More than half of Americans (54%) between ages 18 and 49 are single, but less than a quarter of church-goers fall into this group, according to a report from Barna Trends. In addition to dropping church attendance overall, churches are noticing the lack of singles in their pews. As church leaders consider how to draw and keep singles, publishers are offering books aimed at both the clergy and single Christians exploring the specific needs of this often overlooked demographic of believers.
The church, according to author Gina Dalfonzo, has been focused on families for so long that it sees singles as different and apart, if it sees them at all. Her debut book One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church (Baker Books, June) offers church leaders a primer for understanding singles and welcoming them back to the church.
“Part of my message is, ‘Don’t be scared, it’s okay to be single,’” said Dalfonzo, web editor for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, which provides commentary on today’s culture. While the book’s primary audience is the church, singles will gain understanding of how they are viewed by God and the church, and how they can operate within the church as well, according to the publisher.
Baker Books executive editor Bob Hosack sees One by One as a “manifesto for saying, ‘Hey, church, wake up; there are singles in your congregation.’”
Early reception has been good, he said, with Dalfonzo writing on the topic for Christianity Today. She is doing radio interviews including Connecting Faith with Neil Stavem, on Pilgrim Radio, and The Eric Metaxas Show, as well as Q&A pieces and guest blogs, and will speak at InSpire 2017 in Detroit in August.
In Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating (Crossway, June), Marshall Segal, a contributor to desiringGod.org (a Christian web ministry), makes a case for why singles should move beyond pursuing the perfect spouse, seeking instead hope, happiness, and purpose in the single life.
“Segal has been writing consistently and excellently about singleness for a number of years,” said Samuel James, associate acquisition editor at Crossway. “His category of ‘not yet married’ is an honest way to look at this season of life for people who desire marriage but are still single.”
Not Yet Married is of obvious interest for singles, “but it’s written for the entire church,” said James. “This book encourages everyone in the church, regardless of season of life, to care for and encourage one another.”
For a more academic look at being unmarried and Christian, Oxford University Press is releasing Singleness and the Church: A New Theology of the Single Life (Aug.) by Jana Marguerite Bennett, associate professor of theological ethics at the University of Dayton. Bennett examines a variety of models of singleness—never-married, divorced, widowed, committed but unmarried, single parents, same-sex attracted, and more—in order to explore cultural and Christian aspects of the issue, with help from figures such as the Apostle Paul, Augustine, and Dorothy Day.
“We’re publishing this book in part because it seems to fill a lacuna,” said OUP executive editor Cynthia Read. “Certainly it’s an issue that the churches will have to confront as fewer and fewer people see the need to get married.”
Other books speaking to the topic include Sex and the Single Girl by Dr. Juli Slattery (Moody, Aug.), a six-week study that presents a broad understanding of what it means to honor God with our sexuality. Topics include why sexuality matters, sexual boundaries, battling temptation, and sexuality as part of Christian identity.
Acquisitions editor for women’s books at Moody Judy Dunagan says Slattery, a clinical psychologist and author of the blog Authentic Intimacy, often speaks at women’s conferences, and inspiration for the book came from younger attendees who wanted more information. Slattery also hosts the radio program Java with Juli on which she addresses women’s questions about intimacy and other issues.
“We wanted something for younger women about the theology of sexuality,” said Dunagan. “We’re giving the book to 100 women campus leaders.”
Lastly, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married: Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age by Ben Stuart (Thomas Nelson, Sept.), who serves on the leadership team at Passion City Church in Atlanta, addresses the desire for intimacy and how that desire looks in these four stages most people pass through in their twenties. He encourages readers to look at the purpose, such as unification and devotion, behind each stage, and how to embrace that purpose.
The book is being published in a partnership between Passion Publishing, the publishing arm of the Passion Conferences for young adults, and Thomas Nelson. With an estimated initial print run of 75,000, the book is being geared toward young adults via ad placement in Relevant magazine and on Facebook.
“The Passion name and legacy has built a tremendous amount of trust with colleges and churches around the world,” said Matt Baugher, senior v-p of author and partnership development at Thomas Nelson. “I believe that trust will lead to an openness [toward] this material. It’s my hope that readers will feel as if the author truly understands them and the world in which they live each day.”
When asked about the number of books coming out about single Christians today, publishers and authors alike agreed that the time is ripe for churches to start lending their support to the group.
Dalfonzo calls it “an ongoing moment in which the church recognizes its singles.” Her message is strengthened by the stories of single people who have been forgotten by their congregations. “I really want churches and leadership to start thinking about singles,” she said. “The church doesn't realize how much damage marginalizing singles can do.”
“We’ve got tens of millions of adults who are single; there is a real need for someone to speak into this in a thoughtful way,” said Baker’s Hosack. “The issue isn’t only what singles need from the church, but what the church needs from singles.”