I’ve always been a fan of the old-fashioned, black and white, boy meets girl, romantic comedy movies. That’s why I was so excited a few years ago when my brother recorded an old Cary Grant movie that I’d never seen before entitled “Every Girl Should Be Married.” I couldn’t wait to curl up on the sofa with a warm blanket and enjoy a night watching Cary Grant (an actor, who in my opinion, neither George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, nor Denzel Washington could hold a candle to) sweep the movie’s heroine off of her feet.
As the movie progressed, it wasn’t long until I was annoyed. This was not your typical Cary Grant movie. Instead, the main character was a scheming, conniving young salesclerk, named Anabel, who was obsessed with the idea of getting married. When the debonair Dr. Madison Brown (played by Cary Grant) dared to ask for help in her store, she decided that he was the husband for her and spent the rest of the movie concocting every plot imaginable to trap Dr. Brown into marriage.
Honestly, it was one of those movies that are so annoying you have to force yourself to watch the end. Even though I don’t consider myself a feminist, but rather a pretty traditional gal, as I sat there watching this 1948’s movie as a woman in the 21st century, I couldn’t help but want to yell at the screen. I kept thinking, “Seriously Anabel, have just a little bit of self-respect and don’t be quite so desperate!”
As you might have guessed, I won’t be watching that Cary Grant film again. Perhaps it was relevant and even charming in it’s time, but fast-forward over 60 years and you start to wonder if poor Anabel didn’t need to read a few relationship books to realize that lies are not the best foundation for a healthy relationship. Or maybe she needed to visit a counselor to work through her self-esteem issues.
One thing the movie did reinforce is the concept that times have changed.
People’s attitudes toward relationships, marriage, and women’s roles have changed.
We no longer live in a world that believes “Every girl should be married.”
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2014, 50.2% of the American population was single.
That’s 124.6 million people. More importantly to the church, that’s 124.6 million souls that need ministry.
Digging a little deeper, we see that in 2014, 53% of the singles in America are women.
That’s over 66 million women.
They are the women, young and not so young, that have not yet married, the single Mom raising a family on her own, the woman whose been through a divorce and is now “single again”, and the widow whose picking up the pieces after losing the love of her life.
They are women of all ages, ethnicities, social classes, and backgrounds.
Some are in desperate need of ministry to restore their lives and souls; others are looking for a community to offer them support; many are looking for a place to get involved and invest their talents and gifts.
Single women make up a huge demographic of both needs and potential just waiting to be welcomed and incorporated into the church. The optimal gateway for welcoming single women into the body of Christ is the Women’s Ministry.
If we are going to reach out and make a difference in the world around us and truly do the work of evangelism and discipleship, we’re going to have to accept women where they are and allow God to change the demographics of our women’s ministries to include ALL women, not just those who are married with children.
The good news is that most of the time when I talk to women’s ministry leaders, I often hear that they recognize the need to minister to single women and welcome them into the church community. Then, almost automatically, the conversation turns to the question of “How?”
What changes need to be made inside of the church and our women’s ministries?
What are effective avenues for community outreach?
How do we expand the circle of Women’s Ministry to make single women feel welcome and wanted?
Obviously, I do not have all of the answers, but as a single woman I do have a few suggestions of how we can get started. If you’ve found other ways to effectively expand the circle of women’s ministry, please send us an email or add a comment at the bottom of our Facebook page so we can be sure to pass them on. In the meantime, here’s a few areas to get started:
1. Go out of your way to make single women feel welcome.
Don’t just assume they know they are welcome. Instead, work from the assumption that they aren’t sure if they are welcome and are waiting for an invitation. Because there’s been a “married with children” focus for so long, it’s important that the leaders in the Women’s Ministry and the married women in the church go out of their way to invite the single women & single moms to Women’s Ministry events.
---Maybe you could send out personal invitations to all of the ladies over 18 in the church inviting them to events.
---Clearly state in your advertising that Women’s Ministry Events are for ALL the women in your church.
---Other women’s ministries may plan a special event for the single women in their church, inviting them to join the women’s ministry. Starting this summer, our sister ministry, For a Single Purpose, will begin hosting For a Single Purpose Events with the purpose of coming alongside of churches, and providing a day that ministers specifically to the needs of single women while helping them find their place inside the Women’s Ministry.
