There have been many studies and articles proclaiming how the Millennial generation (born from1984-2004) has left the church. Our Missional Association church planters for the most part are trying to reach this generation. I think many churches can be successful attracting young married millennials but when it comes to reaching the single adult in their twenties, most are falling way short. This is concerning because a recent PEW poll showed only 26 percent of the millennials in their 20's are married. When they were the same age, 36 percent of the Gen Xers, 48 percent of baby boomers and 65 percent of the Silent Generation were married.
What this means is that 74% are single, so if you are not reaching single adults it stands to reason you are not reaching many Millennials. The large singles ministries of the 80's and 90's fizzled out as the baby boomers got older and most churches have abandoned specific ministries for single adults and focused only on married couples and couples with children.
I was part of that large singles ministry experience, being a pastor to single adults in Austin in the 90's. We had over 300 singles, almost half of those below 35 years of age, attending Sunday morning classes specifically for singles. We offered specific ministries designed to meet their needs. We started a Metro Bible study that met on a week night. At its peak, this "singles sort of get together thing" as we called it, had over 700 singles on any given Tuesday night.
Ministry was incredible with these singles because they had the energy, enthusiasm, and time to serve God. I loved to take a team of 16-20 singles each summer on mission trips to churches in small towns in other states. We would host sports camps for youth and teenagers and share the Gospel to kids who probably had never been around young singles who were passionate and excited about God. Most all the young men and women in their town had left when it was time to go to college and seldom returned and the only Christians these kids saw were adults the age of their parents or older. So our young singles made an incredible impact on these kids, loving on them and sharing the Gospel. Our church also benefitted tremendously from their energy and passion, as they served in the different ministries of the church.
But somewhere along the way, churches lost their zeal to reach singles. Maybe they didn't see their value. Perhaps it was because most pastors are married with children and they don't really understand singles and don't see their value to the church. They are much more comfortable with families and so their programming and sermons are directed toward families with children. The perception is that singles don't tithe and they come with so much baggage.
One of the singles that served with me when I was a singles minister has remained single. He confided to me that it is really difficult for him to go to church nowadays. He feels like a fifth wheel and there just doesn't seem to be anywhere he fits in. He said, "people think I am gay and I have to overcome that stigma everywhere I go". This is a very talented man who has been in ministry and could do amazing ministry in the church. But he is often ignored because he is not married.
I also run into countless young singles in businesses in which I am chaplain, through Marketplace Ministries. Most of them do not go to church, yet most will say they have faith in God. They have all kinds of excuses but I get the feeling that if someone would offer to pick them up and take them, they'd go.
New churches could do well to target the millennial singles. And so many of them need the community, structure and relationship with Christ that they'd find in your church. But to reach them you'll need to be strategic:
Recruit a single adult to lead the ministry.
Instead of hiring a married pastor with children to lead the ministry like many pastors do, look for a young Christian single who is outgoing and a networker. A single adult leader will have much more time and involvement with singles than a married pastor. Whether you pay them or make them a staff member depends on your budget. You could also recruit a core team of singles to lead the ministry. Whether one leader or a team, provide them with some resources, give them a vision for what could happen and the freedom and encouragement to build a community of single adults that will reach out to other singles.
- Involve them in ministry. Encourage them to serve in all areas of ministry in your church. Recruit them. Ask them to serve.
- Create Single Adult Missional Communities. Missional groups larger than your typical 10-12 person life group work better for single adults. These groups focus on missions and community and growth. New singles to the group provide energy and excitement. You want to always be growing and serving together.
- Preach and teach and provide ministries about issues that are relevant to singles. For example, when I was Singles minister I would hold a Single Mom's Expo each year and invite single moms from all over the city. It was a Saturday designed to pamper the single mom, to make her feel special. We provided childcare (a VBS experience), would serve them lunch, and have a speaker that would give them practical and spiritual advice and encouragement. We collected lightly worn clothing from the congregation and set up a clothing store where the single moms would get to pick out clothing they could wear to work. We put on a fashion show with our single ladies modeling clothes that had been donated. And I had tons of door prizes donated from merchants in the community. We invited them to come to church the following day and introduced them to singles in our ministry. At the end of the day many of the ladies would be in tears, walking out with a bundle of clothes and feeling inspired.
Read more what the millennials are looking for in a church here.