Walking into church on any given Sunday can be difficult for single adults like June Rempel. There’s the questions of where to sit, who to sit by and who to socialize with. Throw a pandemic into the equation and the challenge only intensifies.
“I think one (challenge) is you have to have courage to walk in everywhere by yourself,” Rempel says of the challenges singles may face at church. “You get used to it as a single, but you don’t have anybody else to buffer that. Especially during a pandemic, you’re going to walk in and sit by yourself, not six feet from anybody. You’re it.”
Rempel is part of the Flying Solo LifeGroup at First MB Church in Wichita, Kansas. The LifeGroup seeks to provide connection for what group leaders call an underserved demographic—singles in their 40s to 60s.
“We have women’s studies and men’s studies and then you have, generally, young marrieds things, or even young singles, but nobody thinks about those of us that end up single a little bit later in life, sometimes not through our own choices,” says one of the LifeGroup’s leaders, Meredith McFarland. “You don’t see a lot of churches who have anything that targets that kind of demographic.”
Need for connection
Talk of a singles LifeGroup began in late summer 2019 as a combined effort including McFarland, her sister, Melissa Dillon and Rempel.
“I think when we really talked about it, the purpose was connection,” Rempel says. “We feel like a lot of people who are single don’t feel connected to the church.”
Even though Rempel, who is widowed, says she can and does fit into and enjoy other church groups with her married friends, she and other singles saw a need for a place specifically for them.
“My small group—it’s great—but if we’re on a Zoom meeting, I’m the only one in the slide by myself,” Rempel says. “Everybody else is in the slide with somebody else to share thoughts with. But when you’re single, you’re in that square all by yourself. So it is a little different. If you go to something where everybody else is a couple, you can be fine, but it can also feel a little isolating. It’s nice to have a group where everybody’s kind of on equal terms.”
“Some of the feedback I’ve heard from other people that we’ve talked to within part of this group is it’s not easy for someone who’s all of a sudden widowed or divorced or someone who’s never even been married to go into a Bible study full of married women or married men and feel like they really truly fit in,” McFarland says, adding that the LifeGroup provides fellowship for people who have similar life experiences.
“I didn’t ever imagine that I would be divorced at the age of 45,” McFarland says. “It wasn’t my plan in life, obviously, but it was what happened to me, and it sometimes can be a little bit difficult, even though there’s a lot of us out there, especially in the church, for people to speak up about those things.”
Recalling what it was like to be married, Rempel says feeling like an equal as a single person can be challenging, especially when married people—including church leadership—may have empathy but lack understanding, having not experienced singleness.
“I feel so loved at church, but I still sometimes struggle to figure out who to sit by without stepping on somebody’s toes or who to make friends with without feeling like, well I’ll go out with their wife and then that leaves the husband,” Rempel says. “If you want to do something, you end up doing something with one person and leaving out their other half, and you don’t want to do that either. I love my married friends. I really do, and I love that they still include me in everything, but it’s different. I don’t think people are aware of it. I wasn’t. When I was married, I wasn’t watching out for that single person.”
At the same time, Rempel acknowledges that church leaders are attempting to meet the needs of multiple demographics.
“I don’t understand everybody’s perspective or demographic, and I wouldn’t expect everybody to understand mine,” Rempel says.
Participation has ebbed and flowed since the LifeGroup’s inception in 2019, as the group leaders gathered people for meals, game nights and Bible study. The group met outdoors a couple times in summer 2020, and also held virtual meetings as a result of the pandemic, but attendance dwindled once school started, McFarland says.
The group attempted a relaunch at the beginning of the year with as many as six or seven in attendance, and a core group of three or four has attended regularly every other week for Bible study and connection.
Fourteen or 15 people attended an April pickleball event and meal, which leaders say they hope will garner new interest in the LifeGroup.
Ultimately, organizers would like to see the LifeGroup meet once or twice a month for Bible study and an activity, whether that be something like pickleball, volunteering or getting together for a meal.
“We chose “Flying Solo” because it’s not a group of not strong people,” Rempel says. “Singles are tough. Singles have to figure it all out on their own, so ‘Flying Solo’ is about we’re figuring it out but we want a group we fit into.”