Well here we are, Part 4. This series has brought about a ton of great conversation in my real life relationships. I hope it has sparked some good things for you as well. I started writing about this topic because I knew I needed to start using my unique voice to speak into topics I’ve experienced to be difficult. I’ll be writing more on Church community, on singleness and other things in the future. But for now we’ll cap this series here.
As a reminder, here’s where we’ve been with this conversation:
Part One was from the point of view of the Church and church leadership.
Part Two was a bit of a Married Friends Gut Check
Part Three was a bit of a Single Friends Gut Check
Part Four is a few models of relationships that can help us with practical steps forward.
I was saying just today to my fellow staff members about how we need more honest conversations about how we do church community. Because people are leaving the church. People are walking away from the church for a lot of reasons, not just the loneliness of being single. But time and time again I hear my single friends talk about how they don’t feel fully a part of the community at their church. So we need to be talking about this.
As we look for practical steps forward, I thought we could take some time to look at a couple of models of relationships across marital status that I have found really helpful and honoring. I honestly believe that we can only step into these types of relationships when we are all in healthy spaces or trying to get to healthy spaces. If you want to know what that looks like, head on back to parts Two and Three and see what I mean by that.
Here are a few models I’ve come to find helpful within the church and in general life:
Intergenerational Life Groups. Or small groups. Or D-Teams. Or Sunday School classes. Whatever your church creates for community space. So often, as a church, we think all community needs to be life-stage specific. But often times, most of our lives are spent in life stage specific settings. What if in the church we mixed it up a little more. Of course Moms of toddlers need time with other Moms of toddlers and college students want to hang out with other college students – that’s fair. But in the church, could we mix it up a little more intentionally. When we intentionally mix it up, single people don’t have to feel so ostracized because conversation doesn’t naturally default to toddlers, parenting, empty nesting, etc.
This can require some intentionality from the church leadership but it doesn’t have to entirely rest on their shoulders. When thinking about starting up something, invite the single people you know. Make an effort to invite them to sit with you during service, or more radically – go sit with them. Intentionally choose a table not with people who are just like you but people who are at a different life stage.
You may be asking reading this and thinking, “But Alicia, what will we talk about if it’s not _______ (fill in your blank with whatever you usually talk about with your peers who are exactly like you).” Start with something easy, like the sermon or something that happened in worship. Ask about their plans for the week. Ask about their job, where they like to hang out, what are they reading/watching/listening to. I promise you it’s not that hard – you just have to intentionally try!
The Tricycle Theory. This is of course an Office reference. Michael Scott once said, “My mom always said that the third wheel is what makes it a tricycle” in reference to him always hanging out with his mom and stepdad. Two of my best friends are married (to each other) and when we all lived in Chicago I started calling us the Tricycle. When we all first met I was working with the husband in youth ministry and I decided to force the wife to be my friend (not really but I tried real hard). One thing that works so well in our friendship is that I never feel like a third wheel. It’s a joke we make but in reality our friendship is so strong and balanced, it’s not like adding a third wheel to one of the wheels on the bike, it’s really like having an evenly balanced tricycle.
I alluded to this in another post that we need to also treat married people as whole developed individuals and this is kind of where the tricycle theory comes from. There are times in our friendship when the husband and I are talking about church things and ministry ups and downs that the wife is only kind of interested in (or not at all if we’ve been talking too long about it.) And probably more so there are long periods of girl talk that the husband could care less about. And there are just as many times when we’re all talking about stuff that we have in common. I am not more friends with one of them over the other.
Even now as we are juggling a long distance friendship, we share the ups and downs of our lives with one another. Obviously the two of them have a deeper relationship than I have with either of them, but they never make me feel bad about being single. In fact they are two of my biggest cheerleaders. I get the best dating advice from them because they usually balance each other out.
Spiritual Family in practice. We talk about Spiritual Family a lot in the church. But sometimes I wonder if we really are that good at it across lines of age, gender and family status. Family is messy – we all know that. We all have family drama that can be tricky to navigate, so Spiritual Family is no different. But we cannot allow that to keep us from trying, especially because this is exactly what a lot of singles are looking for.
Even if their own families are nearby, singles want to be a part of a broader church community. They may have a desire to have a family of their own and they don’t yet, or they may just like being around the hustle and bustle of kids. There are families in my life who have let me into their family spaces on a regular basis and I cannot express how good for my soul that is.
For someone who enjoys being arounds kids but has no kids of my own and is far away from my own nieces, it is amazing to have families who let me hang out in their family. This doesn’t have to be a big planned out evening, it can just as easily be inviting someone who is single into the everyday messiness of being a family.
Here are some practical ways this has looked like for me and the families in my life:
- Lunch after church
- Letting me sit with their family at church
- Inviting me to soccer practice / band concerts / special events
- Running errands together
- Going to the park
- Family dinner (NOT a dinner party – normal family dinner where we talk about our days and our lives)
- Hanging out on bad weather days – sledding, reading by the fire, card games
- Riding to church events/retreats/outings together
A lot of these things are not difficult to invite people in – don’t assume your single friends don’t want the hustle of your family. I recognize that this takes a level of trust and vulnerability to let people into your space, but I also recognize the strength of kids having multiple adults in their lives who care for them. Being single can be very lonely, and we don’t need to constantly be in your space, but knowing there’s an invitation in helps the isolation feel less intrusive.
Lastly, I feel the need to add a disclaimer that I obviously cannot speak for every single person in your life. These posts are trying to get us to think outside of our culture determined boxes – but please, if you are wondering how to better pour into your single friends you can just ask them. Go ahead and blame me, here’s how that conversation can go…
“Hey, I’ve been reading these posts by some girl about what it’s like to be single in the church, what’s been challenging for you in our community?”
After you ask that question, just listen. Humbly give them the space to answer you as honestly as they feel they can be with you.
And remember, these conversations always go better once you have an established relationship with someone.
So start first by building up a relationship with the single people in your life. See them as a whole person and treat them with the dignity and respect you would a married friend of yours.