The challenge of being single in the Church

(Photo: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema)

Christian Today speaks to Lauren Windle, author of Notes on Love, about the challenges of dating and singleness in the Church.

CT: Your most recent book was called Notes on Love: Being Single and Dating in a Marriage Obsessed Church. What prompted you to write the book?

LW: I felt like a lot of Christians in the Church are having conversations around singleness but that no one is representing these conversations well. So while there are quite a few books on this topic out there, I was wondering how many my single Christian friends will actually read. I wanted to write a book that reflected the full breadth of the experience of being single in the Church, with all the laughter, tears, heartbreak and dating app disasters.

CT: You just mentioned the 'D' word - dating. How have you found dating in the Church? Is it a struggle?

LW: It can be a struggle because in theory the Church has the perfect framework for how to treat each other and love one another, but it just feels like when it comes to dating, this is where we as Christians can really fall down. A lot of pressure is put on people to marry and they can have the idea that this is the end game and that this is what everyone's fighting for. And so they end up really desperately pursuing marriage rather than better connections with the people around them and enjoying whatever stage of the relationship they are specifically in. That can feel really tense and there are a lot of men in the Church who feel cornered, like they're supposed to be doing their bit for the war effort because there are so few men! And so then what happens is that they only want to ask someone out when they are absolutely sure already that they can marry them, and so no one gets asked out!

CT: Some churches host activities specifically for singles. Do you think that's a good idea? What do you think churches can do to serve their single members better?

LW: I think this is a real challenge for churches because people want activities like that, but in reality it's very hard to execute because often you'll find that there are the people who have no trouble with dating, particularly men, who won't turn up to an event like this that has been coordinated by the church, whereas lots of women would really appreciate something like that. So you wouldn't want to be in a position where women are turning up to your encouraging event only to leave really disheartened because only other women were there, or a small group of men they have already considered dating and know already that they're not really compatible.

That's not to say that churches shouldn't do it, but it needs to be from the ground up. What I mean by this is that churches are often led by a married man, but it would be far more appealing for single Christians if the initiatives and events being organised for them were led by single men and women within the church.

A friend of mine runs a supper club and she describes it as connecting Christians living parallel lives, because there are often Christians living in the same city who simply don't know each other because one group attends this church on this side of town, and the other group goes to another church on the other side of town, and they've just never met. Initiatives like this supper club give them the opportunity to do that.

CT: What do you think is a biblical, healthy view of singleness as a Christian?

LW: I think that the Church often gets this wrong, because people do have this impression that marriage is superior. And women in particular often feel that they have to be 'picked'. The way that churches really champion couples to go and church plant together and lead small groups and other things in the church can make people feel like in order to reach the level of seniority and respect in the congregation they need a partner and that's not the case. Paul is so clear that being single is an incredible calling that frees you up to focus on God without any distractions from that Kingdom focus. That's not to say that marriage isn't amazing because it is, but it's not the be all and end all, and when somebody gets married, they're not levelling up or upgrading. What they're doing is trading in the challenges and perks of being single, for the challenges and perks of being married. Jesus was single and if marriage was needed to live life to its fullest, Jesus would have got married!

CT: What would you say to a single Christian who may be struggling with their singleness?

LW: It is really important that a single person knows they are not less valuable, attractive or wanted, even though it can be hard to internalise that truth. You are so loved even if you are not in a romantic situation at the moment. You are so outrageously loved and that is the one thing that your life will never be short of, because love is what God offers. That's the promise and Jesus died because of that love. It can be hard to feel comforted by that when you want physical arms around you rather than words, but it would be great if we could design church in a way that someone could be single and yet never alone. We have got a bit of a way to go in that but increasingly the Church is starting to recognise it and the value of being both single and married.

CT: How do you feel about Valentine's Day from the perspective of a single Christian?

LW: I don't think Valentine's Day has a place in the Church, and it doesn't need to be marked as part of church ministry or anything like that. Also, it's important to be aware that for some people both inside the Church and out, being single is the greatest disappointment of their lives and Valentine's Day just highlights that. In some ways, Valentine's Day can even feel a bit forced and insensitive and upsetting, so on the one hand if people want to mark it, then mark it, but I do think it's important to be conscious that there will be people finding it really hard. It doesn't hurt if it prompts us to think about those who are single, and not only our partners.