Where Do Catholic Singles’ Groups Go Wrong?

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Where do singles groups get it wrong?

My parish is trying to launch (or, rather, “re-launch”) a singles group. We had a group for a while, then it died, and now new organizers have stepped up to the plate and are struggling to resurrect it.

It all has me thinking about how difficult parish groups for singles can be.

They’re difficult to start, for starters. Singles tend to sit in the back of the church. We’re the last to arrive and the first to leave. We often “church-hop” and rarely register in a parish. How, then, is a parish supposed to reach out to us? Bulletin announcements rarely get our attention.  And even if we do read the bulletin, how inclined are we to actually show up at a parish singles’ event? “I’m not going to know anybody” we think, or “What if it’s lame?”

It can be tough for single people to showing up a random meetings and events by themselves. Meetings aren’t terribly difficult. They’re held in a defined place, and once you arrive you get to sit down and listen to the proceedings. But social events are a different story. I can’t tell you how many singles’ happy hours I have attended, only to walk around the bar a couple of times and then turn around and head home because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out which group of people I was supposed to be meeting.

Ever walked into a bar to meet a singles group only to turn around and leave because you can't find the group? Me too.Click To Tweet

Herding cats

Getting the single Catholics of a parish together can be a little bit like herding cats.

What, then, happens once they’re together? What does a parish singles’ group look like? The stereotype is that it looks like the church basement equivalent of a singles’ bar. People are there to meet attractive members of the opposite sex. They’re looking to pair off so they can go join the families upstairs in the Big Church. Or something like that.

That doesn’t lead to a particularly cohesive group. Couples pair off and leave. Other spouse-seekers show up once, scan the crowd, and never return again because they didn’t see any potential candidates. Then, the next week, different spouse-seekers show up to give the group the once over and then disappear.

I’ve always said that if you could corral all of the people who attended a singles’ group one time, and put them all in a room together, you’d get a very different group.

But, the way the system works now, what’s left is often a small group of people who don’t find each other particularly attractive.

And what do these people do? Frequently, they socialize. They go to bars. They host Super Bowl parties. Which is fine, really. Single Catholics are often hungry for the companionship of other single Catholics, and parish singles’ groups offer that. But I have found that the more that these groups rely on social activities, the less cohesive they are and the sooner they implode. The problem is that social groups are only attractive as long as they’re fun. And it’s tough to sustain “fun” with so much amusing competition in the world. Members are likely to wander off as soon as more entertaining options cross their paths.

Here’s the problem as I see it.

Catholic singles are craving more than fun.

They’re craving substance.

They’re craving spirituality.

They’re craving Christ.

And they don’t know where to turn.

I’ve seen successful parish singles’ groups all over the country. And every one I’ve seen shares one common trait—they all offer singles something more substantial than just a social life. They’re based in spirituality. They pray together. They reach out into the community to share the love of Christ.

They’re social, to be sure. That happens naturally. After an evening of prayer or a day of building houses for the homeless, it’s natural to get together for dinner or a drink. Friendships develop—friendships based on shared values and mutual prayer.  And yes, people even fall in love and get married. But I suspect their friendships with others in the group tend to last even when they’re no longer single, because those friendships were built on something more substantial than sharing a martini at happy hour.

Singles tend to be isolated in parishes. And, as I’ve said before, I don’t think the answer to that isolation is to be found solely in singles’ groups. Single Catholics need to be incorporated into the life of the parish. That being said, I do believe there is in important place in parish life for singles’ groups. I think there is a spirituality that is unique to singles, and there is great benefit to bringing them together to pray and to explore that spirituality.

That will help hold a singles’ group together.

 



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31 Comments

  1. John-1347760 May 17, 2017 Reply

    As far as a “singles group” goes, my advice would be…don’t. I know of few situations that will kill genuine interest faster than when two people who have pretty much nothing in common feel compelled to chat because…someone else thinks they should be socializing.

