For the last half-century in the American life, there has been a great focus on the family in church ministry. There have been regular attempts to make sure that church ministry responded to the needs of the family. Both parents and children have been a major target of church leaders’ concern because they form the building block of society ... the family. Children’s ministry programs, youth ministries, and a wide variety of services offered to parents and families have been urged on religious professionals to be sure that this very important societal unit be encouraged and helped to thrive.
Well, welcome to the 21st century! According to a recent Time magazine piece, exposing “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life” (March 12, 2012), the latest census data indicates that a full 28 percent of households are headed by individuals. That figure is up from a mere 9 percent in 1950. These people live alone; they do not have roommates. They are matched by an equal percentage of households occupied by couples without children. In other words, 58 percent of the households in the country are occupied by individuals or individual childless couples. The nuclear family, in this regard, is in the minority.
The article identifies some unsettling attitudes expressed by the author who did significant research interviews with hundreds of respondents: Today, most people presented with the options of finding roommates or living with family choose to go solo. Wouldn’t you? After all, living alone serves a purpose: it helps us pursue sacred modern values — individual freedom, personal control and self-realization — that carry us from adolescence to our final days. Living alone allows us to do what we want, when we want, on our own terms. It liberates us from the constraints of a domestic partner’s needs and demands and permits us to focus on ourselves. Today, in our age of digital media and ever-expanding social networks, living alone can offer ever greater benefits: the time and space for restorative solitude.
As we look at the above statistics and the attitudes expressed by this author, we should take care to respond with spiritual sensitivity:
1. Recognize the changing demographics of our communities. We need not jump to the conclusion that those aggregate statistics quoted above necessary are true in your own community. They may be different. Yet, we should get a grasp on who is in our neighborhood and adjust response to it. There may well be a shift necessarily to reach out to your neighbors, perhaps blurring the focus on the family to connect with the living alone population. Sensitivity to people where they are in life is necessary if we are to participate in their forward maturity. Both for those who are leaders in the faith community as well as the general population, knowledge of who is living where we are will make us more effective in promoting personal and spiritual growth in those around us.
2. There are real needs of people who live alone that give an opportunity for ministry. According to the American Sociological Review, by 2004 the number of people in the nation who said they had no one with whom they discussed important matters had tripled over the previous 15 years to nearly 25 percent of the population. If this is true, those who are alone may welcome the relationships that spiritually sensitive people in the community can offer. This is an important opportunity for the strategic reach of churches but also opens a door so concerned and loving neighbors in the community can be a helpful sounding board for those who need direction and encouragement in life and are not getting it because of their living alone status.
3. The narcissistic, self-consumed attitudes that apparently run deep today need to be addressed in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. Christian teaching emphasizes that the presence of God in our lives lifts us from being concerned only about our own needs and redirects our attention to the needs of others. Paul’s teaching in Philippians is a classic reminder of the mind of Christ which intentionally is not self-centered. In both formal preaching and teaching as well as informal interpersonal conversation, a spiritual service can be offered to sound this call for sacrifice that could well mean living in community with family and friends in a way that helps to meet others’ needs.
May God give us creative ways to approach the adult population around us that will meet them where they are and lead them to personality maturity, along with a spirit of sacrifice necessary for meaningful community.
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