I stopped going to church, not because I no longer believe, but because as a single young adult in my late twenties and early thirties, I felt different from everybody else at church. I no longer felt as if I belonged. I have attended many Adventist churches and found that often they do not even have a young adult Sabbath school or small group of any kind. Imagine being a young college graduate who gets a job in a town away from a college or university and attends the local church to meet new people and gain support from fellow believers but instead feels more isolated and alone.
I wanted to write about this issue for a while but was afraid that people would feel sorry for me, which is not my intent. My intent is to create awareness about how it is possible for single Adventists to feel alienated from their local church. It may also give married church members another perspective on their single friends. While many churches foster a wonderful environment for married couples, especially those with children, they sometimes do not realize the need for single young adults to feel that they, too, belong there.
A church feels like home when people experience a sense of being connected with other church members in mutual friendship and acceptance. This connection is usually achieved when members feel that there is a place for them such as being in a small Bible study group and getting involved in outreach activities or in ministries where their skills and talents are utilized. When single young people find no place or connection in a church, it is difficult for them to feel that it is their church too.
Here are some tips that may help church members better understand and connect to young single church members. Everyone goes through a time in their life when they are single so there is no need to pity or pressure them to change their single status. Keep in mind that an individual may not be single forever. If you treat your single friend as if singleness is not a problem that needs to be fixed, then that person will feel accepted as he or she is right now. Sometimes it can be harder to relate to someone who is different from you, but it also can also be a blessing. Paul explains, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God” (1 Cor. 7:7 English Standard Version). A regularly participating young adult can be an encouragement for other young people to also begin attending church, especially when plans are made to include everyone in church activities.
What some singles may not tell you is that even if there is a Sabbath school class for them, it can still be embarrassing for a young person to sit alone during the church service. I remember attending a Sabbath school class and then slipping out between the services. I noticed that I was not the only one leaving; other singles and even young married couples were slipping out too. If you notice someone sitting alone, why not ask to join him or her?
I would like to point out that many churches do make real efforts to reach out to the single members by having young adult Sabbath school classes, outreach activities, and/or singles events. When I attend a young adult Sabbath school, even if the attendance is small, I appreciate the church’s efforts to acknowledge and accommodate someone like me. The Adventist church does have some matchmaking events for singles, but some young adults hesitate to attend these events because they may want to find someone on their own. They don’t want to feel singled out from the other church members. It is better when churches just offer fun get-togethers, Sabbath afternoon activities, or outreach ministries for young adults. They appreciate the opportunity to socialize without pressure to find a romantic relationship. If there are not enough single young adults at one church, consider a group to include those in the surrounding area churches. After all, why does a church have to be confined by its walls?
The connection between church members and young adults goes both ways. Singles, you can’t just expect your church to provide for all your needs right away. I know it is easy to stay home Sabbath mornings sleeping in or watching sermons on YouTube, just assuming there will be no place for you or that you won’t fit in. But if you do attend, it helps keep the young adult groups going and provides a place for more people like you to come together. If the current group doesn’t fit your needs, consider helping out or taking a leadership role to make it a better fit for you and others.
While it is wonderful to have a group of young adults of similar age to socialize with, making friends with people who are married, older or younger than you, can also be a real blessing in your life. Keep an open mind when attending a church because the church members may surprise you. In addition, you can get involved in outreach activities or find ways to benefit the local church, which will grow your talents. If there are not many single young adults at your local church, consider starting a young adult group from other churches in the community. If you feel as if you don’t belong, make a place for you and others to belong in your local church!
Over the last few years I have moved around several times and tried attending a variety of Seventh-day Adventist churches. This made me aware of the problems: not many young adults attend and many churches have no young adult meetings or groups of any kind. I now live near a church that has a young adult ministry. Let me tell you the story of this church where a young lady began a young adult Sabbath school class. She was surprised at the turnout; more and more started attending. Now this Sabbath school class has been established for several years, and when new people come, they feel there is a place for them. Then another young lady in that class began a young women’s singing group, which supported them when they went through tough times. In turn, this singing group has been a blessing to many people in the community. When a local church has an activity like this, I feel more comfortable attending, so I am going back to church now.
It is good to keep in mind that there is a place for everyone at church because people who are different from you can be a real blessing in your life. I think the solution is the working together of both single and married church members to create a place in the church for single young people, which will grow the church. This joint effort will create a connection by diversifying the membership so singles feel at home because they belong.
Rebecca Burishkin has a bachelor's degree in film production from Southern Adventist University and a minor in Psychology. She enjoys exploring the great outdoors and many forms of creative expression such as writing, video production, graphic design and photography that artfully express God’s love.