As singles increase, ministries adapt and mature

More people are spending more of their lives single, and married couples now are a minority among U.S. households. The average age at marriage is on the rise, and one in four households consists of people living alone. As these new dynamics create socio-economic shifts, religious organizations are scrambling to address the needs and realities of the increasing number of single people.

For years congregations considered singles a small minority best served by a singles group where they might meet a mate; now singles represent a larger portion of potential members and want singlehood to be treated as just another family situation instead of a transitional phase to move out of. Story opportunities on singlehood and faith abound, but three trends seem most striking:

  • Singles of faith are making extensive use of the Internet for dating and social networking;
  • Black women are the most apt to be – and stay – single, which has a significant impact on the way predominantly black churches organize their ministries.
  • And declining numbers in Judaism put increasing pressure on single Jews to look for love within their own religion.

Background

Why it matters

Religious organizations are adjusting programming now that nuclear families and married couples no longer represent the majority of households.

Story angles

• How are single Christians coping practically with calls for chastity outside of marriage in an age when people remain single much longer than in years past”?
• Observers say there is a trend toward single people of faith embracing chastity.
• How are congregations supporting and embracing the increasing number of parents who are single by choice? How do they respond to the increasing number of couples who live together outside of marriage? Or senior citizens who live together but forgo marriage so that they do not lose Social Security and pension benefits?
• People nowadays are more likely to date and marry outside their faith. How are congregations responding?
• The explosion of online dating has raised a host of ethical issues; where do people turn for guidance?
• Religious online dating networks face competition from commercial dating sites; how do they compete?
• Singles groups frequently focused on younger adults eager for marriage; how do they address the needs of people in their 40s and beyond seeking spouses?

Articles

Surveys

National sources

Academics

  • Christa Ann Banister

    Christa Ann Banister of St. Paul, Minn., drew on her experiences with single life for her 2007 novel Around the World in 80 Dates: Confessions of a Christian Serial Dater.

  • ReShonda Tate Billingsley

    ReShonda Tate Billingsley writes Christian fiction directed at African-American women and teenage girls. Some of her books feature single characters using their faith to cope with issues. She left her job as a television news reporter in Houston to write full time.

  • Anna Broadway

    Anna Broadway wrote Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity, published in April 2008, about being a single Christian looking for love in contemporary society. She is based in the San Francisco area.

  • Audrey B. Chapman

    Audrey B. Chapman, a family therapist in private practice in Washington, D.C., is an author, radio host and relationships expert. Books she has authored include Getting Good Loving: Seven Ways to Find Love and Make It Last and Man Sharing: Dilemma or Choice? A Radical New Way of Relating to the Men in Your Lives (William Morrow, 1986). She calls black women the least-partnered group in the United States.

    Contact: 202-756-5042, 703-914-2068.
  • Donna Freitas

    Donna Freitas has taught religious studies at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt. She has written about the spirituality of dating and chastity. She wrote Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses (2008) and co-wrote Save the Date: A Spirituality of Dating, Love, Dinner and the Divine.

  • Connally Gilliam

    Connally Gilliam of Arlington, Va., who works for the Christian ministry The Navigators as a life coach for young adult singles, wrote about unintentional singleness in Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn’t Expect.

  • Michelle McKinney Hammond

    Michelle McKinney Hammond of Chicago is a cable show co-host, public speaker and the author of several Christian books on living single, including Secrets of an Irresistible Woman: Smart Rules for Capturing His Heart and Ending The Search For Mr. Right: How to Be Found by the Man You’ve Been Looking For. She founded HeartWing Ministries.

  • Esther D. Kustanowitz

    Esther D. Kustanowitz writes about Jewish life, social media, relationships and dating. She writes the singles column “First Person Singular” for the New York Jewish Week. She is a contributor to many blogs, including Beliefnet’s Idol Chatter, which examines spirituality and popular culture. She is also the senior editor of PresenTense Magazine, a publication centering on Jewish life and culture. See her blogs JDaters Anonymous and My Urban Kvetch.

  • Margot Lester

    Margot Lester of Carrboro, N.C.,  writes relationship features and the “Ask Margot” column for the Match.com online dating site. She says the two issues people currently are writing her most about are sex before second marriage, and about being devout in their religion and “unequally yoked” – pairing up with somebody who is less observant, is of another religion or is not religious.

  • Jennifer Marcum

    Jennifer Marcum is executive director of Safe Haven Ministries, a Christian-based ministry for victims of domestic abuse in Grand Rapids, Mich. The ministry has an informational outreach program for congregations called “Raise Hope.”

  • Jennifer A. Marshall

    Jennifer A. Marshall is director of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., and former director of family studies at the Family Research Council. She has written widely about Republican support of moral issues such as abstinence education, defense of marriage and welfare.

  • Monique Moultrie

    Monique Moultrie is a professor of religious studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta, who specializes in women/gender studies, African-American studies and sexuality – specifically on African-American single Christian women.  She says more black women are single – and likely to stay that way – than any other population.

  • Vanessa Ochs

    Vanessa Ochs is the author of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL’s Guide to Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings. She is a professor in the department of religious studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She can talk about the role of the Internet in the contemporary Jewish dating scene, life cycle rituals for single people and the creation of rituals that acknowledge the place of single people in the community.

  • Trish Ryan

    Trish Ryan, who lives outside Cambridge, Mass., wrote He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Hope and Happily Ever After (2008).

  • Scott A. Shay

    Scott A. Shay, who is chairman of Signature Bank in New York City, wrote the best seller Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry, in which he recommends that Jewish people reverse the trend of delaying marriage and childbearing.

  • May Vanderbilt

    May Vanderbilt of San Francisco is a co-author of the Good Girl line of novels, including the 2007 title The Book of Jane, about single Christian women navigating modern life.

