September 17-23 is “National Singles Week,” an observance
established “to celebrate single life and recognize singles and their
contributions to society,” says the U.S. Census Bureau. We’re
definitely a large and rapidly growing demographic in the United States
and worldwide. Some of the latest stats regarding us singles are pretty
–There are 89.1 million unmarried single Americans, comprising 41% of all U.S. residents 18 and older.
–60% of single Americans have never been married.
–54% of single Americans are women.
–55 million households in the U.S. are maintained by unmarried men and women, comprising 49% of households nationwide.
–29.9 million singles live alone, compromising 26% of all households.
–904 dating services have been established nationwide in the past four years. 36% of the voting population is single.
(source: U.S. Census Bureau)
grateful that our nation makes a point of recognizing the contributions
of singles to our country. However, I’m fairly certain that most of us
will not feel a significant impact from National Singles Week. A
commemorative celebration recognizing the fact we exist, and do so in
large numbers, doesn’t even begin to tackle the specific needs and
concerns of our slice of the population.
The approach of
National Singles Week has caused me to reflect on some of the pressing
needs and concerns of today’s singles, and particularly Christian
singles. While all single people face their own breed of challenges in
our society, I am convinced that Christian singles face an even greater
difficulty than their secular peers, because they often feel “left out”
of the one place that should be most ministering to their needs.
Common Ground or Foreign Territory?
Christian singles share the same long-term desire: to find and marry a
spouse who shares a common faith and moral foundation. No easy task in
today’s world. I just finished reading a book on the single life by
British author Ian Gregory, who highlights the crux of the problem
facing single Christians today: namely, that the number one place
singles have traditionally met other singles and found a spouse has
ceased to be a normal meeting place for the like-minded unmarried…
the ages of Christendom, the church was the most common meeting ground
for men and women seeking a marriage partner. Today, instead of being
the modern-day haven for a demographic that largely feels lost,
excluded, and unreached, the church is a foreign land to a large number
of today’s singles.
What has replaced the church as the most
common meeting place for singles? According to Gregory, the workplace.
He reports that 90% of professional singles meet each other at work. On
average, 97% of those colleagues won’t be believers. If that statistic
is true, it’s awfully difficult news for single Christians seeking a
Singles bars and other singles social scenes
are rarely any more fruitful. The result? According to Gregory, “we
Christians fish in smaller ponds in which there is less chance of a
Singles Week is not the answer, especially for us Christians. While new
technology and the rise of online dating sites as the modern-day
singles scene has become a tremendous blessing to unmarried Christians,
there is still much potential and much difficult work to be done to see
our local parishes develop a more directed focus on its single members.
I don’t pretend to suggest that implementing better outreach to
singles at the parish level will be an easy task. But sometimes the
hardest-to-accomplish goals produce the greatest long term results.
Orestes Brownson once wrote: “Ask
not what your age wants, but what it needs; not what it will reward,
but what, without which, it cannot be saved; and that go and do…”The
most difficult solution to the needs of Christian singles may very well
be reforming church outreach to singles, but it’s a task that the
singles in today’s society desperately need accomplished.
hope for a radical revival of ministry towards and focus on the needs
of single Christians through the Church. I’d love to see special
prayers offered at Mass for the needs of single Catholics. It would be
fantastic to see more age-appropriate singles groups spring up in local
parishes. There is much room for parish growth in singles outreach
activities, social functions, bible studies, mission trips – the list
is endless. Singles shouldn’t feel like the leftovers and leftouts in
their Church – they need to feel like a vibrant, needed, significant
part of the parish family.
Before I get carried away with my own
“I have a dream” speech, let me tell you about an interesting “census”
of my own that I conducted this week. It was actually more of a very
informal poll than a census, but I contacted an equal guy/girl ratio of
single Catholics, ranging in age from early twenties to early fifties,
all never married, and asked them to respond to this question:How Can Your Church/Parish Family Better Minister to You as a Single Catholic?
of their answers were predictable. Almost all the guys said the Church
needs more single Catholic women, and most of the ladies responded with
the same request for more single guys in the pews at their parish.
There were several other common themes among the answers I received.
Following are a few highlights.
Pray For Us
of the singles I polled mentioned the desire for more parish prayer
directed towards the single population of the church family. One young
woman’s response was particularly poignant. She wrote:“Last,
but not least, PRAY FOR US. Singles often feel lost and forgotten in
parish life. We don't fit in the Women's Club, Men's Club, Mom’s
Outreach, Youth Ministry, etc., and sometimes we fall between the
cracks unknowingly. Please, parish families, if there is nothing else
you can do, pray for us who have yet confirmed our lifelong vocation.
And pray that those of us away from the Church may find our way back
into the arms of Christ and His loving Church.”
