MB church plant Bible study morphs into community single adult ministry
Saturday Night Alive started as a home Bible study and has grown over the past 25 years into a fellowship of Christian singles headquartered in Rapid City, SD, that hosts a Web site announcing upcoming events and sponsors an annual fall retreat that has drawn as many as 125 singles from five states to hear nationally-recognized speakers.
The 2008 Saturday Night Alive retreat is planned for Oct. 3-5 at Camp Kinship in the Black Hills. The three speakers for this year’s retreat are local; registration fees are typically kept under $100. Retreat information is available at www.saturdaynightalivesingles.com.Rapid City, with a population of over 60,000 and home to Ellsworth Air Force Base, is statistically much like the rest of the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau lists single adults at 44 percent of the population; Rapid City lists 46 percent of its households as headed by a single adult.
Single Adult Ministry Journal reports that the age of both men and women when they first marry has risen steadily in the last several decades. Meanwhile, between 1960 and 1998, the number of divorced adults in the U.S. grew from 3,920,000 to 19,424,000, an overall increase of 395.5 percent.
Lisa Sissentein, a Saturday Night Alive leader, credits the group with helping her through rough times after a divorce. Sissentein was not sure what to do when she found herself single after 25 years of marriage. While she had always attended church, “it was not until…I started attending Saturday Night Alive Bible studies that I learned about the Word and how important it is to have a personal relationship with the Lord,” says Sissentein
Single by chance, change and choice
Saturday Night Alive includes people who are single by chance, change and choice, says Sissentein, but she says that all find the group to be a safe, nonjudgmental place. She is clear in saying that the group is not a dating service and that its focus is Jesus Christ.
The mission of Saturday Night Alive, according to its Web site, is to provide a safe place for Christian adults to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to be encouraged and challenged, meeting together in an atmosphere of fun and acceptance. The self-supporting ministry targets single adults over the age of 35 who are widowed, divorced and never married.
Saturday Night Alive grew out of a college and career Bible study started in about 1982 by Waldo Wiebe, Bible Fellowship’s pastor, and Jim and Esther Weems when Bible Fellowship was a Mennonite Brethren church plant. When Pastor Richard Nickel came to Bible Fellowship, the class transitioned into a home Bible study that Nickel led for 10 years.
Darcie Decker, a Bible Fellowship member and an original member of Saturday Night Alive, says that the group grew due to word of mouth and was soon ministering to singles beyond their own church circle. Nickel’s gift for interacting and connecting with people helped many people feel comfortable and accepted in the group, says Decker.
SNA goes interdenominational
“It is wonderful to have the help and support of Pastor Nickel as well as other local pastors,” says Decker. She says that Bible Fellowship continues to foster the group even though Saturday Night Alive is now an interdenominational ministry that holds its meetings in a local Christian counseling center.
In time the Bible study participants decided to call their gatherings “Saturday Night Alive” and developed the current format. Two Saturday nights each month are devoted to Bible study, one night to an informal activity, and the fourth Saturday is reserved for a coffee house. Attendance fluctuates anywhere from 25 to 60, and participants hail from as many as 30 congregations. Some single parents bring their children with them for activities but Saturday Night Alive events are not planned specifically with children in mind, says Decker. A SNA leadership team helps plan events and steer the ministry; Decker and Jackie Dittman are SNA co-leaders.
The monthly coffee house held at Black Hills Bagel creates a nonthreatening atmosphere that Decker says puts nonchurched singles at ease. The shop caters to breakfast customers and allows Saturday Night Alive to use their facilities for a small fee for the monthly coffeehouse featuring Christian performers, typically local talent.
During the summer, Saturday Night Alive participants take advantage of the many recreational opportunities, including bicycle rides and hikes in the Black Hills, rafting trips and picnics and barbeques. They attend community events together, including the annual “Festival of the Presidents,” a blues festival and car show. Participants can visit the group’s Web site for the what, when and where of each event. The group also serves the Rapid City church community. They have provided ushers for community events, including the National Day of Prayer service at Mount Rushmore, a Josh McDowell presentation and Superchick concert and volunteers for area nonprofit fund-raising events. The ministry has also sent two small work teams to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Commitment leads to opportunities
Decker’s commitment to helping congregations meet the needs of single adults of all ages has prompted her involvement in additional ministries. She recently was appointed to the 12-member Single Adult Leadership Team of the national Assembly of God denomination. Leadership Team members provide consultation, encouragement, training, resources and networking for congregations interested in beginning and building their ministry to single adults. Dennis Franck, director of the Assembly of God’s ministry to single adults, has been the speaker at Saturday Night Alive retreats.
Decker, who is the nutrition director for Rapid City’s Youth and Family Services, was also instrumental three years ago in beginning a young adult ministry they hope will reach across denominational boundaries to singles in their 20s and early 30s. The group meets two Tuesday evenings a month in Decker’s home for a Bible study led by Greg Blanc, a pastor in the Rapid City community. The group also meets for social events throughout the week.
Decker feels that young adults often become disengaged from church after they graduate from high school or leave home. She describes this age group as energetic, exciting and frequently underserved as they begin their careers and enter a period in life when careers and friends are transient.
The purpose of the ministry, called Oasis, is to encourage and refresh single young adults through Bible study and fellowship and by offering assurance that “each person is not alone in the world,” says the group’s Web site. “We want to be an oasis in the ‘desert of life.’” Reflecting on working with other singles, Decker says, “God designed both singles and married as a part of his plan. Therefore singles need not think of themselves as second-class citizens.” Decker says she is living a full life as a single, “knowing that God loves me exactly where I am.”
Lori Belden Pope is a CL reporter living in California.