RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–The pressure to be dating or married leads many single adults into bad relationships because they think, “What could be worse than being alone?” keynote speaker David Edwards noted at this year’s Singles Labor Day Weekend 2007 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
“If we compromise, we miss the blessing of God,” Edwards said, referencing the Genesis 40 account of Joseph’s refusal to compromise when he was thrown into the dungeon after the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife.
“Compromise seems like a quick way out, but in the end, it just prolongs the process,” Edwards said, noting that Joseph might never have discovered the crucial talents that would lead him to triumph in Genesis 41 had he not passed through Genesis 40 with his integrity intact.
“For every 40, there’s a 41,” Edwards said.
That struck a chord with first-time conference participant Dena Wood, a computer programmer from Atlanta.
“If you’re not focused on where God has you now, you’ll miss the blessing God has planned for you, and what God wants you to be,” said Wood, 33, who learned about the conference by accident as she was looking up some information for a missionary reunion at Ridgecrest for her parents.
Wood’s parents, however, are quite familiar with the singles conference. They met at the annual retreat in 1969 and were commissioned as missionaries at Ridgecrest in 1980 before serving 25 years in the Philippines.
“This is definitely a place to build relationships. Not necessarily dating relationships, but with other Christian adults. The workshops are amazing,” Wood said.
“The key word in the phrase single adult is adult,” conference planner Brenda Atkinson said. “And we’re in good company -– Jesus was a single adult.”
Yet, she said churches often do a poor job of including unmarried members or in laying the foundation for the vital relationships single adults need with their church family. By not being sensitive to single adults, Atkinson said, churches fail to tap into an enormous resource, and single adults become disaffected.
Carol Smith of Wilmington, N.C., said the depth of the workshops on topics ranging from self-esteem to abstinence and relationships at work to service in the church also to her.
A U.S. Coast Guard marine science technician, Smith, whose father died in March, was especially impressed with a workshop on giving voice to grief, led by Atkinson, who also is a hospice chaplain. Smith said she is often frustrated with the stereotype that pervades work and church life -– that singles don’t mind taking the extra workload or are supposed to be happy all the time -– when they deal with the same life issues that couples do.
“Single people are busy -– working, cell phone ringing all the time,” Smith said. “We want substance. We want continuing education” at a singles conference.
There was plenty of that, both for church leaders and single participants, along with hayrides, S’mores, a movie night and lots of lighthearted fun throughout the weekend.
Edwards, whose engaging one-liners punctuated serious Bible study, travels around the country in a year-round speaking ministry, empathized with his fellow single Christian adults.
“I’ve been on so many blind dates, I should get a free dog,” Edwards quipped.
Noting that churches have become the number one place for single adults to get a date these days, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to imagine the cheesy pickup lines by people who go to church only for that reason, such as: “Your name must be Grace because you’re so amazing.”
All joking aside, Edwards said, “For the first time in history we outnumber married people. [I believe] the next great movement of God is going to happen in single adult ministries.”
Challenging single adults to stop being bystanders waiting for the end of the world, Edwards said they need to focus on what God wants for, and from, their lives instead of what society dictates.
“For too long we’ve bought into this idea that, ‘I’m single. Life is on hold.’ Instead of seeing ourselves as disqualified, we’ve got to see our lives as strategic,” he said.
Cynthia Watts, who led workshops on assessing personality profiles to find desired areas of church involvement, said churches often don’t involve their single members in service because they don’t find the right fit.
“Sometimes it’s because the leadership doesn’t know how to do it and other times it’s because the single adult doesn’t know where they could serve,” Watts said.
“If we are an introvert and task-oriented, would outreach be the best place to serve?” she asked. “If we’re extroverted and people-oriented, would counting money in the back be the best place?
“This process helps us know ourselves better and get along with our co-workers in the church,” Watts said, noting that churches needs all types of personality types to work properly.
“If we don’t include them, then we will lose them,” she said.
Atkinson said as a single adult, she is acutely aware when churches are not sensitive to her needs.
“The loneliest time for Christian singles is Sunday after church because it’s such a family time,” she said for example. “This conference is a place they can come once a year and connect with other singles.”
Andrea Higgins is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, N.C.