I've been struggling with how to follow up my last blog post. Over the last two weeks, whenever I've tried to sit down and write about church and dating, I've found myself twisted up and frustrated. Trust me on this one, my sentences were just as twisty and impatient. I didn't quite know where to begin because there were upwards of 4 thousand thoughts trying to escape from my brain onto the page all at once. It wasn't pretty.
The topic of how the church handles "singleness" is not a new topic. In fact, scores of books are written on this topic every year. I quick walk through my local Barnes & Noble this week was proof. The church is brimming with ideas on how to cure our "singleness" as if this stage of life is something that needs to be survived. As if real life, grownup growth can't happen until we say our vows and exchange rings. Then and only then, can we graduate from the children's table and really join in the adult conversation... at least that's largely how it's presented.
I have to stop and tell a quick story before we can go any further.
My friend, Dr. Stephen Simpson, who is writing a book on this exact topic (which I had the pleasure of reading early versions of), wrote a chapter about how unmarried people should NOT be likened to individually wrapped slices of cheese. I don't think that chapter is still around, but I am totally stealing this idea, because... steal like an artist. All this to say, I do not appreciate the label "single," but for the purpose of clarity, I can't think of a better option and I think everyone understands the term as anyone who is not married. This includes those, like myself, who have never been married, those who are divorced, and those who are widowed.
Aren't we each, every single one of us, unique and original humans throughout the entirety of our lifespans? Marriage doesn't change the fundamentals of what makes each of us - us.
So, by show of hands, how many of you would sign up to attend a singles group? Go ahead, raise your hands high so I can get an accurate count... Yep. That's right... pretty much no one.
Ok, I think it's safe to move on.
It turns out there are a lot of studies done on the demographics of church attendance over the years, but far less on what we should do with all this information. This is frustrating. This is part of the reason I'm so twisted up about this blog post.
In 1960, 30% of the American population was single. In 2014? America was 50% single. In the same report, the average marrying age for men and women has increased by more than a decade over the same time span.
A recent study done by PewForum.org states that there has been "an overall decline in church attendance since the 1970's and attributes it to broader social trends like the postponement of marriage and parenthood by many young adults."
Our current culture doesn't equate marriage with successful adulthood. But, the church still does. While I feel the need to unclench my fists and stop gritting my teeth as I type this, there is a large part of me that wants to throw the Church out entirely... rebuild from the ground up... clean slate.
After my last post, I heard from so many of you. Honestly, I was a little overwhelmed at first. But I realize, the Church is still a large part of our lives whether we like it or not. And, if history teaches us anything it's this: history ignored is history bound to repeat itself.
"This is to confuse reform with abandonment. This is to forget that God has already started a "new thing" in the world: holiness. (Isaiah 43:19)... I think our perspective must be shaped by how we can partner with God and God's holy people who are already a part of the "new thing" rather than seek how we might reinvent the wheel and start a "new thing" ourselves. The church is a product of God's desire for a new thing in our world. If you want to see a change in the church, go join it..."
Have I mentioned that I've struggled with this post?!
I know from many of your responses that the Church has said and done some pretty insensitive and shaming things to many of us over the years. I also know that the church is made up of broken and imperfect people, such as myself. While God is never in the business of guilt or shame, we humans are pretty good at it. Isn't it time we come clean about this?
I should mention that the church I am currently involved with, I have only been recieved with genuine love, support, and community. In fact, I feel like this is the first church I've ever attended where I have been more fully able to express my gifts publicly and I've found so much freedom in this. But, the North End Collective is about 85% married families who are my age... so while these incredible people are my peers, friends, and neighbors, sometimes I feel like we lead very different lives...
So, what can we do to make sure the growing number of single people who attend our congregations are welcomed and treated as whole members of the body of Christ if we really can't afford to start looking for safer, cleaner, more efficient real estate elsewhere?
I think Chip and Joanna Gaines say it well in the opening line of their show, Fixer Upper, "We take the worst house in the best neighborhood and turn it into our clients dream home."
We need to start remodeling the church we have.
What I mean is, we can start a conversation about what it would look like if we opened up our doors and allowed the culture we serve and lead to express their needs, instead of telling people what their needs should be. This might mean tearing down walls of assumptions, rearranging the rooms which no longer serve us, and using our space and resources differently. Why is that a bad thing?
I know, I know. I've served on enough church leadership teams to understand that change is slow... it's like steering a cruise ship into a U-turn. People are probably going to puke.
On that note, I should close.
But, I'd like to continue this conversation if you'll let me. So, the next post is going to be about the spoken and unspoken rules for dating within the church. If you're dying to chime in on this, please email me or leave a comment. I love hearing from you!
This is Not the End,