I don't think the answer to the invisibility and struggle of singleness is focusing on the singleness. Yes, we need to affirm the real-life difficulties of singleness. Yes, we need to be more inclusive of singles in church activities. But even while we do that, we're highlighting that singleness is Different and Separate from "the rest of the church." So Different and Separate that we need to be extra thoughtful to include them.
The real way to affirm the singles? Recognize their gifts in the church.
We do this automatically with spouses and parents. If you're married, there's an assumption that you have some level of competence, due to running a household and caring for a spouse. You can be trusted with adult responsibilities and privileges in the church. If you're a parent, there's an assumption that you already have a thriving ministry--to the growing little souls that the Lord has entrusted you with.
If you're single? Well, you're free to do the extra stuff that others either can't or won't do, because you've got a more flexible schedule, right?
What if, instead of all these assumptions, we leveled the playing field in the church? What if we saw people, not by their occupations, titles, relationship status, or other arbitrary distinctions and saw simply the gifts of God? The unique parts of the bride and body of Christ?
Every person, married or single, has a gift. For one person, it is the ability to network and bring people together. For another, it is the ability to administrate and plan. For a third, it is the ability to teach and encourage. For a fourth, it is the joy of serving behind the scenes in seemingly mundane ways.
Child-care. Worship through the arts. Technical ability. Leadership. All of these have a place in the church.
Singles are not best served when the church is careful to "include" them, as if we have to extend special care to make sure they're not accidentally excluded. Singles are best served when the church actively seeks out, encourages, develops, and celebrates the unique giftings of each person, regardless of their "status."
As a single woman, I wanted to know that I was appreciated for my gift of words. When those in the church saw that I had the power to edify and encourage with my writings, I felt valuable, seen, and appreciated. My singleness became irrelevant to my purpose in the church.
As a married woman, I still want to know that people see beyond my marriage and associated responsibilities, and recognize my God-given gift of writing. My gift--and the Lord it is meant to worship--did not change when I married. It has remained the same and so it is deeply part of my identity and my role in the body of Christ.
The recognition of my unique identity within the church, for the edification and growth of my brothers and sisters in Christ, is a greater encouragement to me than sensitivity toward my relational status.
The reason singles feel "outside"? They feel like half-members of the church because they get the "fill-in" jobs instead of real places of influence and visibility in the church. My husband and I currently lead the "singles" group where we met, and our biggest goal is to inspire each person with a purpose in the church. As soon as they catch a vision, they begin not to focus so much on their singleness, but instead feel excitement and hope as they face the future.
As the church, our job is to do exactly what we should do for each member of our congregation: identify and strengthen their gifts. Give them space to use those gifts for the service of their siblings in Christ. Let them hold leadership positions and speak about the use of their gift at church events. Refer people to them as you would to anyone else with expertise. Make no assumptions about their time or availability, but respect that they must have time and opportunity to practice and develop their gifts on their own, in order to offer their best quality to the church.
Let us see each member of the church as a unique individual, equipped by God for the growth of the church and the glory of His name.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.