by Madeleine Davies Posted: 03 May 2013 @ 12:17
SINGLE people feel failed by churches, where they are “invisible” to clergy, a new survey suggests.
Christian Connections, the Christian dating website, received 2754 responses to an online, self-selecting survey, carried out between May and September last year. It prompted more than 9500 comments in response to open-ended questions asking people to describe their experience of singleness.
More than one third of respondents who were not married or in a relationship said that they did not feel treated in the same way as those who were part of a couple. Nearly four out of ten said that they often felt “inadequate or ignored”, and 42.8 per cent said that their church “did not know what to do with them”.
This month, the founder of the website, Jackie Elton, said that she had developed the survey after becoming “more and more aware of single people telling us that they felt marginalised”.
She said: “Singleness is on the rise in a very big way, so there is a dissonance between what churches are doing and what is going in society. There is a tension, and almost an anger: why should I come into a church that does not really acknowledge me?”
Ms Elton reported meeting “a lot” of priests who said that there were no single people in their area, while learning from the survey that single people felt that they were “invisible” to the clergy at their church.
Dr David Pullinger, a statistician who analysed the responses, said that a “very strong message” was that respondents were “very committed to church, but they feel excluded from the social areas of church. This is very important to them because they do not have any other social network.”
Besides a lack of invitations to social gatherings, respondents complained about a lack of single role-models in church leadership.
“People do feel very isolated without some sort of leadership,” he said. “In the United States, there is a long tradition of the single adult male leader. We do not have any in our churches.”
There were, Dr Pullinger stressed, some priests who “just get it”. He has collated 12 “top things that leaders do that Christian singles say help them”, including talks on relationships, the organisation of social events, hospitality such as invitations to Sunday lunch, and providing models of Christian singleness.
One of the “most surprising” results, he said, was that “people in evangelical churches do not agree that singleness is a positive choice for them. . . These churches teach marrying in the faith, talk about the importance of avoiding sex, but give an average amount of guidance [on singleness and relationships]. The combination of these three is a very hard combination for people to know how to deal with.”
About half the respondents to the survey described their church as Evangelical, and 23 per cent described it as traditional.