    If you want to see a “singles group” thrive in a parish, don’t worry about being a singles group. Focus on establishing vigorous norms for celebrating Mass, focus on a decent schola cantorum, focus on a thriving Altar Society, Legion of Mary, or similar, focus on a robust Knights of Columbus council. Above all else, focus on the various roles and tasks associated with living out the faith as thoroughly as possible. Don’t summarily reject anything secular, but temper it with a solid expectation that such shall be a subordinate concern to faithful behavior.
    Also, seek out people who understand how to organize a band, seek out those who understand various kinds of dance that could be used in a public gathering. Make arrangements for people to learn to dance, then use such skills for a pleasant evening, which may include socializing.
    These will be the activities that will wind up providing for every person’s need for companionship and fun; they will be the incidental singles groups.

  2. Debra-1401604 May 16, 2017 Reply

    I have also led a singles group in my Parish. Our format was to do service, prayer or Mass and social events. One meeting a month was spent on planning so everyone could have their voice heard as to what they wanted to do. One meeting a month we would get a speaker to talk about single issues. We had a detective speaking about safety for singles, we had a psychologist around Christmas time speaking about the holidays and how difficult it is to be alone, and even a financial planner to help you prepare for your retirement if you are single. It always seems like lighting Advent candles, bringing up the gifts, and other functions during mass leave singles out. Once a month the group signed up to do these sorts of tasks and people rotated who would do them. We also planned to go to playd and other events. Since 5 p.m. mass seem to be the most popular among the group we had a reserved section where you could sit and be with others. I agree it is a combination of all these things that makes you feel like you belong. Many friendships were formed and even ten years later we still all keep in touch. The group is disbanded because it takes a lot of effort to lead the group. And also a lot of different opinions sometimes separate the group. But it is really needed and a worthwhile cause if you can get it going. And yes there were some who came only to see who was there to date but some were there because they knew their life would be lead as a single person and wanted more.

  3. Elizabeth-1010863 May 16, 2017 Reply

    I think Catholics are not very good at socializing at all. Our church is trying to get members to get acquainted with each other by having a coffee social after all masses once a month. A lot of people go to eat the food, but don’t talk to anyone they don’t already know. I have been to protestant churches and when they see a new face, everyone runs over to welcome the visitor and get to know them. I spent about 7.5 months over the course of two years in another state with Methodist friends. I went to church with them and I now know a lot more Methodists, including the pastor, than I do Catholics. Their church was extremely friendly and welcoming. I told my parish priest he should tell our parishioners to act like protestants and make it a point to introduce themselves to others they don’t know. Also having someone with an outgoing personality lead things helps a lot.

  4. Jerry W. May 16, 2017 Reply

    Mary Beth – exceptionally well written article. When I was living in Austin, TX I was a leader/planner/officer in varying capacities at two different singles groups at two different Catholic Churches. Our struggles reflect the experience you describe. St. Louis Singles Club (at St. Louis King of France parish in West Austin) had all the stereotypes that was reflective of a very selfish culture.

    We had a handful of us including me who would make sure on trips to let everyone know that after a Saturday of flying – Sunday morning we would make it to Mass before skiing or snorkeling or bike riding in Moab. But we had a larger group of people that were *only* there to find a mate and as soon as they found one they would disappear from all social activities. We would only see them again when they were single again.

    As for adherence to Catholic dating values, despite our efforts, that was literally non-existent. We had almost zero support from the parish itself. (We did have a chaplain assigned for a short while) but the church office regarded us a a bunch of promiscuous drunken fornicators so there would be no help there at all.

    Finally after 10 years, I threw my hands up and quit. When the officers agreed to change the name from St. Louis Singles Club to St. Louis Singles Ministry, I and several people received anonymous hate mail from some members who did not ‘religion’ introduced into the group. Hello? We are a sanctioned social group at a Catholic parish? Did we miss something?

    With the advent of online dating, membership collapsed in the 2000’s and both groups were disbanded.

    My advice for those seeking to find a dedicated Catholic spouse is to volunteer like crazy at your parish doing service activities as well as using the online dating sites dedicated to the Catholic faith. If you want to start a group of your own, as MB mentioned in her article, the core must go beyond the social. It must include spiritual and service also.