  • Neil Clark Warren

    Neil Clark Warren, a psychologist and former dean at Fuller Theological Seminary, co-founded and chairs the eHarmony online dating service. He has written several books about relationships, including Date … or Soul Mate?: How to Know if Someone Is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less.

Film

  • J.J. Adler

    J.J. Adler directed the 2007 documentary Unattached, about single Orthodox Jews in New York City. Watch the trailer.

Religious organizations

Denominational ministries

Catholic

Protestant

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Yvonne Y. Haddad

    Yvonne Y. Haddad is professor of the history of Islam and Muslim-Christian relations at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She co-authored Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today and Educating the Muslims of America. Her scholarly interests include Muslims in the West, Islamic revolutionary movements, 20th-century Islam and the intellectual, social and political history of the Arab world.

  • David Roozen

    David Roozen, professor of religion and society and director of the Hartford Seminary Institute For Religion Research, has written about religious television. He specializes in national religious trends.

  • Donald A. Weber

    Rabbi Donald A. Weber of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, N.J., has offered to pay for single congregation members’ fees to join the online Jewish dating service JDate.

  • Robert Wuthnow

    Robert Wuthnow is director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He wrote the book Poor Richard’s Principle: Recovering the American Dream Through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business and Money and was the editor of the 2006 Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. He is also the author of  After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion and Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland. He can speak about hot-button issues including abortion, the separation of church and state and gun control.

In the South

  • Rob Eagar

    Rob Eagar of Atlanta wrote Dating With Pure Passion: More Than Rules, More Than Courtship, More Than a Formula and speaks nationally on single adult issues. He says the church largely ignores singles and needs to do more to incorporate them and minister to them.

  • Robert M. Franklin

    Robert M. Franklin was tenth president of Morehouse College in Atlanta. He was ordained in the Church of God in Christ and worships in several different traditions. He has previously been president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, directed black church studies at Candler School of Theology and has been the Ford Foundation’s program officer, directing grants to African-American churches delivering secular social services. He is a frequent commentator and radio and TV guest. Among the books he has written are Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope to African American Communities (Fortress, February 2007) and Another Day’s Journey: Black Churches Confronting the American Crisis (Fortress, 1997).

  • Jamillah Karim

    Karim was an assistant professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies at Spelman College in Atlanta. She was reared in an African-American Muslim community. Her expertise is on race, gender and Islam; younger Muslims in the U.S.; and connections and tensions among African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims in the U.S.

  • Steve McLeod

    Steve McLeod, who is associate dean at Harding University Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tenn., wrote his dissertation on “Assimilating singles into a family-focused church.” He says issues worth examining are whether older singles want to participate in singles groups, and whether single adults in general prefer to stick with their lifelong religious affiliation or seek fellowship at the church with the biggest singles ministry.

  • Tom and Bev Rodgers

    Tom and Bev Rodgers of Charlotte, N.C., have been married for 34 years. They co-direct a Christian counseling practice and wrote The Singlehood Phenomenon: 10 Brutally Honest Reasons People Aren’t Getting Married.

  • Dick Purnell

    Dick Purnell of Raleigh, N.C., is the founder and director of Single Life Resources, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ. He speaks nationally on singles issues, and his books on singleness include, as author, Finding a Lasting Love: Friendship, Romance, Commitment and, as co-author, Singles and Relationships (A 31-Day Experiment).

  • Jon E. Singletary

    Jon E. Singletary directs the Center for Family and Community Ministries at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

  • Renita J. Weems

    The Rev. Renita J.Weems is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville and an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church who has written extensively on family life, particularly women’s, in books, articles and newsletters.

    Contact: 615-343-3987.
  • J. Bradley Wigger

    J. Bradley Wigger directs the Center for Congregations and Family Ministries at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

    Contact: 502-992-5428.
  • W. Bradford Wilcox

    W. Bradford Wilcox is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. He is co-editor of When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America (2011).

  • Lauren F. Winner

    Lauren F. Winner is the author of numerous books, including the popular Girl Meets God: A Memoir (Random House, 2003), about coming to Christianity in her 20s. She holds a Ph.D. in the history of American religion and lives in Durham, N.C.

    She is also the author of Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity.

In the Midwest

  • Penny Edgell

    Penny Edgell is a professor in sociology at the University of Minnesota and lead author of a 2006 study on the social acceptance of atheists in America. She is beginning new research on the moral communities of those who aren’t traditionally religious. She wrote Religion and Family in a Changing Society.

  • Dale Piscura

    Dale Piscura is associate/counseling pastor in Sevenoseven, the young adult ministry at Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

  • Christian Smith

    Christian Smith is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. He was co-principal investigator for the Youth and Religion Project. He is the author, with Melinda Lundquist Denton, of a book summarizing major findings from that study called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005). He has written widely on religious giving and is co-author of Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money (2008).

In the West

  • Art Gorman

    Art Gorman is pastor for single adult ministries at Bethel Church of San Jose, Calif.

  • Thomas Holman

    Thomas Holman is a professor of marriage, family and human development at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He wrote “The Teaching of Non-marital Sexual Abstinence and Members’ Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors: The Case of Latter-Day Saints” for the Review of Religious Research.

  • Noel Jones

    Bishop Noel Jones is pastor of the Los Angeles-area City of Refuge Church, which has more than 10,000 members. He has established the FaithMate.com dating Web site for single Christians.

  • Kenneth C. Ulmer

    Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer is senior pastor-teacher of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood., Calif. Most of the more than 13,000 members of his congregation are single. The church has a You Are Not Alone single parent ministry. In 2011, he was named as a member of the commission for Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

    Contact: 310-330-8000.

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