A More Welcoming Church

By Scott Seaton
When Rachel Gilson recently met with the leaders of Emmanuel, I asked her how can we be more welcoming to those who experience same-sex attraction, and how we can walk alongside them to live faithfully in Christ.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I ask a question, I already have an answer in mind. So I expected Rachel to say something about how important it is not to single out any one person or temptation over another. Or not to use us/them language, thus making people feel like outsiders. Or how we need to talk about our own sexual brokenness, and how we all struggle with sexual temptation. So I was ready for her answer.

Instead, her first response was a question: how well are you welcoming singles?

I didn’t see that coming. But it was a great answer, as it got us to consider who we already are, and the foundation for the kind of community we need to be. Rachel then guided our conversation, that included the following points:

Don’t normalize marriage. In other words, don’t talk about marriage more than singleness, or somehow set marriage and family as the idealized goal of the Christian life. Marriage is a gift of God, but it’s not the ultimate prize. Jesus is. Singles and couples can all live full and satisfying lives, but our becoming complete can only be met by Jesus. Earthly marriage is but a flawed and temporary picture of Jesus’ infinite and eternal love for his people. And arguably, the New Testament elevates singleness over marriage for dedicating one’s life to Jesus (1 Cor. 7:32-35)

Foster inter-generational relationships. While there is value to coordinating events for singles, churches can mistakenly create silos of fellowship, where singles, couples, and families only know their peers. Your primary identity, along with most of your conversations, begin to revolve entirely around your marital status. And that’s neither healthy nor biblical. Instead, we are called into relationship with people from different backgrounds and stages of life. And not just with other adults, but children as well. I didn’t marry until my early 30s, and I greatly appreciated becoming close friends with couples and their kids, often asking to babysit just to be connected to the entire family.

Above all, walk with singles. Being unmarried can be hard, and those who follow a biblical sexual ethic pay a significant price for following Jesus. The messages of the world, and the longings of their heart, can be a heavy burden. Pray for singles, invite them over for dinner—especially holidays—include them in your life, and participate in theirs.

If you’re married, I encourage you to connect with singles at Emmanuel, including those who are divorced or widowed. If you’re single, I know personally how hard it can be to initiate with couples and families, but please lean in. And for all of us, think about how we can be a more welcoming home for all.

A few related resources:

Our own Jennifer Marshall Patterson (MAR, Reformed Theological Seminary) combines faith and research to consider what it means to be both single and content, in her excellent book, Now and Not Yet.

And Jenilyn Swett (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is the director of adult ministries at Restoration Community Church (PCA) in St. Louis, Missouri. The PCA’s ByFaith magazine recently interviewed her, about her new book on integrating singles into the life of the church.