The contemporary family of today cannot be defined as a nuclear family consisting of a mother and father and children. Families come in different sizes, different ways, and many consist of one parent. Single parents are no longer defined in only one singular category. Single parents come from varied backgrounds, generations, and socioeconomic settings. Single parents can be categorized in four broad categories that define and more accurately refine the way in which they became single parents: widowed, divorced, through adoption, and child out-of-wedlock. Each of these categories will be defined below.
As single parents now make up nearly 40% of all parents in America, the local church needs to consider this statistic. A healthy and growing church that reaches families should reflect its local community’s demographics of its local community’s demographics. This should result in a church that incorporates single parents of all categories and whom have children in preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school.
Ministerial staff need to understand their local church should reflect the demographics around them to include single parents. The result of this reflection is building a discipleship platform of which a single-family home can participate in the same way as a nuclear-family home. This includes curriculum, finances, and time commitments that have often been geared towards a traditional family with two parents present.
The first category of single parents are single mothers/fathers by divorce. In the United States, the divorce rate fluctuates around 50% for all marriages. It is very hard to find a reliable statistic for this information as many surveys collect data differently. So Table for One Ministries will average those findings to 50%. Of those divorces, one statistic is for certain–the average age for a first divorce is 30 years old.
Secondly, single parents are defined as being a single mother/father by being widowed. The average age for the widowed is now 57 years old, meaning it is not just elderly who are widowed. Single parents are widowed as well.
Single parents are thirdly defined as single mother/father by child out-of-wedlock. With the average age for marriage rising to 29 for men and 27 for women, and the rise of socially-accepted sexual relationships, it is again easy to see just how many parents fall into this categorization. Furthermore, almost 14 million unmarried parents live alone with their children–10 million mothers, 1.7 million fathers, and 1.9 million couples.
Lastly, single parents are defined by single mother/father by adoption. Adoption can come in many forms and event countries. Single parents who adopt may do so from the foster system, a known relative in need, or by surrogate. On the rise in this category are same-sex attraction couples who are Biblically single and looking to have a family. Same-sex attraction couples amount to 3% of the general population, but are increasing their adoption rates. The key principle to apply in the local church is not all single parents became so by sinful actions. Some make a conscious choice by loving a child through adoption.
Single parents are not just mothers and fathers. In fact, over 820,000 grandparents are the primary caregivers in a child’s life in America, a statistic that is rising. People affected by single parents are everywhere. Single parents may include a broken family from a sixteen and pregnant female to the person in their forties whose spouse abandoned them and their children. Custody battles are often drawn out and expensive, with little positive results, leaving children who are hurting and looking for a place to be loved.
Every church community is affected by single parents, and churches need to create environments where the single parent and the children raised by single parents can be reached. So how does your church create welcoming environments for this wide variety of single families?