There are 92 million single people living in America this year, comprising 42% of all U.S. residents 18 and older. This year’s census also found that sixty percent of those singles have never been married.
In light of these staggering numbers, our nation will commemorate “Single Americans Week” from September 16-22, an observance established over two decades ago “to celebrate single life and recognize singles and their contributions to society,” says the U.S. Census Bureau.
While most of us won’t be pulling out balloons and confetti this month to celebrate the fact we’re single, it is a good opportunity to recognize that you and I are members of a large, active, and influential part of American society. Singles Week provides an occasion for us to discuss ideas for how we can do a better job of bringing single people together and creating a stronger community of fellowship, encouragement, and support for each other.
A Year in Review
Last September during Single Americans Week, I conducted my own informal census of single Catholics, asking them the question “How can your church or parish family better meet your needs as a single Catholic?” Feedback included requests for more prayer support, heightened emphasis on activities for singles at the parish level, and the overwhelming request for more opportunities for service within their churches and communities.
This year, I decided to take another informal poll of single Catholics to learn about their personal experiences, ideas, and suggestions for strengthening Catholic singles’ groups in local communities.
Vibrant Catholic Singles’ Groups on the Rise
My career makes is possible for me to connect with Catholic young adult groups and singles’ groups around the country. I’ve encountered active, dynamic, growing-like-gangbusters Catholic singles’ groups in numerous localities. These groups are reaching out to members of their local communities and offering much-needed hope, encouragement, friendship, and support to their fellow single Catholics. Such groups have been a life-saver to many Catholics who often feel alone and discouraged in a world where it is increasingly difficult to meet like-minded peers and potential mates.
From Denver to Atlanta, Kansas City to St. Augustine, Pittsburgh to Chicago, and Boston to L.A., Catholic singles are lighting their communities on fire with faithfulness and fellowship. My “census” this year asked a series of questions to the leaders of several Catholic singles’ groups. I wanted to find out what made these groups so vibrant and successful. It quickly became clear that each group shared a few key components in common. My hope is that the keys to their success will inspire each of you to take a more active role in reaching out to other single Catholics in your own communities.
An interesting fact about every singles’ group I interviewed is that the growth, success, and dynamism of each one of them was the direct result of a few people taking the initiative to step out in faith and get the group off the ground. These single people didn’t wait around for their church or community center to start planning singles events for them. None of these groups originated on parish councils or as diocesan initiatives. They were created as a result of single people who recognized a need and took the initiative to make a difference.
A premier example of Catholic singles taking the initiative to get something dynamic off the ground is the Catholic Match Singles Events that are happening in various parts of the country. “It’s one of the healthiest things to happen on Catholic Match,” says Dan Flaherty, Content Editor for the 4Marks.com network. “CM members wanted to meet more of their own, and made use of the technological tools provided by 4marks.com to make it happen. The results speak from themselves. Marriages and engagements spawned from these events have already happened, and countless friendships have been made. It’s the fruit of what happens when people put their energy to solving problems with the tools available to them.”
Some Catholic Match members might be under the impression that CM Events are organized by the administration staff of 4Marks.com. But this is not the case. These events are organized entirely by individual members of Catholic Match. Says Flaherty, “We provide some support in terms of an email blast to members in the local area, but even that presumes the event is already big enough to be worth telling people about. We’re at the mercy of the members for how sizeable the Events Calendar is, and where they happen.” A brief perusal of the 4Marks.com Events Calendar is a testimony to the powerful effects of single Catholics taking the initiative to bring other singles together in fellowship.
Combine Lay Initiative with Parish Support
All of the singles’ groups I interviewed mentioned that they had at least one good priest committed to the mission of the group and to providing them with spiritual and sacramental support.
Mary Tholotowsky, a member of the St. Augustine Catholic Young Adult Group in St. Augustine, Florida, told me that her group is blessed with wonderful support from a local priest who provides adoration, spiritual talks, Mass, and confessions during the group’s weekly meetings.
The Disciples of Christ (known as “The D.O.C.”) group in Greenville, South Carolina, takes advantage of normally-scheduled parish times for Mass, adoration, and benediction to gather the singles’ group for spiritual enrichment. The D.O.C. then tag teams the parish events with singles’ group outings afterwards, such as going out to dinner, dancing, or to a ballgame together.
Form Your Core Team
More than one group leader gave the advice to recruit at least a few friends to be the group’s core team. The core leadership team can then gather to pray for the group, to plan activities and events, and also to delegate tasks so that one person is not overwhelmed with the responsibilities of getting the group off the ground.
“Find others to help you – you'd be surprised at how many people will come once you get your meetings started. There is such a need for Catholic community – especially if you are a single Catholic,” says Tholotowsky from the St. Augustine group.
One idea that has had great success in many communities is using large group events to draw significant numbers of single people together, and then funneling those who attend the larger group events into smaller fellowships, bible studies, and prayer groups. “Funnel events” are a great way to draw out crowds of single people who would not otherwise come to a small group event for single Catholics.
