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We church leaders repeat often that we desire to know and reach our mission field. And we also know that our mission field demographics are shifting dramatically in the United States.

Today, I want to focus on one large slice of the demographic pie in America—households headed by a single parent. That world is growing and shifting so quickly it is almost breathtaking. For now, I offer five factoids about these families. Consider the implications for churches as we attempt to minister and reach these persons.

  1. Nearly three out of ten families with children today are headed by a single parent. That makes this group one of the largest population segments in the nation.
  2. Four out of ten children in American are born to single women. That rate is six times its level since 1960. And the pace continues even though teen pregnancy has been declining.
  3. Hispanics and whites have the largest percentage increase in single parent births. African Americans still have the highest absolute percentage, but the faster growth is taking place among Hispanics and whites.
  4. Males are the fastest growing category of single parents. I think most of us are surprised at this development. The implications for churches are staggering.
  5. The vast majority of single parents are gainfully employed. Eight out of ten single moms are employed. Nine out of ten single dads are employed. The vast majority of these parents receive no government assistance.

These statistics provide incredible insights about a part of the population that many churches have no specific plans to reach or to minister to. With that in mind, I ask church leaders five questions to consider.

  1. Do the leaders in your church have an awareness of this large population group? Just an awareness of the issue can prompt action.
  2. Does your church have specific ministries designed for this population segment? A corollary question is: Are those ministries effective?
  3. What would your church need to do differently to reach this group? I specifically refer to current ministries and programs.
  4. Are there any attitudes that would discourage single parents from feeling welcome at your church? Some of you readers may give us some good insights there.
  5. Have you attempted to connect with single parents in your church to get clarity about this group? They would certainly be the best persons to help our churches prayerfully and strategically think about this issue.

Yes, times are changing. But we in our churches have a great opportunity to reach a growing segment of the U. S. population.

How will your church respond? Does your church already have a specific ministry or outreach effort to single parents?

(Note: These statistics were gleaned from The Retail Revival by Doug Stevens. The author further cites these sources: “Four in 10 Children Are Born to Unwed Mothers,” from FamilyFacts.org and “Single Parent Statistics” from Single Parent Magazine, June 2012.)


photo credit: gagilas via photopin cc

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Comments

  1. says

    I must say that I found these statistics quite surprising. I was especially intrigued by your question regarding specific ministries aimed at serving this population segment, Dr. Rainer. I can’t say my local church has one — though we’re a very small church plant so it comes with the territory — nor can I remember seeing one at another church I’ve visited. Perhaps I’ve just been blind to their presence since I don’t fall into the category served?

    I can’t really imagine what such a ministry would look like. I’d be fascinated to hear from other readers who are involved in a ministry that serves single parents and their families. How have they tailored their ministry to serve these people? Has it been a success?

  2. Tim Grissom says

    Glad you are taking up this subject. I have been a single dad since my wife’s death nearly 15 year ago. There is much the church can do to help and encourage.

    • Deanna says

      Same, Tim, and I agree. A singles group doesn’t really apply when you’re suddenly raising 3 kids on your own.

      Thom, don’t forget the increasing numbers of grandparents, many of whom are single (and still working), who are now helping to raise these children while their one parent is working.

      • Mark says

        This also makes the funeral of the grandparent harder on everyone. Today, there are many young people who are taking or will take the death of their grandparent harder than in the past when we were told that the person lived their life and had gone to their rest. This will hopefully cause a rethink in the words chosen for the funeral.

  3. says

    Thanks, Tom for bringing single-parent ministry into the spotlight.

    I wanted you and your readers to be aware of our program called “Single & Parenting.” It’s designed as a weekly church-sponsored group, built around videos, a workbook and group discussion (very similar in format to our GriefShare and DivorceCare groups). Details about starting a Single & Parenting group can be found here: http://www.singleandparenting.org/start

    Blessings!

    Steve Grissom
    Founder
    Church Initiative

    PS: There’s an important chart on the website linked above that shows the single parent population listed state-by-state.

  4. Anonymous says

    Thanks for writing on this topic.

    As a single mom attempting to follow Jesus, I can share some thoughts and observations.

    Single moms who come into contact with churches are in different places with regards to their faith. Some are not yet believers. Others are struggling believers. Others are stronger believers. Just as with a person of any marital status, our greatest need is for Christ himself to become or to be our greatest treasure. So first and foremost we need the Holy Spirit to do a work in our hearts. We need to read the Word for ourselves and have it grip our hearts. We have a choice to allow our problems to make us biter or make us better. Only God’s grace can make our brokenness into something beautiful. We need to both forgive those who have hurt us and repent of our own sins, so that our hearts can experience freedom in Christ. This freedom will lift us above our problems and give us the joy and peace that we can only know through Jesus.

