“Welcome to our church, I’m so glad you could join us! Who are you here with?”
I smile, bracing myself for the conversation I’ve had far too many times before. “I’m here by myself today.” I reach out to shake their hand and ask, “So, how long have you been coming here?”
Ignoring my attempt to change the subject, the other person presses on. “Oh! Are you married? Any kids?”
“No, I’m single.” Sometimes that response is enough and we have a great conversation, but more often than not the person I’m talking to isn’t sure what to say.
Church culture centers so strongly around couples and families that many of us are at a loss when it comes to anyone outside of the supposed Christian norm.
Talking about my frustrations with my friends I have found that I’m not alone. When I bring up what seem like the craziest scenarios I’ve run into, they mention that they’ve experienced the same things, if not worse. Whether single their whole lives, divorced, or widowed, they have encountered many of these same social hurdles time and again.
So, on behalf of single women everywhere, here are a few responses that we church-goers can learn to avoid.
What Not to Say
“Don’t worry, God’s got someone for you.”
By far the most common one I’ve run into, and it’s usually accompanied by a pitying, knowing look, maybe even a comforting hand on my shoulder. This might come as a shock to some, but being single is not an affliction. I might be in the minority here, but I’m actually content with my single life. Maybe God’s got someone for me, maybe He doesn’t, but either way I’ll continue the race He’s set before me. Instead of offering your sympathy, take the time to get to know me to see how I feel about being single.
“Well, don’t worry honey, we’ll take good care of you here!”
Although this one is meant to be comforting, it usually comes across as demeaning. I’m an independent adult, not a forlorn, lost child. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been adopted against my will by well-meaning people in the church, sometimes even by people my own age or younger. I’m looking for community with fellow believers as peers, not an extra parent to “take care” of me.
“You’re single? Oh, so is Jeremy! Here, I’ll introduce you!”
Again, I’m here looking for community, and if I meet someone I’d like to date as a result of that, great! But lay off the matchmaking, especially when you have no idea who I am and what I’m looking for. Waving someone over for an awkward conversation while you look on proudly is not making me feel welcome; it’s creeping me out.Church culture centers so strongly around couples and families that many of us are at a loss when it comes to anyone outside of the supposed Christian norm Click To Tweet
“Wonderful! We’ve been looking for nursery volunteers. Could you help out next week?”
I truly wish this was a one-time occurrence, but no. Three. Separate. Times. And all at different churches, on my very first visit. Apparently not having kids of my own means I have loads of spare time to take care of everyone else’s.
BIG kudos to those who are called to childrens’ ministry – it’s desperately needed, and a huge blessing to families. I can confidently say this is not my calling, and not sure why my status as single seems to make me a shoe-in for childcare. Plus, what does that say about a church if they’re willing to conscript a complete stranger to watch their babies?
Maybe wait until someone has been a member of the church for a while to learn about their interests, strengths, and weaknesses before approaching them about volunteering on any teams (especially the ones dealing with kids).
What to Say Instead
“Good to meet you!”
I love getting to know new people, and it’s so refreshing when they take the time to get to know me too rather than trying to fix me. You don’t have to figure out where I fit in order for me to be a part of the church family; just be friendly. Who knows, maybe we’ll have a lot to talk about!
“Some friends and I are going to lunch after church. Want to come?”
Since many programs are family-centric it’s sometimes hard for us singles to find ways to plug in. Aside from the dreaded singles ministry (church code for The Dating Game), there are not many options outside of Sunday mornings and maybe small groups.
I value friendships from all different walks of life, so let’s not allow social designations or marital status to become barriers to community. Having a game night? Or a barbecue? Is there a new movie you want to see? Consider inviting the single people in your church to join in.
You might be asking, “why pick on people who are just trying to be friendly? Seems like most of these were offered with good intentions”. And you’re right – I don’t believe these people meant to be anything but helpful. However, we can all (myself included) learn to be better when it comes to welcoming those who don’t always fit our presumptions about what Christian life should look like.
If we can stop making assumptions and instead genuinely engage with the human being in front of us it will make our faith community that much stronger.
Have you heard some of these greetings yourself? Are there other lines you’re tired of hearing? Has someone at church impacted your life with his or her friendship? I want to hear your story. Let me know in the comments!