Many single women feel devalued and excluded from church life as a result of being unmarried. Rather than allowing yourself to feel this way or worse, leaving the church altogether, Dr Katie Gaddini offers three things you can do instead.
It’s no secret Christianity encourages and even promotes marriage, and that the family is a cornerstone of the faith. But what about women in their twenties, thirties and beyond who have not met their spouse? It turns out that many single women end up feeling devalued, excluded and in some cases even ostracised from church life as a result of being a woman and unmarried. Having researched the topic for more than five years, and been a single Christian myself for a long time, here are my top three tips if you find yourself in this position:
Realise you are not alone
I interviewed more than 50 women in the UK and US and attended countless church services, women’s events, and Bible study groups with women. After a while I saw similar themes come up, and a major one was that unmarried women feel that they are overlooked in their church community.
Sometimes this takes the form of not being invited to social gatherings or told outright that they there is no place for them; other times it means women are passed over for leadership roles in favour of married women or (single) men. When I’d tell a woman she was not the only one feeling this way, I was often met with wide-eyed surprise and a palpable sense of relief.
Single women over the age of 35 especially feel marginalised in the church, and as a result start to withdraw from the community. Here too it’s important to realise that it’s not all in your head. A variety of factors, including old-fashioned sexism, a fixation with marriage, and outdated notions of gender roles leave many single women feeling deflated.
Reach out to other women
The old adage “there is strength in numbers” could not be truer. My advice is to find other single women and band together.
This serves at least two purposes: firstly, these women will be your support system, as only they truly understand what you’re going through. Secondly, when you bring your concerns to the church leadership (which I also advise), it helps to do so with others so it cannot be pegged as an isolated incident or a sole case of one “angry woman”. According to my research, women who find this sort of girl gang are more likely to stay in the church, as female friendships can provide sustenance and a deep source of community.
Recognise when it’s time to move on
If you’d spoken to church leadership about your experiences and nothing is changing then it might be time to take a time out. Many women I spoke with took a break from church life, which they described as absolutely necessary for their mental health and self-esteem. Another option is seeking a different church which is more inclusive and welcoming to a diverse set of believers. Many find this tends to be within smaller congregations. I also suggest letting your pastor know you are leaving and why. You may just be paving the way for other women down the line to follow suit.
One thing is for sure: there is no need at all to stay in an environment that does not value you for the spectacular person God created you to be – right here, right now, living a full and meaningful life, even without a spouse and kids.