Singles ministry leaders needn't reinvent the wheel
RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)--Singles ministry and meat market no longer have to be synonymous. Many churches have very active single adult groups, and have taken steps to make sure singles aren't neglected when it comes to spiritual growth.
But what about those who haven't found a way to organize their singles? According to Susan Thomas, former director of singles ministries for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-So. Jersey, starting a singles ministry isn't as difficult as one may think.
"You don't have to reinvent the wheel," said Thomas, who led a course titled "Singles Ministry for Dummies" at the national Labor Day Christian Singles Getaway at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.
"There are a lot of resources already out there, and you just need to utilize them," Thomas said. "Just jump in there and get involved. Remember to always take your ministry very seriously, but never take yourself too seriously!"
Thomas urged leaders who were beginning a new ministry to seek out resources from every avenue.
"Never be afraid to ask for help, money and stuff," Thomas said, noting that most companies can write off their donations as charity for a tax deduction.
Thomas reviewed five areas to focus on when starting and growing a singles ministry -- Bible study, outreach, activities and events, missions and a strong leadership team:
The first step in planning your Bible study time, Thomas said, is finding a location. Though the most obvious choice is at your church, Thomas also recommended looking at other possibilities.
"Small groups in people's homes are popular," Thomas said. "Just look for creative places to meet. Try to find places where people who wouldn't normally darken the door of a church would feel comfortable. You sometimes have to go where they are instead of always expecting them to come to you."
Choosing curriculum also is an important step in setting up a Bible study. Thomas suggested using either quarterlies or discipleship studies that already have been developed.
"Again, though, be creative. Our group sometimes has done Bible studies on television shows or movies. We discuss the moral issues in them, and that way those who maybe don't attend church or have strong biblical knowledge can still have something to add."
One key to a growing singles ministry is making visitors feel welcome, Thomas said.
"Speak to them! Never forget what it was like the first time you walked into a singles group by yourself," she reminded. "The use of brochures about your ministry, magazines, a purpose statement, calendar and a list of contact numbers also would be helpful to those who are new to your singles group.
"It's also very important that you try to have guys reach out to the guys and girls to the girls," Thomas said. "Many people shy away from single adult groups for fear of being hit on. You have to be careful that you don't add to that fear."
Noting the importance of keeping good records of visitors, Thomas suggested having each visitor fill out a questionnaire (name, address, children, e-mail, and interests), then making a singles directory.
Finally, follow up and visit your visitors, Thomas said, suggesting short visits made by members of the class. Visits by staff members, she said, provide a lower return rate since people feel they are visiting out of obligation.
Activities and events
Times of fellowship are important to singles groups, and there are a variety of ways to socialize, Thomas said, emphasizing the importance of keeping a calendar and making sure singles events are put into the church calendar as well.
"Don't load up your calendar too much though," Thomas said. "We always left room for SPURS (Single Person's Unorganized Recreation). These were just last-minute things that would pop up that everyone could do, such as going out to dinner or catching a movie or just gathering at someone's house for snacks and videos."
Thomas also suggested a variety of planned activities that she used for singles in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including area talent shows, weekend retreats and hosting or attending a LifeWay event, such as a Beth Moore Bible study, having a Fit-4 wellness group or attending a leadership training event.
Another fun-yet-useful event Thomas recommend was holding "dummies classes," in which various workshops are held to benefit singles, including cooking, sewing and home repairs.
Missions is twofold, Thomas said. First, there must be in-reach, through which members minister to other members who are sick or injured.
"When someone in your group needs help, you need to be available," Thomas said. "Organize people to bring meals, drive, mow the lawn. Be sensitive to those needs."
Thomas said that parent's night out programs also are an effective in-reach ministry. Offering single parents a night to run errands, do Christmas shopping or to just have a few moments alone can be invaluable.
The outreach side of missions seeks to meet the needs of those outside the church. Members can volunteer at a nursing home or homeless shelter, or put together care packages for the military or crisis pregnancy centers. Singles can also participate in mission trips as a group. For example, International World Changers is offering a singles trip to Quito, Ecuador, this year (visit http://www.studentz.com/wc/international.asp).
Strong leadership team
Although it is important to make your singles group open to people from all walks of life, it is essential that your leaders have excellent teaching skills and a solid knowledge of the Bible, Thomas said.
"Your leaders must be creative, organized and motivational. You must have a balance, or one area of your ministry will pull all of it down," she said. "You should also enlist people with technical and counseling skills to be involved."
The key part of building leadership, Thomas said, is having a team. One person can't do it all, and your whole group will suffer if your leaders are burned out.
"You must have a good balance of these five areas," Thomas said. "Without Bible study and missions, all you have is a fellowship group. Fellowship is important, but not more so than spiritual growth."
For those ready to start a singles ministry, or improve upon their existing one, Thomas gave several resources, in addition to your local church office, association office or state convention office.
-- LifeWay Christian Resources: www.lifewayonline.com/singlelife/index.cfm.
-- International Mission Board: www.imb.org.
-- North American Mission Board: www.namb.net.
-- National Association for Single Adult Ministers: www.nasam.net.
-- SAM Journal: 1-800-487-4726.
The Christian Singles Getaway is an annual event sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information, visit www.lifeway.com.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SEEKING SINGLES.