2. Make your advertising work FOR YOU not AGAINST YOU by choosing your language carefully.
Recently I saw an advertisement for an upcoming Mother’s Day Event being held by a church’s Women’s Ministry. The event was titled “Mothers & Others”.
As a woman in ministry, I can understand that their hearts were in the right place. They were making an attempt at inclusion. However, as a single woman, I turned to my brother and sarcastically said, “For the rest of the week, I want to be referred to as “other”.
Truthfully, their attempt at inclusion was more offensive than if they’d just had an event honoring mothers. Because while I know I’m not a “mother”, the word “other” carries the connotation that if you’re not a mother, you aren’t significant enough to give a name. By contrast, I saw another church holding a special event around Mother’s Day, but they are having a tea for “Daughters of the King”. This is totally inclusive. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or single, young or old, a mom or not a mom---if you’re God’s daughter, you’re invited.
The truth is that both advertising and being inclusive are difficult jobs. You have to think through every word and every image attempting to avoid hidden prejudices or messages.
3. Prepare to open your hearts as you open your group.
This is going to require some preparation among your leaders and the women who regularly attend the group. Please don’t invite single women, especially single moms, to your group if you’re only going to make them feel like second class citizens.
Instead, before you start you’re welcoming campaign, pray with the leaders in your Women’s Ministry and ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of any barriers, fears, or prejudices that exist within your hearts toward single women, single moms or divorced women.
Please, don’t just blow this suggestion off and say, “We could never!” The truth is that we all have our preconceived ideas about the way we think things should be. They come from our background, the way we were raised and the things we were taught were right and wrong, normal and abnormal.
We see an example of this in Acts 10. As a Jew, Peter was shocked when God wanted him to lay aside his preconceived ideas and eat foods that were unclean and minister to the Gentiles. This was new, it was different…quite honestly, it was way outside of Peter’s comfort zone.
God knew this. He understood what was in Peter’s heart.
That’s why before Cornelius’ men arrived at Peter’s house, God gave Peter a vision to deal with the issues of his heart and show Peter that His heart was that all people be welcomed into the kingdom. After dealing with the issues of his heart, Peter was able to step into the next phase of God’s plan for his life.
Perhaps the same thing is true of you or the women in your Women’s Group. Maybe before you can truly welcome single women into your group, you need to seek the Holy Spirit and ask Him to remove anything in your hearts that would keep you from completely including single women into your group. Then ask Him to help you see His vision for your women’s ministry and follow Him into His plan.
---This may involve redefining the purpose, mission, goals and plans of your group.
---You may even need to attend some training on reaching single women in your church and community.
So frequently, when I talk to pastor’s wives about this topic I hear, “I know that our women’s ministry needs to move in this direction, but I’ve been married for so many years that I just don’t know where to start.”
This is one of the reasons that our sister ministry, For a Single Purpose, is now offering training sessions on How to Minister to Single Women in Your Church and Community---to help women who want to expand the circle of their women’s ministry learn how to do it effectively. If you’d like more information on scheduling an event, you can contact us at http://forasinglepurpose.com/contact-us .
4. Don’t assume single women would be more comfortable in a Single’s Group
Those who believe this have never been to a Singles Ministry.
For many women, a single’s ministry is not a comfortable place. Unless it’s a women’s only single’s group, it’s definitely not a place where a woman can be vulnerable, open up her heart, or find accountability.
Because there are boys there! Most women go into a Single’s Group with her best foot forward to impress a godly gentleman that she might want to meet, while at the same time keeping her walls up high as she tries to protect herself from any creepy guys who she’s trying to avoid.
That’s why it’s important that single women feel welcome to participate in women’s ministry. It’s safer. Done right, a women’s ministry group should be a place where a woman can let her hair down, open up her heart, and relax while her soul is refreshed, uplifted, and challenged. It should be a place where she can find a mentor to guide her, a friend to walk beside her, and younger woman that she can help. Away from the pressures of the dating world, women’s ministry is the place where a woman can be herself and connect with her church family. This is where she will be most comfortable to minister and be ministered to.
5. Focus on topics that are common to all women rather than just marriage and family
The Bible is full of topics that are common to all women, married and single. If you want single women to attend your Women’s Ministry events, focus on these topics. Before long, you’ll discover that we all have far more in common than we can even imagine.