    While in church, we need to hear the pastor faithfully preach the Word of God week after week, giving us hope and perspective. We need his example of trusting in and being excited about Christ in his own life. We need encouragement to seek the Lord in his Word and in prayer when we are not at church. We benefit from hearing testimonies of wondrous things God has done in the lives of other believers.

    Beyond that what might benefit us the most are Christ-centered friendships with other women, whether married or single. I’ve noticed that many married and single women find it hard to reach out to single moms. What these women may not realize is that our expectations of a friend are very low and most of us are easy to please. We don’t expect you to understand us. But we greatly benefit from you just showing up and trying. Remembering us on special days is especially encouraging: birthdays, holidays, graduations and the like. Offering to babysit every now and then so we can get caught up on our sleep, go on a solitary walk for an hour, or attend to personal care, are true gifts.

    Classes specific to the circumstances of single parents would of course be helpful. Some single moms may find it hard to attend unless child care is offered.

    Thanks for caring enough to approach this subject. God bless.

  5. says

    Fortunately, I stepped into a church 20 years ago that knew how to love a single mom well. I needed to tell my story and they listened, I needed to be discipled and they walked that out with me, I needed to be with other believers and needed them to pray for me…all in a fun and safe place that God had prepared for me.

    Today I run our single parent family ministry. What I needed then is what is needed today…love from a church body, a clear path of where they fit in, community with other believers to live life with, a place to grow spiritually and to give their life away with their children.

    When I started leading this ministry about 7 years ago we knew that our primary focus was going to be getting the parent healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually. We had many things to consider…like:
    • The ‘standard order’…mom’s week-ends vs. dad’s week-ends
    • With the parents comes the children
    • They don’t want to spend time away from their children after having them in daycare all day
    • Most children are gone every other week-end

    We have fun gather events throughout the year like a Mother’s Day luncheon/Father’s Day luncheon, Birthday Bash each month, and our Single Parent Family Camp being the highlight of the year. We offer a mentoring program for the children (of single parents) to see a Christian man or woman living out their faith and to reinforce the discipleship that the parent is giving them.

    But we include the children in everything we do. It’s all fun but gives the children a place to feel normal instead of the kid that doesn’t have a mom (or fill in the blank). The children end up becoming great friends and know each other when they attend children’s ministry or student ministry Bible study classes or events.

    I highly recommend using the Single & Parenting: Hard Work/Real Hope curriculum by Church Initiatives! It is a great tool that is being offered around the country because it is good! Plus they give church leaders great support behind the scenes by having an online forum but also calling them to find out how they can be of support.

    This is a segment of our population that is barely being touched by our churches. I want to encourage you all to look at your church through the lens of a single mom or dad. Pray that they will find their place in our churches to raise these children up in a godly way!

    Thank you Dr. Rainer for opening this discussion,

    Holly Crain
    Houston’s First Baptist
    Holly.Crain@HoustonsFirst.org

  6. says

    Thank you so much for this blog post. You know I’m excited to see attention given to single parents. That’s my ministry. So let me ask you something. Why doesn’t LifeWay have anything for single parents? I teach the single parent class at my church and I scramble every week to bring in relevant information for my single parents. Our church uses the “Bible Studies for Life”. They have lessons for young adults, senior adults, women, men, etc.

    My single parent class has young 20 somethings, single parents with adult kids, single dads, single moms, never married, divorced, etc. We run the gambit. I wrote my own 12 week study and we used it. We’ve used Rob Rienow’s 5 week program. With 1 in 3 kids living in a single parent home you’d think some publishing agency would get some Bible studies together.

    The best program in general to bring single parents into the church is the one Holly mentioned Single & Parenting by Church Initiative.

    Single parents are hungry for church family and for Bible truths that apply to their lives. Again, thanks for the attention to this group.

    Linda Ranson Jacobs
    blog.dc4k.org

  7. Mark says

    I want to touch on a bit of background material. Perhaps the reason so little concern for single parents is shown is that it has long been presumed that someone had sinned in becoming a single parent in the first place and sin should not be rewarded and the child must forever be deemed illegitimate and the parent a sinner. I can tell you that many churches would not have welcomed single parents and children as members. Some conservative ones may still not welcome them, though hopefully that has changed. This probably came from the past when illegitimate children and hence, single parents, were very rare and were looked upon with disdain and forever marked with a scarlet letter. Today, the other parent could have been killed in war, died, or left. The child of a single parent may not be illegitimate, and even if the child is, why punish the child for it?

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