Meeting Single Parents' Needs
Not all churches forego the opportunity to serve one-parent families. Today, many of them, especially urban ministries, are finding ways to help lighten the load of those in need.
From Mom's Day Out programs, free child care and food giveaways to free car repairs, support groups and job-placement services, some congregations are intentionally reaching a generation of single-parent families. People who minister to this particular group say in order to be effective, congregants will have to go beyond the church if they want to win souls to Christ.
Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Carrollton, Texas, focuses on meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of members through its Single Parent Family Ministry. The church offers programs such as Lifeline, Zipline, Chalkline and Outline.
Held at different times of the month, the programs focus on small-group Bible study, entertaining fellowship opportunities and tutorial lessons for children of single-parent families. The church also offers support groups for children and teens of divorce.
Many churches around the country offer their entire congregations free or inexpensive dinners on the evenings Bible study is held. Others offer three- and four-day camping trips or retreats that are designed specifically for single-parent families.
Megachurches such as West Angeles Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Los Angeles, are not too big to meet one-parent families at their greatest point of need. "In our workshops, we help single parents realize that they are not alone," explains Brenda Brown James, who leads the church's Single...With Children ministry.
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, says in his book Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide that the church must extend a hand to those who struggle to care for their families.
Mary Ann Archible, who heads the single parent ministry at Upper Room COGIC in Raleigh, North Carolina, shares Dobson's sentiments. She says her church addresses the practical issues confronting both single mothers and fathers. The program she oversees pairs professional, educated single mothers with young unwed mothers for mentoring.
"We help them work through their immediate problems and [pastor Patrick Wooten] addresses their spiritual needs," says Archible, who is a single mother of three.
Dallas-based Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, pastored by Tony Evans, has a single-parent ministry that provides minor car repairs for parents who attend their program. Certified mechanics check the oil, fix flat tires, replace spark plugs and provide other services. As a result, the parents get instruction in basic car care.
"Our goal is to equip, support and disciple our single parents back to wholeness," says James Womack, who oversees the program.
With a database of 400 parents, Womack says the ministry focuses on 12 keys to successful single parenting that include communication, housing, education and career, budgeting, parenting tips and more.
"We do a lot of encouraging and praying for our participants," he adds.
Katrina Spigner, a chaplain for the Center for Child and Family Studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, says when a single parent is looking for a church to join, the person should consider a ministry that is committed to transforming the lives of its members with the Word of God and that is aware of the special needs of these families. Spigner travels to churches in her city and in surrounding areas conducting workshops and seminars on topics such as loss and grief in the family.
"Single parents deal with many losses. There is the loss of fellowship, the loss of personal relationships, financial losses and others that the church must address," Spigner says.
A church that fosters an atmosphere of love and acceptance among its families, whether those families are headed by two parents or one, is the kind of church that most single mothers told Charisma they are attracted to. They say they are not looking for handouts, just a place that is biblically sound and will help relieve them of some of the pressures they face as parents.
Valerie G. Lowe is a former associate editor for Charisma and Ministry Today magazines. A single mother, she ministers in churches and plans to write a book soon.
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