A good example of this is the Catholic singles community in Denver. About three years ago, numerous single Catholics from the Denver area attended a national conference for singles that was held in Colorado. “We started looking around the room and realizing that many of us were singles from right here in Denver. We started exchanging email addresses and phone numbers and started a Yahoo Group for single Catholics in Denver,” says Elizabeth, a conference attendee. “Today we’re able to connect with each other in smaller group activities, since we now know that each other exists!”
For many communities, Theology On Tap is a highly successful “funnel event” that helps connect local singles to a Catholic fellowship. Theology On Tap is a monthly speakers series that meets at a local restaurant or pub. The evening begins with a social hour where Catholic singles can mix and meet. The social hour is followed by a brief presentation from a guest speaker, with time for questions and answers to conclude the evening. Cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, and Tampa have had huge success in bringing single Catholics together through Theology On Tap gatherings.
Go Event Crazy, and Be Creative
The core team of highly successful Catholic singles’ groups works hard to provide lots of fun activities and events, and often ones where faith and fun is equally combined.
In Kansas City, several young adults have organized an outreach called “Catholic Challenge Sports.” Founded by Matt Maes, the group seeks to “serve God through our sports ministry by promoting a healthy lifestyle, creating new friendships, and leading our members closer to Christ.” CCS currently offers several sports including dodgeball, softball, ultimate Frisbee and tennis. The group then uses their sports outreach as a funnel to attract single Catholics to participate in other events in Kansas City. “Catholic Challenge is the best way I’ve ever seen to outreach and engage Catholic young adults,” says Gregory Doring, a CCS advisor and FOCUS campus missionary. “It pulls in many new people each month and often acts as a gateway for folks to get involved in ‘City On A Hill,’ the local Catholic young adult group. Catholic Challenge has existed for less than a year and already has had a few hundred participants.”
In Spartanburg, South Carolina, a group named the “Single Catholics Network” offers a wide variety of monthly and weekly events to draw Catholics together for food, faith, and fun. Events include “Gospel and Grits” every Sunday after Mass. Singles gather for Sunday brunch to socialize, and also discuss the Sunday Mass readings.
Another South Carolina singles’ group, the Disciples of Christ, meets for a monthly “Rosary Hike” in a local state park. The group gathers in a park shelter to pray the rosary in the early evening, and they follow their prayer time with a hike through beautiful Carolina mountain trails.
These and many other groups across the nation have come up with countless creative ideas for bringing single Catholics closer together in faith and fellowship.
I asked each of the various singles groups I interviewed about their most effective forms of advertising and getting the word out to single Catholics in their communities. All of the groups advertised their weekly and monthly events in the bulletins of the Catholic churches in their communities.
Some of the more successful groups also sent out a weekly email newsletter reminding singles in the community about upcoming events. Others also developed a website where singles in the area could post upcoming events and activities.
“Personal invitations” was also listed as a number-one way to attract new members. No matter how many bulletin inserts or flyers are passed out, personally inviting a friend to join you at an event has the highest success rate of attracting new members.
Asking Yourself the Right Question
One of the comments I’ve often heard from single people is the complaint: “there’s just nothing for single Catholics in my area – no groups, no events, no activities, and I rarely even see other single people at my church!”
It’s true that in many communities, the singles population is scarce. It may take some dedicated effort to find them, but most likely there are more single Catholics in your surrounding area than you would imagine.
Undoubtedly, there are many occasions and opportunities for single Catholics to feel discouraged or alone in the world we live in. I know first hand that it is not always exciting and wonderful to be single, especially if you feel a strong call to the vocation of marriage and are searching for the man or woman of your dreams. In the meantime, however, I know that God does not want His single children to mope around like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh about the fact we’re not yet married.
A bad attitude or complaining of any sort will be ineffective every time. So will sitting on your couch waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to miraculously appear on your doorstep. So, instead of asking the question “what can my church or community can do for me?”, start asking yourself, “what can I do for the single Catholics in my community?”
Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Start Something
Every blazing fire first starts with a tiny spark. Maybe God is calling YOU to be the spark in your local community to ignite a dynamic outreach and singles fellowship in your area.
Pray for the wisdom and courage to following God’s direction in this matter. Talk to the leaders of Catholic singles’ groups in other communities. Visit the 4Marks.com Forums to talk with other members who have worked hard to bring singles’ events to so many communities nationwide.
My hope and prayer is that literally hundreds of single Catholics around this country and around the world will rise up with courage, faith, and dedication, and begin taking the initiative to see some amazing things happen in local communities for single Catholics. As we celebrate all 92 million single people in this country during “Single Americans Week,” now is a great time to begin taking action.
Stephanie is the coordinator of
™, a youth and young adult division of
Family Life Center International
She has been a frequent guest on several Catholic programs, including
EWTN Radio's Faith & Family, which she currently co-hosts with her
father, Steve Wood, and EWTN Television's Life on the Rock and The
Stephanie hosts the first worldwide radio show for Catholic youth,
, which airs weekly on the EWTN Radio Network.She also
writes a monthly
for teens and young adults. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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