Single Christians experiencing 'anxiety'
Online dating service Christian Connection has spent the last few months surveying thousands of single Christians on their experiences in the church.
The decline in younger people attending church means many single Christians are struggling not only to find a life partner, but to figure out their place and worth in largely family-focused churches.
Survey respondents reported difficulties in finding other single Christians in their church and turning to online dating as "a last resort".
"There's such a pitiful lack of forums for meeting up with other single Christians," said one respondent.
Another reported that "married with 2.4 kids" was the norm in their church. Many of the women responding to the survey reported fierce competition to bag the single Christian men in the church.
"Women buzz around eligible men in church like bees around a honey pot."
"Have seen some women getting very competitive over guys - have had friends who have fallen out with other female friends over it."
"I can also see how this must be really intimidating for a guy to go to church because he's likely to be pounced on."
Some churches reported having too few single Christian men, while a few reported having too few single Christian women. There are relatively more men in 'traditional' churches, whereas in 'lively' and 'family-focused' churches the opposite is true with relatively more women than men.
Although many Christians are finding it hard to meet other single Christians, more than half (57%) still insist that they could never marry a non-Christian. Just under a third (30%) said they would consider it, but only if their spouse was sympathetic to their faith.
In addition, the survey revealed many single Christians feel "socially anxious" because of the pressure to be married.
Over two-thirds (67.4%) said being married was the "expected and accepted lifestyle in the church".
"This creates social anxiety for many single people in the church. 'Will I get married and fit in with the majority or not?'" explained Christian Connection statistician David Pullinger.
The anxiety is increased by the struggles single Christians experience in trying to understand God's purposes in their circumstances.
"Many experience anxiety over their situation, for example, doubting God's plan for their life," he said.
Some feel "disappointment" over their singleness, while others "have problems with self-esteem".
Out of those surveyed, nearly all (80%) said they had tried a Christian online dating site.
"With so few single people evident in churches, you need a process for reaching other single Christians," said Pullinger.
Of those making specific comments about their experience of using an online dating site, a quarter (24%) reported some kind of negative experience.
While hours could be invested sending messages with few replies, the date could also be a disappointment if there was no chemistry.
Others hated the way it made them feel:
"Awful experience, sorry. Didn't like the person I became, 'boy shopping' based on photos and a few stats."
"A lot of sites have a bit of a 'shopping' mentality where people are selected by presentation and looks which can be very deceptive."
Some also expressed doubts about whether God approves of Christians using online dating.
"I feel that you are taking God out of the equation," said one respondent.
"I feel I'm looking for someone and not trusting in God to find me a life partner," said another.
Others had concerns about meeting "weirdos" online.
Despite the concerns, there was positive feedback from others Christians who recommended "intentionality" and "courage". Others reported positive experiences when they learned to talk less about themselves and more about the other person.
The general consensus was that online dating requires effort to make it work.
"I wasn't committed enough to make it a success," was the confession of one user.
Pullinger continued: "The problem of meeting is exacerbated by the lack of a Christian dating culture once out of student days.
"Partly this is lack of support from churches, who say they want their members to be married but, according to people answering this survey are unsure about them dating and don't encourage or support it."
Christian Connection founder Jackie Elton sees a lack of thinking in churches around singles and warns that many have simply given up on church.
"The world is changing, but churches aren't learning how to reflect these changes," she said. "I was amazed at the huge response the survey received. The floodgates opened. The survey proves many churches are not meeting the needs of the growing number of single people."
The 2011 Census revealed that, for the first time, married-couple households are in the minority at 47 per cent. Single-person households are increasing at a staggering rate of 166,000 a year.
She is concerned that the family orientation of many churches is marginalising single people.
"In many churches, theology around singleness seems rooted somewhere in the 1950s," Elton maintains.
Especially from the age of 30, Christians find themselves moving "from being in the majority to the minority in friendship groups".
"This ushers in a number of vexing questions: What if 'God's plan for my life' mean being permanently single? Am I as much part of the church as I used to be? If so, where do I now fit?"
Findings from the survey are being discussed at three events at Moot, St Mary Aldermary, Watling Street, London, the first of which took place last week.
More findings will be released at the next two events, which will address the question of how to be happy as a single Christian and the theologies of singleness.
"We hope these talks will be an inspiration, not just to singles but to all others in the Church - leaders and married couples who want to understand how single members can be welcomed and affirmed," said Elton.
For details of the next talks, visit http://www.eventsforchristians.co.uk/