  5. Sam G. May 16, 2017 Reply

    I’m going on 88 years old. May I be so bold as to post that I was the lay founder President along with my Parish Priest to create KYAK, Catholic Young Adults Club in Louisiana. We were established on a Diocesan and very successful. The irony is that KYAK faded away after VII. Yes, I did meet my wife of 54 years in KYAK but KYAK didn’t operate as a mating service. If I had to one thing that made our success it was this. We created and posted a monthly activity calendar for almost every day of the month. That sounds impossible but the theory was this. Young Catholic singles become lonely. Our events were “open.” That meant it could be something as open as a “Rosary” at St. You name it one evening. A KYAK member might see that and decide to go. Going alone would be easier because one could expect to see a friendly face. A Saturday post might be “We will be at Giamanico.s (Restaurant) for 6:30 P.M.” By having “open” events there was no such thing as failure. Because if three people showed up for the Rosary, three people benefited. If three people showed up for supper, three people benefited. Yet the reverse occurred…more came like you wouldn’t believe. In sum? No commitment needed for attendance.

  6. Andrew K. May 16, 2017 Reply

    I’ve been praying about an idea I have had for the past month since I heard an advertisement about a “Adventure Club.” I thought to myself I wish my church had one that included married people too because I like networking in my free time just as much as I do dating. I realize it is possible I won’t find a girlfriend or wife so I don’t want my social endeavors to be so narrow and rigid. I also realize that there would never be enough people at my church who are interested in something like this. Therefore, starting a group that is diocese wide would be the best way to go. Similarly, a Catholic singles group might be best delivered that way, that is to say, diocese wide. The greatest challenge from what I see, however, is I have no idea how to advertise in every church bulletin in the arch diocese of Houston ,Texas. Some smaller parishes aren’t even listed when I do a search, and I know they are out there because I’ve been to them.

    I would really like to work with others to make this dream of mine come into fruition. I want a group that likes to hike, fish, skydive, possibly hunt, white water raft, take movie stunt classes and generally be very active and health driven. I can offer classes on the unique skill sets I learned in the Marine Corps which would be hilarious to teach to my fellow Catholics. Imagine a class on building a Ghillie that scout snipers wear. Or rappelling from the church bell tower? It seems extreme sure, but it keeps things fresh.

  7. Patrick-1253413 May 16, 2017 Reply

    Sometimes the problem with Catholic singles groups might be unwitting domination by leaders who have embraced being single as a vocation. I’m familiar with a group which does a nice job of welcoming older people into its ranks even if they’re divorced, widowed, or working through an annulment. The group gets together for plays and service opportunities. Members are also invited to a monthly Mass on a designated Sunday afternoon. That Mass time remains an impediment for me because as a divorced father of two, I try to keep Sunday afternoons free for time with older children whom I don’t otherwise see as often as I would like to. But I’ve also noticed that ministry leaders seem to enjoy being single. I admire that, yet it didn’t fit with the searching I was doing. I eventually found a wonderful woman whom I intend to grow old with. Ironically, she is Christian but not Catholic. I look back on my time in the Catholic singles group (which spanned multiple parishes) as good practice.

  8. Diane-268181 May 16, 2017 Reply

    I’ll have to say, I am part of a very active Young Adult community here in Little Rock and it gets called a singles group accidentally from time to time, but we are a mixed group. A lot of people started with this group as a single, found their spouse in the group, and stayed with us. We do a number of things that was mentioned in the article that has helped us continue over the last 15-20 years. In addition to social events, we have monthly large group meetings where we come together to do a study (right now it’s on Divine Mercy), we have weekly Bible study groups (men, women separately), and for service, we partner with our Catholic Young Professionals Service Organization. I definitely agree, if we were only doing social events it would seem more like a singles group and I don’t know if I would have stayed involved. I wanted a group that would encourage me to be active in my parish and community plus help feed me spiritually.

