This article was published in Christian Single.
I slipped into a hard, unfriendly folding chair at the back of the conference center room. I was tired from a long week at work and what felt like an equally long drive to the facility where my church's women's retreat was held. As my gaze settled on the backs and sides of dozens of heads, I didn't see a single "single" soul.
As the evening — and entire weekend — wore on, my suspicions were confirmed. Not only was I the only non-married woman there, but all the women were married with children.
I should've known. The first time I attended Sunday School at this church, five of the 15 people in the 20-somethings class were pregnant. The church was filled with babies, small children, and activities geared toward families.
Nevertheless, because I strongly believed that God wanted me to be in this church, I've not only stayed — I've also been blessed.
If you find yourself in a similar church or small town where singles don't exactly abound, it may take a little effort and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, but you'll find an enriching array of valuable relationships and opportunities to explore.
The first step in finding your place in a church or community with few singles is to take an inventory of your own desires. It may be to make new friends, to find a supportive shoulder for the single-parent journey, or to meet a potential spouse.
"We're finding a desperate need among singles to connect," says Kris Swiatocho, director of TheSinglesNetwork.org ministries. "A lot of people are in a hurry to connect — whether it's romantic or friendship."
Swiatocho says that while it's good to have these goals, it's crucial to recognize that above all other desires, you must seek God, and that your ultimate value, meaning, and purpose rest in Christ. Without a relationship and connection to Christ, you'll never be content, no matter what the size of your church or how many single adults live in your area.
"[Think:] I'm going to learn everything I can until God changes it — until I move to the next place," she says.
Value Your Surroundings
You may be a never-married thirtysomething attending a church where Sunday after Sunday you hear the pastor enthusiastically announce the family picnic, the young couples' Bible study, and the parenting course. Or you may be a widowed dad living in a rural community where there's no such thing as a single-parent group.
While it may be difficult to meet people you identify with, God can help you develop a meaningful appreciation for your surroundings — and make the most of them.
For example, if you don't have kids and your church focuses on families, thank God for its commitment to this vital institution, and find ways you can support them.
"I don't go to a Sunday School class because I can't find one that actually fits my stage in life," says Emily Williams, who lives in Woodland Park, Colo., population 5,500. "Instead, I teach Sunday School."
Natalee Roth, who used to live in a small Kansas community, says, "Talk to your neighbors — this could lead to a witnessing opportunity. You can easily isolate yourself in a small town and feel sorry for yourself — I did this a lot — so make friends where you can. It'll stretch you, and you'll learn from these people."
Young and Old Alike
As you commit to value — rather than despise — your environment, you'll meet people of all ages who can potentially enrich your life.
"I learned from the older people I met and found a lot of joy in being with junior-high kids," Roth says. "I lived with a very active 80-year-old woman. We'd sit together outside and chat in the evenings. I enjoyed talking with the mid-30s couple who lived across the street and were nonbelievers, and the couple next door in their 70s. We laughed together a lot, and I learned from all of them."
Because you aren't part of a thriving singles' group, with separate Sunday School classes, Bible studies, and events, you have the unique opportunity to see the family of God — 75-year-old retirees and 33-year-old mothers and temper-tantrum-prone 2-year-olds — in action, and develop invaluable relationships with many of its members. Older people can offer you insight and grandmotherly hugs. Kids bring laughter and fresh perspective. An effort — even a small one — will often result in new friendships.
Here to Serve
Making a point to serve others in the church and community is certainly a way to develop connections with others who are and aren't single. And it steers you far away from pity parties. A wise preacher once said, "Don't ask what the church can do for you. Ask what you can do for the church." The same could be said for your town.
If you love kids, consider volunteering in an after-school program or your church's youth group. Join a church-event planning-committee, or help out with a community festival or parade. White runs his church's audio and video equipment; Roth is a choir member in her family-oriented congregation. Volunteer opportunities are often advertised in church bulletins, on posters around town, and in local newspapers. You may even want to initiate a ministry or community group.
Several years ago, Swiatocho found herself in a church without a singles ministry where she believed God had placed her. The youth group had about 10 kids, and she decided to lend a hand. Although Swiatocho no longer attends there, God used her in the beginning stages of the ministry — today, it's more than 400 teens strong.
Searching for Singles
While enriching your life by serving others and building relationships with people, you may still long for those with whom you can more directly identify.
Start by asking the pastor or church secretary if other single adults are part of your congregation, and then make an effort to meet them. (This conversation may also serve to make your church more aware of the needs of single adults.) If you're a single parent, ask your child's Sunday School teacher about other parents in similar situations, Swiatocho advises.
Also, look outside of your church or town for friends. Get involved in a Bible study or take a class that highlights one of your interests. See if you can join a larger church's singles group. The Internet is a solid source of information for Christian singles' events and groups of like-minded people in your area.
Be prepared to take some initiative. If you find that there are several singles in your church or town but no active group, you may wish to organize an activity, such as a service project or a ski trip, to stimulate friendships.
The church or town you belong to may not currently afford you dozens of new friendships with single adults, but a God-centered perspective, a desire to build relationships with others of all ages and life stages, and a willingness to step forward to serve will enable you to thrive in your environment. As you take hold with both hands the opportunities to learn and to touch others' lives, you'll find yours changing as well.