7 Strategies to Thrive as a Single Person in Ministry


What are the opportunities, joys, and challenges for single persons in vocational ministry? Kevin E. Lawson and Jane Carr conducted focus groups and interviews with 45 single church staff members to answer these questions. They share seven ways unmarried staff can thrive in ministry.

As more young adults delay marriage, date longer before becoming married, or stay single, it is clear that we are seeing an increase in the number of church staff members who are single, particularly in associate staff roles (e.g., children’s ministry, youth ministry, and young adult ministry). Single staff members must learn how to navigate ministry challenges that can come from serving in churches with a high value on family and on “family ministry,” and supervisors have to rethink what to expect from staff members who are single and how to best supervise and support them as they serve. Here are seven strategies single staff persons can consider to help their churches provide better support to them and other singles in the church as well.

1. Be secure in who and whose you are.

Because of our cultural valuing of marriage, whether you are open to dating and marriage or are convinced that God has called you to remain single at least for now, you run the risk of being misunderstood or judged by members of your congregation. It is important, therefore, that you have a strong sense of security in who God made you to be and in your wholeness in your relationship with God through Christ Jesus. You are loved, accepted, and valued by the God who made and redeemed you, and called and equipped you to serve in God’s church. You are a significant part of the Body of Christ, gifted and able to be a channel of God’s grace to others (1 Peter 4:10), and someone who benefits from the ministry and gifting of others. Whether single or married, this truth does not change. Take time to read and meditate on those portions of Scripture than affirm who you are in Christ, and that He is the one who make you whole and able to serve.

2. Affirm the significance of singleness in adult discipleship.

Where you have opportunity, encourage your church to teach about the value and importance of following Christ as a single person. In committee and board meetings, when you see that the concerns seem narrowly focused on couples or families, give gentle reminders of the many in the church who are single and also need support, encouragement, and teaching on how to follow Christ in all of their life. If you notice that sermon illustrations seem to focus mainly on marriage or family contexts, think about ways to apply messages to those who are single, whether young or old, never married, divorced, or widowed. If your church sponsors couples’ retreats or marriage or parenting seminars, raise the possibility of seminars or retreats for singles in different life situations as well (e.g. men, women, younger, older, widowed, divorced). Their needs are just as real as those of married couples, and these can be good outreach events for your church members to invite friends to participate in as well. We sometimes forget that Jesus was single, the marital status of many of his disciples is not known to us, and Paul was single. What might others who are single learn from some focused study on their lives and ministry? What might the whole church learn about the significance of the single life from this kind of study?

3. Affirm your church’s ministry with couples and families.

None of those we interviewed felt a need to reduce their church’s emphasis on helping couples have strong marriages or families. The need for these kinds of ministries is clear in our society where marriage relationships are often strained and broken and where families struggle with multiple challenges. As a ministry leader in your church, be clear in your support from the full range of ministries going on with couples and families and do what you can to be of practical help. Your concern for the well-being and support of couples and families in your church sets an example for others and encourages others to think beyond their own needs.

4. Promote mixed ministry opportunities.

There is a great temptation in church ministry, particularly in larger churches, when we identify an area of ministry need, we tend to create a group to address it and then assume the needs of these people are now met. Do we have single mothers in our church? If so, let’s create a single mothers’ group. Do we have a lot of college students? Then let’s create a college group. Do we have people struggling with addictions? Let’s have a recovery group. This kind of ministry approach, as well intended and helpful as it is, can unintentionally contribute to the fracturing and isolation of the church, creating “ministry silos,” hindering the mutual ministry of the body of Christ as an interactional congregational life across generations and life situations. While different groups of people can benefit from some focused ministry attention, the church will experience stronger, long-term health when we also have much of our time together, carrying out mutual care and ministry.

5. Work at being known and earn respect over time.

I think we have to face it: given our cultural emphasis on marriage and parenting, singles, especially those who are younger, will not automatically be viewed as mature and responsible, even if they have ministry training and serve on church staffs. Some of those we interviewed reported that they felt respected and that their leadership within the ministry areas was supported and valued. A closer look at these people show that they have been in their ministry roles for a few years, and some of them grew up in the church and have been known by the members of the congregation for years. It takes time to overcome stereotypes and prejudices — time spent demonstrating maturing, trustworthiness, care for others, and humility. Earning respect takes time so view this as a long-term investment through faithfulness in ministry.

6. Be clear and gracious when responding to would-be matchmakers.

It may be hard at times, but try to remember that, if some church members ask about your dating life or try to set you up for a date with someone they know, it generally comes out of a heart that desires something good for you and for the person they are trying to interest you in. They may think so highly of you and wish their friend could know someone like you. It may still be frustrating but try to recognize the intent as well as you can. That said, it can help if you find a way to clearly let people know whether or not you welcome these kinds of inquiries and recommendations or if you simply are not looking to date at this time. When asked, find a gracious way to let them know if you are open or if you prefer not to pursue this now.

7. Let your supervisor or support team know where you need support.

Don’t expect them to know what frustrations or struggles you are facing or feeling or the kind of support you would appreciate. They are not mind readers, and many of us communicate such an air of confidence and capability that it can surprise those we work with when we finally share that we are struggling with something. Work on building the kind of relationship with your supervisor and or your support team where you are able to honestly share if something is troubling you or if you would appreciate something but it feels hard to ask for.

Adapted from Thriving as a Single Person in Ministry (Rowman and Littlefield, 2021) by Kevin E. Lawson and Jane Carr. Used by permission. This book is available from the publisher, Cokesbury, and Amazon.

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About Author

Kevin E. Lawson is professor of educational studies in PhD and EdD programs at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.

Jane Carr serves as professor of Christian Ministries at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. She served for twenty-six years at a large church in Southern California where she was involved in children’s ministries, student ministry, singles’ ministry, church administration, and staff training and development.

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