  9. Lilian-1274143 May 16, 2017 Reply

    My view is that, single groups don’t survive because the church don’t do much to support them.
    Example here in Kenya, i have never heard of this groups and i wonder if there has been any!
    So the church should support and encourage singles to come out and form these groups in all the parishes.

    Shalom
    Lilian

  10. Joe-365129 May 10, 2017 Reply

    I’m possibly the oldest to comment but have had some experience with Catholic single groups. Some observations and conclusions: 1. Most groups are too small. Several parishes should combine if possible. 2. Leadership is vital. Without a dynamic core most folk will drift away. #. The clergy MUST support single groups. I have seen groups literally attacked by pastors. 4. Having an annulment, raises another question, “Am I single”?. If not where do I go? Group may lose many that way. 5. Must have activities. Use the Knights of Columbus as a model. They usually have many and differing activities but all involve some type of WORK. 6.Must seek to be an active part of parish life. Being seen and heard attracts the curious. God Bless, JOE

  11. Kathryn-1280735 May 10, 2017 Reply

    I think that when a “singles’ group” has difficulty staying afloat, it may be an indication that there is something inorganic about it. It’s hard to get people to come to things routinely in the off-chance that they might meet someone of the opposite sex, when things rarely seem to work out that way. We all have different interests and hobbies, and no group can cater to everyone’s. We have sports leagues, professional groups, volunteer opportunities and ministries, and our own friends for socialization. A Catholic “singles’ group” seems to have as its main function bringing together unmarried men and women. When it doesn’t do that, it’s hard to keep people interested.

    I’ve been to singles’ events that were overwhelmingly female (like 40-4), or there were few or no men older than the post-college crowd. When the only two things attendees have in common is being A) Catholic and B) single–and little else–it’s hard even to form friendships, and therefore the group isn’t serving much of a fellowship purpose, either.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I’d say, if we know unmarried people (friends, relatives, coworkers, etc.) who are “looking,” please don’t hesitate to introduce them to each other. And please encourage more men to sign up for CatholicMatch and to attend the local events that our parishes do have. I don’t think there is any better answer to the question of how we can meet more single people with whom we have things in common, and potential significant others, than old-fashioned personal communication with those we already know and encounter in all aspects of our lives.

  12. Stephen-1002230 May 10, 2017 Reply

    I might be biased to Patrick’s response, as we were once affiliated with similar parishes in Chicagoland. But I think he has some valid points concerning the default of meeting people withing these groups and putting them into the friends-zone. Having some past leadership experience with a Young Adult ministry at one of those parishes, here are a few thoughts after reading the article.

    I would say first and foremost, Young Adult Catholics should focus a simple phrase I first heard at a retreat, “Don’t anticipate, Participate!”. If you go to a string of events, and it just isn’t working for you, then look for alternatives groups. But try to go into each one with a prayerful and open heart.

    The article hints at some of the hurdles for folks that encounter when deciding whether to attend events at all. At our parish, we would typically have a “core” of 8-20 people that showed up for almost everything, and then folks that might come to several events in a row depending on what their initial experience was. As hosts of the community, I think whether the event came off well or not it was important to talk with these newcomers (typically from neighboring parishes) to let them know that every event is not the same, you might get something different out of the next one, and instill that it is a community.

    The other thing I wanted to mention that I think there is a difficult but necessary division of mission. By that I mean that in a perfect world, maybe deaneries or parishes would have both Singles and Young Adult ministries. The announcements for our parish Young Adult events were read as, “…invite the young adults in their 20s and 30s, single and married, to join them for X event this evening”. This allowed folks in the pew to specifically know they were being engaged and welcomed by the community. And there was never an ID check at the door, so we would have some older folks join use depending on the type of event.

    However, things did get a little more tricky when folks came into the group thinking it was a Singles group. (Finding out that there are married people cuts down on the exploration of dating opportunities.) So ideally, I think it would be great for Young Adult ministry groups to have a core which includes strong spiritual and uniquely Catholic events for all Younger Adults (single and married), but also some segregation for Singles events where the focus is on meeting someone special and dating. The same would go for Married events. I think Brent is right- maybe we need some more events that are less about community activities and more about courtship (as awkward as that might be for both women and men in the modern world).

