Singles Ministry Handbook: A Practical Guide To Reaching Adult Singles In The Church, edited by Douglas L. Fagerstrom
In writing about this book I feel it somewhat necessary to provide some context. This book is a moderate sized work at almost 300 pages and it is written to an audience that is involved in church leadership. I felt somewhat uneasy while reading it, because it was the sort of book that rubbed raw a couple of areas of personal sensitivity that are somewhat connected to each other and to the contents of this book, in that I am not particularly satisfied about being single , and that I come from a particular religious tradition that views family as being of the utmost importance to God and to man and that views those who are single (especially those who, for whatever reason, have never married) with extreme caution and wariness, and that has no tradition whatsoever of leadership drawn from the ranks of the single and devoted to encouraging those who are single because of having never married, being divorced, or being widowed. So, given that this book struck at two particularly sensitive areas, namely my desire for a wife and family and my desire for honorable positions of leadership for myself where my gifts may be of larger service to God and to my brethren and to the world around me, this was perhaps not the ideal book for me to read and review precisely because it hit so close to home, as opposed to the more common phenomenon where I read books that are clearly designed for others and not for me at all.
The contents of this book generally live up to the title. The editor of this book is, or at was least at the time of this book’s publishing in 1988, in charge of an organization I had never heard of called the National Association Of Single Adult Leaders, which sounds like a fairly obvious organization I would find interesting and worthwhile, at least for this season of my life. The book is composed of many short chapters focused on very practical elements, some of them a bit repetitive, and some of them in at least mild tension with each other in terms of their approach, organized in a systematic fashion. The first cluster of chapters discusses the need for a singles ministry based on the large amount and generally neglected status of single adults within many churches. The second part of the book discusses various categories of single adults that God has called us to minister to, from the never married to the separated to the formerly married to single parents to the nonchurched, to senior adult singles, and to widows and widowers. The third part of the book discusses some of the needs and issues that a singles ministry has to deal with, including concerns of self-esteem, intimacy, longings for dating and marriage, goal and career planning, finances and housing needs, spiritual growth, the singles lifestyle, sexuality, the wounded single, and dealings with former spouses. After this the author discusses various aspects of a well-functioning singles ministry in about twenty short chapters including practical suggestions on singles and marrieds helping singles, counseling, encouraging those who are going through divorce or those who have gone through it, help for the children of single parents, recruiting and training leaders of singles ministries, developing small groups, building community, and using singles ministry as a tool for evangelism. After this there are a few chapters that include programs for singles like retreats, conferences, foreign and local community outreach, integration of singles into the life of the congregation, and ministering to singles in small and large churches. After some final words about the importance of ethics as well as the role of a singles minister in a church and the importance of prayer there are a couple of appendices that include a round table discussion with single adults, networking through the NSL (National Association of Single Adult Leaders, which somehow sounds like it should have more letters than just NSL in its abbreviation), and a lengthy list of books for suggested reading.
There was a bit of tension in this book’s approach to several topics that mirrored my own mixed feelings about its subject matter to begin with. For one, it would be impossible for me to deny my own mixed feelings about my place as a single person within the Church of God, and my own concerns about the tension between my own longing for an honorable marriage and the extreme level of difficulty I have found in pursuing that task in a decent and upright fashion. For another, different authors in this book appear to be talking out of both sides of their mouth. Some writers comment on the uniqueness of singles and their experiences and concerns, while others seem to be more concerned about slicing and dicing the singles into manageable demographics. Some writers want to emphasize the importance of biblically based instruction while others seem quite content to cheer on contemporary trends with growing immorality as well as a focus on language best suited to psychology and secular counseling. Some writers want to emphasize the interdenominational nature of single ministries while others want to emphasize its potential as a method for congregational growth. It appears that there is little agreement about how churches should reach out to singles and encourage the God-given gifts among singles while dealing with corrosive trends in society that have made divorce attractive for many people and have left many people rather scarred and frightened off when it comes to marriage, even as they deal with stigmatization for being single. It should be of little surprise that singlehood and ministering to singles should be such a conflicted subject, for those of us who have to deal with the matter in our own lives find ourselves frequently conflicted ourselves.
 See, for example: