NASHVILLE—As the number of single adults in the United States continues to grow, so does the need for ministry to single adults in churches.
According to a 2020 profile of single Americans by Pew Research Center, nearly 1 in 4 (23 percent) U.S. adults ages 30-49 are single – not married, living with a partner or in a committed romantic relationship. And the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau data on America’s Families and Living Arrangements reveals many of these have never been married. More than 2 in 5 (43 percent) U.S. adults ages 30-34 have never been married, which means that adults in the U.S. are waiting longer to get married. In fact, the median age at first marriage has been on the rise since the mid 1900s. In 2021, the estimated median age to marry for the first time was 30.4 for men and 28.6 for women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
An increase in the number of single adults, and particularly single adults over the age of 30, brings with it a need for increased intentionality toward single adults in churches. A study from Lifeway Research asked Protestant pastors how their churches specifically minister to single adults ages 30 and older. Most pastors encourage these single adults to serve in leadership (92 percent) and volunteer (91 percent) roles. Some offer small group Bible studies and classes specifically for them (45 percent) or plan social events for them (43 percent). Fewer than 1 in 3 (30 percent) offer large group Bible teaching times specifically for them. Another 5 percent of pastors say they do not specifically minister to single adults in any of these ways, and 2 percent say they minister in other ways.
“Clearly, pastors want single adults integrated into the life and ministry of their churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “However, less than half of churches have programs in place to address the unique needs of single adults.”
Some churches more likely to provide specific single adult ministries
Larger churches tend to do more to specifically minister to their single adults. Pastors of the largest churches, those with more than 250 in attendance, are the most likely to say they offer small group Bible studies and classes (68 percent), plan social events (65 percent) and offer large group Bible teaching times (47 percent) specifically for them. And pastors at the smallest churches, those with fewer than 50 in attendance, are least likely to say they offer small group Bible studies and classes (29 percent) or large group Bible teaching times specifically for them (19 percent).
Although the majority of pastors in churches of every size say they encourage their single adults to serve in volunteer roles, larger churches emphasize this more than smaller churches. Pastors at churches with attendance of more than 250 (98 percent) or 100-249 (94 percent) are more likely than those at churches with 50-99 (89 percent) or fewer than 50 (85 percent) to encourage single adults to serve in volunteer roles.
“Normative churches with fewer than 100 in attendance typically only have a few adult Bible study classes,” McConnell said. “They must make a strategic choice about how those groups are organized. Some churches may organize Bible studies and fellowship times around marital status, but others may group by age, geography, gender or content being studied.”
According to the Pew profile of single Americans, there are a higher percentage of single Black adults (47 percent) in the United States than single white adults (28 percent). This breakdown is reflected in the Lifeway Research data, as white pastors are least likely to offer some ministries specific for single adults. White pastors are the least likely to offer small group Bible studies and classes (42 percent) or to offer large group Bible teaching times (26 percent) specifically for single adults over the age of 30. African American pastors (70 percent) are the most likely to say their churches plan social events for these single adults.
Geographical demographics also signal how likely a pastor is to say their church specifically ministers to single adults over the age of 30 in particular ways. Pastors in the South are among the most likely to say their churches offer small group Bible studies and classes (52 percent), offer large group Bible teaching times (38 percent) or plan social events (47 percent) for them.
Pastors of some denominations are more likely than others to provide specific ministries for the single adults in their churches. Pentecostal (66 percent), non-denominational (57 percent) and Baptist (50 percent) pastors are among the most likely to say their churches offer small group Bible studies and classes for them. Pentecostal (49 percent) and non-denominational (41 percent) pastors are also more likely than Lutherans (25 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed (21 percent) to offer large group Bible teaching times specifically for single adults over 30 years old. And Pentecostal (65 percent), non-denominational (55 percent) and Baptist (48 percent) pastors are among the most likely to plan social events for them.
“The Bible teaches that every member of the body of Christ is important and helps the body function as it should,” McConnell said. “Those instructions about working together as a church are accompanied by commands to love one another deeply as brothers and sisters (Romans 12:10). Programs may help organize this, but the biblical challenge to honor each other is personal.”