  13. Miles-814 May 10, 2017 Reply

    I have been involved with Young Adult Ministry much more than Singles Ministry…25+ years of it. I do, however, also have Catholic singles ministry experience. The same ideas that Mary Beth mentioned in her article apply to Young Adult Groups. For that matter, they apply to any group in the Church! I’ll even take it further, they apply to outreach and evangelization, in general. The common denominator is that people say “no” to people much more easily than they do to God’s perfect and living love. God the father is alive. Jesus Christ, His Son, is alive. The person of the Holy Spirit is alive. And, when we encounter them, we do not forget the way the Trinity’s love impacts us. We desire it more and more.

    Knowing Mary Beth’s extensive experience, I am sure that she has many ideas on how to keep singles groups strong and vibrant. If I could capture what needs to be done in one sentence it would be, “Meet the *actual* needs and desires of the singles as opposed to the perceived needs of the singles”. There are many. Success is in the details.

  14. Nina-1231969 May 10, 2017 Reply

    Mary Beth’s ideas of a spiritually focused, service oriented group is great! It takes the focus off of seeing the group as a fishbowl or meat market, everyone looking one another over and making snap judgments. Off the focus on self and that single-minded preoccupation/obsession that takes you away from actually living and meeting people for one another’s (and God’s) sake. The prayer aspect could actually be a focused mission on praying for one’s future spouse, mixed with regular talks from pros in the field (happily married couples, Theology of the Body topics…) followed by fellowship. This would really work for college prayer groups too.

  15. Patrick-341178 May 9, 2017 Reply

    Actually, I think the main problem with catholic singles group is that most people just end up becoming “friends.” So, they should really just be called social groups and not singles group. If they were singles groups, they would overwhelmingly concentrate on dating and matching men and women within the group. In my experience, that doesn’t happen. Then, people just become friends, which is fine I suppose, but it defeats the purpose.

  16. David-1162851 May 9, 2017 Reply

    I think this article is over thinking it a little. At the end of the day Catholic Young Adult groups are about social activities and meeting people and finding a spouse. Sometimes they implode, no big deal. Just start a new one later. I am not sure why anyone would think that an organization that is built around young people with lives in flux should last forever anyways. Why should they be cohesive? Young people leave such groups for a variety of reasons, moving marrying, new job – that is the nature of young life. Why not just accept that reality. People move on with their lives, they move on to other kinds of Catholic groups. but really at the end of the day the sacrament young people care about most is marriage. Not trying to join some kind of group that makes you feel like a monk or nun. I mean if you want to just pray there are no shortage of opportunities for that already.

    • Kathryn-1280735 May 10, 2017 Reply

      I agree completely. We all have interests, hobbies, and friends–married and unmarried–with whom we enjoy spending time. A “singles’ group” is for people to meet other singles (right?)–and the point of that is potentially to find a significant other. When people are no longer single, they don’t need that type of group. As I make friends, I spend time with those friends, not the “group” at which we met, and I don’t care if they’re married or not. I think this type of article does overthink it. But then, I’m not a “groups” kind of person. I prefer to keep in touch with specific people whom I know, like, and have things in common with. I don’t go looking for “singles groups” unless I’m hoping to meet unmarried men.

  17. Brent-1036650 May 8, 2017 Reply

    Brent 1036650, wow ! That’s scary …..didn’t know that I was being tracked… Well, a comment, OK. A “singles group” should really be ”a singles group”. If it was a married group” anyone who was married would presume that they could come to it so shouldn’t any one who is single be allowed to come ? Any one from eighteen to eighty eight should be allowed to come and that might give you something to work with. There would be a whole lot of experience and experiences there to draw from and to generate something that might hold the group together…………… Oh, another thought…….I went to an all male high school and my late wife, to an all female high school. The Nuns would call the Brothers and tell them that they were having a dance on Friday in the church basement and COULD THEY SEND THE GUYS OVER…and over we would come. Do you have any idea of how many great marriages came out of those dances………….