6. Don’t ask them when they are going to get married and settle down.
Trust me; they already have a long line of aunts, grandparents, cousins, friends, and co-workers who have already asked that question. (Not to mention their mother if they haven’t yet had a grandchild!)
Let the Women’s Ministry Group be a safe place where they can relax and just be themselves without pressure. Make church the one place they can go where they aren’t asked this question---where it is understood that God is ordering their days and when it’s His time, He’ll provide.
7. Ask before you fix them up
Don’t feel the need to fix-up every single lady who comes into the women’s group. That just perpetuates the “every woman should be married” attitude.
Instead, get to know each woman individually. Some women want to be fixed up with potential spouses; others really do not. Many single women have a specific set of character traits they are looking for in a man and don’t want to settle for less.
That’s why it’s important to TALK TO YOUR FRIEND before you try to fix her up. (Notice I used the word “friend”, because if you don’t know her well enough to call her a “friend” you have no business meddling in her life.) As you become friends, she’ll let you know how she feels about fix-ups. (Usually because some other yenta will try to fix her up and she’ll tell you how she feels about it.) Even if she seems “pro-fix-up”---ask first and then ask her if she has anything specific she’s looking for in a man.
Most importantly—respect her boundaries and remember, she didn’t come to “Women’s Group” to find a man, she came for ministry. Focus on ministry.
8. Don’t feel sorry for them—don’t act like there’s something wrong with being single.
For the most part, single women do not want to be pitied or treated like a victim. While there may be those who need intensive ministry if they’ve just come through a tragic loss such as a divorce or death, we need to remember that not all single women are grieving.
Some are single by choice. Other’s just haven’t found the right guy yet. Many have gone through the grieving process and are on the other side. They don’t want people feeling sorry for them. They want to be treated normally, with respect. They want to be seen as whole, healthy, competent women capable of making a contribution to the group. This is how they are treated in society. If the church treats them differently, they’ll just leave the church and find a community that doesn’t believe “every woman must be married”.
9. Don’t make divorce the unpardonable sin
Enough said. No one but God truly knows what goes on behind closed doors with a husband and wife. Until you are God, you don’t get a right to judge who is and who is not welcome in His church.
What you are called to do is love. Invite people to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Help the hurting heal and restore their lives. We are called to disciple women, teach them Biblical principles, and help them find and fulfill God’s plan for their lives. Period.
10. Be Schedule Sensitive
Many single women work during the day. Single Moms, who are juggling work schedules with their children’s schedules, struggle to fit a weekly women’s meeting into their day. If we are truly going to welcome single women, especially single moms, into the Women’s Ministry, we’re going to have to be sensitive to this fact and avoid scheduling all of our Women’s Ministry events on weekday mornings.
---Some Women’s Ministries’ solve this problem by meeting once a month.
---Other’s meet during the Sunday School hour.
---One of my favorite ways to overcome this issue is to schedule Women’s Ministry on the same night as mid-week children’s ministry. This provides built-in childcare for single Moms, and allows woman to connect with other women in the church without adding another thing to her schedule.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a woman’s group that followed this schedule. At my discussion table alone, there were 3 single women, a young mother with children, several older women, and several women with busy careers. As we sat there discussing the Bible, there were no barriers. Just women talking about how we could apply the lesson to our lives.
I didn’t feel like an awkward single woman….I was just a woman who loved Jesus and wanted to learn more about Him.
As I looked around the room, I saw that almost every table was made up of the same thing. There was no specific demographic of women. When I left, I said to my brother, “I wish we lived closer because I’d love to go back again and join the group.”
Isn’t that what we all want women to say about our Women’s Ministries?
Don’t we want women to feel welcomed for who they are, not left out for what they are not?
These goals will only happen as we make a concentrated effort to welcome ALL women---especially single women---into our Women’s Ministries. As we put forth the effort to once and for all put aside the attitude that “Every Woman Should Be Married” and adopt the attitude that “Every Woman---Married or Single---has a place, a purpose, and a plan to fulfill within the kingdom of God”.
Reaching all women everywhere for Jesus---that’s Women’s Ministry!
To Learn More About For a Single Purpose Ministries, visit www.forasinglepurpose.com