Friday Night Date Place – When Good Singles Groups Go Bad

I think I’ve mentioned before how I was once part of several singles groups and how these groups can sometimes develop strange dynamics. The key was understanding the “politics” of them:

-those who make “friends” strictly as an opportunity to date those within the circle -those who genuinely want friends -those who just want folks to kill time with until they find someone and then they can disappear -those who want an entertainment/activity circle

So I’ve been thinking a lot about when a singles group can reach a tipping point to where it might be better to move on from that group. This is a fairly common occurrence as most folks only tend to last 3 years in a singles group before moving on for one reason or another (if for no other reason than they are tired of “singles groups” and move on to explore the rest of what life has to offer).

The fact of the matter is that part of the dynamic of the singles group is that unless it is continually renewed with, let’s call it what it is, fresh meat, they eventually implode. Close and constant proximity can cause feelings to occur even when, on paper, you wouldn’t ordinarily find yourself attracted to that person. Rinse, lather, repeat, and sooner or later, most of the group has gone through the round robin of dating one another. If all went well, the group can settle into being friends. However, things rarely go well and sometimes the very process of round robin dating tears the group apart.

Sometimes the group is TOO up in your Kool Aid. There’s a fine line between a protective circle of friends and a bunch of nosey busy-bodies. The difference will lie in the type of individual relationships you may have with the folks in the group. My friends have a lot more latitude to speak into my life. A group of acquaintances, despite the frequency of us hanging out, does not. (Though I try to not be too hasty in dismissing their opinions outright just because we may not like their conclusions. Sometimes friends, because they aren’t so personally invested, can see things that you can’t.)

In my ideal single’s group, there would be married couples in there to act as mentors of a sort. One, for an example of the type of relationship the singles (think) they want, if only to take the romantic notions off of marriage to replace them with realistic ones. Two, to set the example of not ditching your friends after you get married. Three, to give the benefit of their experience. A friend of mine recently found herself in a dating dilemma which threw her singles group into a tizzy. It was a single’s group mostly her age, with largely her level of experience in life. She posed the same dilemma to another set of friends, most of whom were married and had dated to much greater extremes and experience (read: severe consequences) and the perspective was entirely different.

There are other times when the community you are in may not be the best fit for you. Communities change over time. If teh interwebz have taught us nothing it’s that it only takes one or two personalities (read: trolls) to poison a group if they are left unchecked. If you find you don’t have deepening relationships, but instead everything remains on a very surface level, you may want to move on (unless that’s what you want). While all close circles of friends have “gossip” issues because they talk to each other about each other, such behavior can turn negative. In fact, it doesn’t take too much for a once loving community to become a bullying, excluding clique.

In the end, singles groups are like any other community: you have to decide if it is helpful to you or has become toxic. If nothing else, how the group continues to reach out to people, how it loves, how it forgives, how it handles crises, and how it repairs damaged relationships tells a lot about the group. I began quoting from one previous blog, so I’ll end with another:

Take a look at your current circle of friends. There’s a good chance that a year from now, maybe two, the complexion of your circle of friends will be different. People whom you shared intimate secrets with one day drift (or storm) out of your life. People fight. Misunderstandings occur. Trust is betrayed. People move, switch social circles, life, circumstances, what have you – you wake up one day and realize that some folks aren’t as close to you or aren’t as much a part of your world as they used to be. There is a natural ebb and flow to relationships.

Luckily, friendships renew themselves. Cherish the friends in your life right now.

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Friday Night Date Place: Design a Singles Ministry

I have a lot of experience in singles ministry. When I graduated high school, I helped start a singles group at my then church. When I switched churches, I found myself in the singles group and inadvertently a leader there. Even now, the Broaddus household is the default hang out for many of the single folks in our church. Part of it is because my wife and I have a heart for single folks (the other part is because we have an open door policy, so folks are free to come by to eat and do laundry whenever they need to. I’m glad to see that even when those singles become marrieds, they still like to come by and hang out).

My question to you is how would you design a singles ministry? How would you want a church to minister to your needs and where you are in your life? What would you expect them to do and be about?

Personally, I wouldn’t have one. I don’t believe in segregating folks by where they are in life: Youth Groups, College/Career, Singles, Young Marrieds, Old Marrieds, Single Agains. Not my thing and I think it does a disservice to the idea of the church being the body of Christ (by the way we minister, we’d like all the thumbs over here, never associating with the toes. Feel free to imagine where your station in life places you as I avoid the easy jokes).

Your typical church singles group has a few key characteristics: 1) the average stay of the typical member is five years and 2) about every three years, the group has gone through a cycle of turnover. Why? Because it is one of the few ministries where the object is to get out of it. People date, and if they marry, they leave. People date, and if it doesn’t work out, they leave. People hang out, and if there are no prospects, they leave.

In my experience, the singles ministries of churches, despite their best efforts become more about the meat market. Singles are there mostly to meet other singles. The best groups realize that while they are busy searching, they ought to be forming relationships/friendships that will last long past their single days. At their worst, folks of the meat market can be (unintentionally) cruel: the church is a refuge, and sometimes the folks who take refuge there are … socially inept. They aren’t the coolest, the funniest, the most charming. Sometimes they are awkward and uncomfortable and every bit deserving and searching for love, acceptance, and community.

And what would the singles issues be? Well, that’s pretty much the point of Friday Night Date Place, but once you get past the big issues (loneliness, finding God’s will, learning patience) … actually, scratch where that thought was going – all singles issues are people issues, things that everyone struggles with. You think it’s tough being lonely when you’re single; try being lonely in your marriage. And single folks would know that and would have a better idea of what they were getting into when they get married, if we weren’t so busy setting up dating opportunities for them.

So, my singles ministry would be the absence of a singles ministry. If single folks wanted to get together on their own time, in their own small groups, I’m all for that, I’m a pro-(good) cliques sort of guy. However, on “church time” the body of Christ ought to be the mixed bag of nuts it needs to be. Diverse life stations learning from one another.

In the mean time, I guess I have a small group who is learning what it means to live life together. Doing laundry, having meals together (teaching some of them how to cook), and hanging out. That’s as close to a single’s group as I’m getting these days (though I’m still trying to figure out how so many of us ended up in the tranny comedy club that one time. We’ll chalk that one up to incarnational ministry).

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.