  18. Caitlin-1247460 May 8, 2017 Reply

    I have been going to my parish since I was a child. I’very never heard of single mixers before from the church. Maybe I should start going else were.

  19. Nick-1423791 May 8, 2017 Reply

    You know what I’m tired of? People only looking for “attractive” matches. Maybe it’s because I’m below average attractiveness. Maybe it’s that I’ve read studies that show that physical attraction only lasts 6 years. (Which also happens to be the average date of first divorces). Or maybe it’s because I know that inner beauty is the only thing that matters. Whatever the reason, I think that by this point in human history we should be able to look beyond outward physical appearances to what actually matters. Attraction is nice but personality it vital. And when you’re 70 you’ll be glad that you picked someone who wasn’t just looking for the hottest girl in the room.

    • Marecil-74677 May 10, 2017 Reply

      Very nice put, Nick. What an upfront comment but very true. It is refresging to know that you got a bigger picture of life. What really matters is seeking a life based on what is Good, Essential, True and Beautiful! They are sure to last!

  20. Stephanie-1368834 May 8, 2017 Reply

    JMJ
    To my knowledge, my own home parish does not have a Catholics singles group of itself. However, our diocese offers a ‘young adult ministry’ for those ages 20s to 30s. Regrettably, that precludes the 18-20 age bracket who choose to go attend community colleges, online college, or miscellaneous choices locally, instead of being out of state. I, unfortunately, fall under this age bracket. The young adult ministry in my diocese is thriving with activities that include Theology on Tap, sports-related outdoor events, praying outside abortion clinics, ballroom dancing etc. I’ve been told that if I should set a ‘younger’ adult ministry myself, if I feel left out. As this article highlights, it’s easier said than done. God-willing, I’d like to give it a try. For those who are in the midst of setting up your parish Catholic singles group, you are in my prayers. God bless.

    • Miles-814 May 10, 2017 Reply

      Hi, Stephanie!

      This is my area of specialty. If I can help in any way, I will. In fact, we are planning a US-wide mission trip for this year. God-willing we will be in your area and can help you get started with a plan for group longevity.

      God bless,
      Miles

  21. Anne-1158588 May 8, 2017 Reply

    This definitely gives me something to think about. I would like to start a group in my area in the Fall. My goals are not for people to date (although if they want to they can do so outside the group), but to have others to socialize with. Being single can be very lonely at times. We need to reach out to one another and realize that, like you said, we all have something valuable to offer our parishes and communities. So, spirituality and fun it will be! Say a prayer for me! 🙂

    • Dan-1405968 May 8, 2017 Reply

      Anne, I was thinking of your post in the forums when I read this article. Hope your group really takes off!

    • Miles-814 May 10, 2017 Reply

      Anne,

      If you need any help, please let me know. I recommend gofishglobal.org and am heavily involved in it. Just apply what you can from the suggestions. That is the way Go FISH Global works. We should be swinging by your area sometime this year. But, feel free to contact me at any time. Maybe we could set up a training weekend for a group of your friends.

      God bless,
      Miles

      God bless,
      Miles

  22. Dan-1405968 May 8, 2017 Reply

    Mary Beth,

    I would love to see examples of ‘successful’ parish singles groups and I suspect others might be too. If they have their own web page, links would be great.

    Thanks,

    Dan

    • Miles-814 May 10, 2017 Reply

      Me, too, May Beth!

    • Miles-814 May 10, 2017 Reply

      Dan, you might want to check out gofishglobal.org They have some great ideas on that site. You and some friends should consider spending one Saturday watching the Training presentations. And, then, apply whatever you can to a small group of people and you will have a blossoming singles group quickly.

    • Miles-814 May 10, 2017 Reply

      If I could help in any way, please feel free to let me know. I am actively involved with Go FISH Global.

      Blessings,
      Miles

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