I have noticed this trend over the past few years. I remember hearing a twelve year old say "I'm single now." I immediately thought "Now? What is this 'Little House on the Prairie?' I didn't know there were many twelve year olds getting married."
Of course, the pre-teen wasn't referring to marriage at all. Apparently, the term "single" now refers to anyone who not only isn't married, but doesn't have a boyfriend or girlfriend.
I was talking to one of our singles ministry leaders yesterday and he was sharing how he has discovered the challenge to this term. An unmarried couple had visited our church one Sunday morning, so the small group leader gave them a call to invite them to give the group a try. The group leader introduced himself and shared that he was leading a small group for single adults. The guest said "Well, I'm not single."
Thinking he had misread the guest information card, he apologized and pursued the discussion. Apparently, it went something like this. . .
"Oh, I'm sorry. I see you and [the woman's name] came together."
"Yes, that's right."
"Oh, I just wanted to invite you to give our singles class a try. Come meet some new friends and study the Bible with us."
"That's great, but I'm not single."
"I noticed you have different last names."
"I'm sorry, I see here you have the same address."
"We do." (This is a topic for another day - the vast increase in co-habitation before marriage.)
"Uh, are you married?"
"Then, you're single."
Long pause on the phone. Then, cordial goodbyes.
Hmmm. Seems that our group leader just learned what I discovered a few years ago. The term "single" apparently has nothing to do with being unmarried in today's culture.
This is a challenge for churches looking for a descriptive term for ministries focused on those who are not married. Even if couples are living together out of wedlock, a married couples class isn't a good fit. Why? Well, it should be obvious. . .because they're not married.
A singles ministry should be the normal fit, but couples who are dating or engaged don't consider themselves single (just check their Facebook relationship statuses.)
So, what terms should we use?
Perhaps "Unmarried Adult Ministry" but that's a mouthful. Still, it's self-descriptive.
This is a real challenge and yet, a great opportunity. At least half of all adults who visit our church on a weekly basis are unmarried. Some are young, never married adults. Some are professionals who are career minded and have not yet and may not ever be married. There are those who are "playing like their married" by living together. Others are people who have been married, but due to divorce, now find themselves in a new category of what we used to call "single again."
Some aren't even thinking about marriage. Others are interested and searching for God's man or woman for their lives. Still others are working through the pain of a broken marriage.
Just know that the cultural lexicon is in flux and terms change meaning. I've noticed that when you Google the term "single adult" the vast majority of sites are related to church and religious groups and ministries. I guess this shows that the non-churched adults in our culture don't use this term. Is this possibly why the term "Singles Ministry" is so confusing to the non-churched crowd?
I pray for Brandon Phillips and our leaders in this "Unmarried Adult Ministry" as they seek to reach and minister to all.