Another person suggested that parishes include intentions for singles in the Prayers of the Faithful at Sunday mass:“We
pray for parents and children and society in the Prayers of the
Faithful – why not mention the specific, real life needs of single
Catholics? For instance, pray that the parish singles would have
discernment of their vocation and would make a wise choice in a spouse.”
What a great way to let the single Catholics know that they are loved, cared about, and prayed for by their parish family.
The Singles Group: Re-Invented
of the singles who responded to my poll mentioned the need to break off
the traditional parish “singles group” into more segregated,
age-appropriate groups. Many of the singles polled thought that
parishes would do well to split their singles ministry into two
It’s just common sense: 18-yr-old singles and
52-yr-old singles do not have the same needs and do not naturally move
in the same circles as far as interests, activities, and requirements
in a spouse. Parishes should be open to splitting singles groups into a
young adult singles group, and a more mature singles group, making many
members feel more comfortable. This would also make the potential pool
of finding a spouse much greater because it would likely attract a
larger number of singles who otherwise would consider the parish
singles group “not for me.”
Parish Activities for Singles – Not Family Events We Can Tag Along To
Another popular request was for parishes to host social and outreach events for singles –
not family events that singles are invited to come along to. If “Bring
the Whole Family” or “Child Care Provided” is part of the parish event
flyer, that spells “not really for you, but you’re welcome to tag
along” to most singles in the church. Events are needed that appeal to
the needs and interests of single members of the parish. Whether it be
a singles retreat, seminar, social outing, service project – it doesn’t
matter. Events that are designed by the parish specifically for a
singles crowd will speak volumes to unmarried parishioners about their
value in the parish community.
The Most Popular Request Singles Have of Their Parish
and many other great ideas were mentioned by the singles who responded
to my informal questionnaire. But I have to tell you about the reply
that spoke volumes about the most felt need of Catholic singles. ONE
HUNDRED PERCENT of the singles I polled replied to my question “How Can
Your Parish Best Meet Your Needs as a Single Catholic?” with the answer
“Service opportunities within the parish. We want to get involved in
Ask Not What Your Parish Can Do For You…
first the overwhelming response with requests for service opportunities
shocked me. I expected more requests for Theology on Tap, singles
trips, social get-togethers sponsored by the parish, etc. But then it
dawned on me: the desire to serve their parish family is firmly rooted
in a single person’s deeply felt desire to be needed, wanted, and
considered a valuable component of a family – their parish family. That
feeling of belonging, ownership, community, and “home” in the parish
doesn’t come from monthly pizza nights or putt-putt golfing outings.
The sense of belonging comes from the ability to give of oneself for
the good of the other – the true meaning of community, and the meaning
of love. Those parishes that utilize the time, talents, and treasures
of its single members are really allowing singles to become a vital
working, serving, living part of the church family.
But they said it best themselves:
us out for volunteer opportunities in the church. Singles have a little
more time than family couples, and so sometimes we can contribute, but
don't know how we are needed.”
“Sometimes giving something to someone is easier if they know they can
return the favor. If other members welcome them as members of the
family, allow them to assist in meeting new obligations. Often
[married] couples are strapped for time and money whereas some singles
have these in abundance. If a single person is trustworthy, would they
be a suitable baby sitter? Would they help you paint the garage or move
“Have dynamic, truly Catholic singles groups with lots of prayer/ministry as the foundation. Then, add the social activities.”
“[The parish can help us] by providing a ministry for young adults within the parish – to reach out to other ministries.”
So Where Do We Go From Here?
is clearly a lot of work to be done to revive the place of singles
within the parish family. I’m not naïve enough to believe that the
implementation of any of these great ideas for singles outreach will be
easy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put our best efforts towards
making these ideas a reality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau,
there are quite a lot of us singles out there; we have needs, yes, but
we also have a lot of passion, energy, and enthusiasm that can be
funneled into revitalizing and expanding our place in the ministry of
So Happy Singles Week to all of you! My prayer for
all of us is that we’ll work together to encourage a greater “Single
Focus”, both in our society at large and in our local communities, but
most especially, in the Church.
(1) Gregory, Ian. No Sex Please! (Until We’re Married): The No-Compromise Search for the Love of Your Life (Life Journey Publications, January 2005), p. 15.
Stephanie is the coordinator of NextWave Faithful ™, a youth and young adult division of Family Life Center International .
She has been a frequent guest on several Catholic programs, including
EWTN Radio's Faith & Family, which she currently co-hosts with her
father, Steve Wood, and EWTN Television's Life on the Rock and The
Stephanie hosts the first worldwide radio show for Catholic youth, NextWave Live , which airs weekly on the EWTN Radio Network.She also writes a monthly e-Newsletter for teens and young adults. She can be reached at Stephanie@catholicmatch.com