other words, Cloud believes it boils down to a need for community and its ability to meet the deeper relational, emotional, and spiritual needs of its members. When these needs are met, sexual purity becomes more of a norm than a rule that is followed.
For example, “if you have teenagers and nobody is meeting their needs, they’re going to act out, and it’s the same way in a church,” Cloud explained. “If the members’ needs are being met in the community, then, as Ephesians 4 says, if they’re not separated from the life of God, then they tend not to act out in lust.”
The unity of Christ
“Chastity, then, is a basic rule of the community, but it is not a mere rule,” Winner writes in CT. It is also a discipline. Chastity is something you do; it is something you practice. It is not only a state – the state of being chaste – but a disciplined, active undertaking that we do as part of the body.”
But Illian is quick to point out that the body of Christ should be viewed as a community of believers and not just the four physical walls of the church.
“The church is a huddle,” Illian said. “It’s a place where you call the play. It’s a place where you encourage one another.
“I think a lot of our old mentality is let’s just open up the doors of the church, and they’ll come running in,” he added. “No – we should open up the doors of the church and go running out,” in pursuit of relationships.
According to Brian Habig and Les Newsom in their book The Enduring Community, “The most fundamental definition of the church is the covenantal bond that you have with the person sitting next to you in the pew. Therefore, at the heart of your responsibilities in the church must be intentionality in building relationships with others in your congregation, … [which] means bringing even those with whom you would not naturally be inclined to relate into the fellowship of your home, your time, and your life.”
However, this intentionality must be an effort put forth by both the church as well as singles, in this particular situation.
For single Christians, this means being actively involved in the body of Christ as a means of transforming “the church into a place that welcomes all comers,” and bucking “a culture that insists we’re not really adults until we’re married,” Winner writes in Real Sex. For the church, this means attending to singleness, “not because more and more adults are unmarried, but because singleness occupies a distinct and crucial place in God’s economy.”
When these two parts work as one to edify Christ, a community is formed, and the needs of its members are met. Therefore, Winner writes that “perhaps the most robust expression of Christian community comes when we connect people of all demographics, people who might not meet each other if left to their own devices. …”
Attributes of a “single-minded” community
In Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, author Lauren F. Winner writes that a Christian community desiring to nurture singles ought:
• “To have honest and true conversations about sex, conversations that include opportunities for counsel and witness”;
• Not to be “captive to euphemism, dissembling, and pretense, but ought to be a place where sin can be spoken of freely, with contrition, but without fear”;
• To use “good speech about singleness for our assumptions about singleness are reflected even in the seemingly innocent language we use to discuss it”;
• To be one that “understands, supports, and embraces the single life”;
• “To ensure that married people and single folks are in relationship with one another” which means “not assuming that ‘couple’ is the basic unit of Christian identity.”
Reprinted with permission, Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, ©2005.