January 2016 starts my ninth year as a single person post-divorce and I’ve spent more of my adult life single than married. I’m not afraid to walk into a party alone, or venture out into the wilderness without a companion, but society is still oriented toward the cultural ideal of “married with children” or at least “in a relationship”.
I was disillusioned in my early post-college years as singles groups at both Catholic and Southern Baptist churches I attended were set up primarily to introduce singles to each other for the purpose of marriage. It was the “wild ‘70’s” so in some churches it was more about “hooking up”, as we would call it today. Either way it wasn’t inspiring me to live a life that glorified God as a single person.
I’ve written my blog for more than 5 years, and the most popular blog I’ve ever posted was links to Timothy Keller’s series on Singleness and Relationships. (You can download the mp3 files for free: Timothy Keller sermons). In a blog post in 2001, Timothy says, “The church is to be an alternate city (Matt 5:14-16), alternate nation (1 Peter 2:9), even a ‘new humanity’ (Eph 2:15). It’s to be a place where the world can see what a society would look like if Christ was the ultimate value rather than sex, money, power, or some other idols…We also ask how a community lives out the ‘gospel-values’ corporately, creating a society that reflects those priorities.”
The U.S. Census Bureau recently posted updated information from their Households by Type surveys. In 1940, 24% of households were led by the unmarried; in 1970 that had grown to 30%. The decades since have shown dramatic increases in “singles”: 1980 with 40%, 1990 with 44%, and 2000 with 47%. In 2010, it was 50-50, and in the 2015 survey 52% of U.S. households are led by “singles”.
If we look at church attendance versus marital status from 1950-2015 (various sources), we find an interesting parallel. As the percentage of married people declines, so does church attendance. Self-reported once per week church attendance has steadily declined from 48% in 1960 to 24% in 2014.
Studies and speculations point to different causes of church attendance decline including the rise in individual spirituality (but no need for community), damaging events in the church such as child abuse and fake healings, the rise of consumerism resulting in stores and shopping available on Sundays, as well as sports and other activities that have encroached on the traditional family time of the Sabbath. Some authors posit that the decline is not all bad. They theorize that there has been a “weeding” out of the “lukewarm committed” who were going to church out of family obligation or for “show” and now only the deeply committed show up at church each Sunday.
I don’t know if there is one explanation for the decline in church attendance, but I am sure of one thing: Single people are just as committed to becoming disciples of Christ as are their “married with children” counterparts.
Have we as the church consistently and regularly recognized and honored those who are single, and provided them with the same growth opportunities in their faith as we provide for married couples and children? If not, then we have no one to blame but ourselves for declining church attendance.
Blessings, my friend,