Michael D. Cruice
Ministry to college students should be considered under the single-adult ministry umbrella. Being such a student is a transitional stage, such as a caterpillar would experience en route to becoming a butterfly. A fundamental issue is an understanding that these individuals are adults choosing to go to school and that they ought to be approached in a fitting manner. The “college student” category is not Biblically defined, such as being a single adult would be. For the purpose of this article, therefore, a broader consideration will be given to involving single adults in ministry since individuals may drift in and out of student status. The nature of this article will allow application in either case.
The local church must exercise care that the effort to effectively incorporate single adults into the work of the ministry is not so specialized that the single adult becomes isolated in the community of believers. As one leader observes “there are two basic images of singles ministry; singles as a separate colony or as a necessary part of the whole.”
Any deliberate, conscientious approach to ministry to single adults should have in sight the goal that those singles will indeed serve others. According to one leader “the proof that a church has this kind of vision is not in the number of programs offered for singles, but in the number of singles involved in all the programs of the church. Approximately one-half of the work force is single. What percentage of the church work force is single?”
As a single approaches a church, his perspective should be more focused on how he may serve the Lord in that setting rather than what that ministry has to offer him. Such thinking is expected of the more mature believer, while the unchurched and newly saved must be discipled to understand their role in God’s plan for His local assembly. The effective functioning of the local body comes from an innovative approach on the part of the church to minister to single adults while the single adult actively seeks ways to be integrated into the church.
To more thoroughly consider this matter of integrating the single adult into the local, Fundamental church, we must understand the mandate and the method of integration.
The Mandate for Integration
Essential to a Local Body
Ephesians 4:13, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith,” holds forth a goal for each believer: we are to work together, especially in light of the illustration of the parts of the body working in conjunction, as illustrated later in that same chapter.
A further elaboration of this truth is found in 1 Corinthians 3:5–7:
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
Successful ministry in the local church requires both married and unmarried alike to fulfill their God given responsibilities as outlined in 1 Corinthians 7.
Contingent upon Membership
One of the general impressions of single adults is that they hesitate to make commitments. This is often true when joining a church family. Often, the single adult reserves making this decision, keeping open his options for a better opportunity that might come his way. Membership is foundational to this idea of integration, since most churches restrict the extent of involvement in their local congregations to those outside of membership.
Leaders in the church should be quick to take single adults under their wing and get to know them, along with introducing them to as much of the church family as possible. Single adults must have a grasp of the basically unrestricted possibilities for members for both married and unmarried adults alike.
Such integration begins with developing relationships that should be initiated upon the single adult’s first visit to a church. Since singles tend to transient and move quickly from one ministry to another, their first impression of the local assembly is paramount and should be saturated with an image of an encouraging and hospitable fellowship. While there may be a call for satellite ministries to single adults, the truth of the matter, as observed by one leader, is “the most effective single adult ministries are invariably solidly attached to a strong, local church and are operating as a healthy, contributing part of the body.”
The single adult must understand that the church is God’s instrument by which He provides growth, accountability, encouragement, and opportunities to serve Him. As one leader notes, “A species becomes extinct when its environment does not give it the opportunity to grow and thrive.” The question then becomes, “Is your ministry one in which the single adult will grow and thrive, or will he become extinct?”
Dependent on Service
Regardless of the preconception that single adults may be selfish and self-seeking, the local church must challenge them to practice godly principles. One such principle is stated in Galatians 5:13: “For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love, serve one another.” The true success of integration will parallel the single adult’s desire to serve. Their incorporation into the rest of the ministry will depend on their willingness to serve wherever needed, not simply in those areas which might give them exposure and recognition. Are they as willing to clean dishes for a churchwide fellowship as they are to be an usher? Is their attitude one that says, “Use me wherever needed”? Their idea of service should not be what such an act will do for them, but how it will reflect on their Savior.
There was a single adult in a large ministry who was challenged by the singles pastor to become involved in a ministry. The young man admitted that he had not actively served in any ministry capacity in almost two years because he wanted to be a fifth grade boys’ Sunday school teacher. The pastor informed him that the primary quality for a good Sunday school teacher was first of all to be a good servant. Upon hearing this observation, the young man decided to leave the church. He failed to understand that a good servant seeks to elevate his Master, not himself.
The Method for Integration
Meaningful contact must be made with the single adult upon his first visit. The church family should be hospitable and quick to embrace the single adult visitor. A quick contact should be made by leaders in the single adult ministry to both welcome and inform the visitor of the excitement of being a part of such a ministry. A meal after the service is the best way to effectively connect with such a person, since most single adults enjoy company for a Sunday lunch or dinner.
Single adults often feel as if they are a square peg in a round hole. The leaders should soon establish the areas of interests of the individual along with any particular gifts or talents. A visitor should clearly sense an active effort not simply to inflate the congregational role but to find a place of service for the Lord for the individual. The mentality of service should be paramount, and the single adult should realize that the intent of the ministry is not to gather a plethora of pew sitters.
Quantity of time produces a quality of time. The single adult ministry is labor intensive. An effective ministry conveys the idea of genuine concern for the individual. Frequent calls, contacts, and other gestures of interest should be displayed as a foundation is established for the single adult to develop an attachment to the ministry and desire a place of service.
A variety of service and fellowship activities should be made available just to allow numerous opportunities for the individual to connect and develop relationships within he ministry. Consequently, a sense of ownership rather than “observership” begins to develop.
Most single adults are healthy, willing, and able. The possibilities for service are limited only by one’s imagination once we gain a wholesome view of them as valuable resources. The ministry at Hampton Park Baptist Church has benefited by having the Single Vision Ministry spearhead numerous churchwide events. (The theme verse for Single Vision is Matthew 6: 22: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”) The single adult choir along with special instrumental and vocal presentations has been an important asset to the worship services. Community involvement through caroling in various parts of the community, along with other active efforts to minister outside the bounds of the church property, has been challenging to others in the congregation. Singles’ ready availability has been the frontline resource to help New Horizons, a ministry for women in our church whose husbands are no longer in the home. These single adults actively seek ways to serve and challenge each other to greater heights of service.
While some single adults are distracted by the prospects of marriage, Single Vision promotes singleness as an opportunity to serve the Lord according to His design in 1 Corinthians 7:35: “And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” As the single adult is encouraged to serve, the prospect of a life mate is committed to the Lord. After all, what better place to meet a future spouse than in the midst of service?
At the time of original publication: Michael D. Cruice served as assistant pastor at Hampton Park Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and as a board member of Spurgeon Foundation Campus Ministries.
(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)