Thanks for joining us for this week’s unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Kaylee Estes who was the Connections Pastor at Restoration Community Church in Denver, Colorado.
More and more people are single in our churches today than in previous generations. Younger people are waiting longer to get married, the divorce rate continues to increase, and even as lifespans increase, married people will likely find themselves widowed at some point. Listen in as Kaylee talks with us today about how to better create space for single people in our churches.
- Don’t overlook singles. // Many ministries, events, and messaging in churches are built around couples and two-parent families, and single people may feel overlooked or pigeonholed. The fact is there are more singles across all age spans in our churches than ever before and it’s important to communicate to them in a way that they can connect to without putting them in a box.
- Be careful about using the “singles” label. // While labeling small groups or ministries with the word “singles” is done with a good intention, it can inadvertently communicate that the purpose of the gathering is for dating only and puts unnecessary pressure on people. Single people may be wanting to connect with their peers in a similar stage of life for reasons other than finding a partner. Instead of using the word “singles”, try other terms like “30-somethings” or “college and career”. It’s ok if the groups are co-ed. The truth is when you get a bunch of people in a room, whether it’s a small group or a larger social ministry, people who are single are going to find each other just as married couples will find each other.
- Use stories from singles too. // Whether you are the pastor who does most of the preaching, you handle the social media, or you are responsible for some other aspect of external church communications, pay attention to the stories, metaphors and examples you use. It’s harder for a single person to identify with a marriage-related story and apply that to their own life. However, if you share a more relationally-neutral story, such as about coworkers/classmates, neighbors, or friends, then both a married and single person can put themselves into that scenario. Share about how a widowed 42 year old is stewarding their finances well, or how a divorced 64 year old is living on mission. Or how a never-married 20-something is serving their community. Use a variety of ages and stages in your examples.
- Ask, don’t assume. // A lot of times people make assumptions about singles, what they need, and how they want to be involved in the church rather than asking them. Don’t assume that single women want to do all the serving in your kids ministry. And don’t assume that the bulk of the volunteering should fall to young single people or they will become burned out. Ask them how you can better support, serve, and equip them. Ask them what they want to do in your church. Don’t just assign them tasks that you think they’ll like; ask them where they feel most called to be.
- Represent a variety of life stages. // Don’t overlook single people in the photos of your church life. In both the graphics inside your church and on your website and social media, use images of singles as well as couples and families. Feature perspectives from single people in your messaging too.
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Rich Birch — Hey, everybody. Welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad to have you tuned in today. You know every week we bring you a leader who will both inspire and equip you and today is no exception. Excited to have my new friend, Kaylee Estes, with us. She was the Connections Pastor at a fantastic church at Colorado – Restoration Community Church – a fantastic church – you’re gonna want to ah be following along with them. Ah Kaylee was a Connections Pastor there which is a fantastic part of ah, you know the church as we’re trying to get people plugged in – something we love to talk about. Kaylee, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.
Kaylee Estes — Thank you, thank you – thank you for having me.
Rich Birch — Um, why don’t you tell us about the kind of scope of the Connections role. Um, what was that? That looks hand look a little bit different at at churches. So talk to us about what that you know looks like.
Kaylee Estes — Yep, yeah, it definitely looks different at all churches. So at Restoration the role was twofold. The biggest portion of my role was overseeing our small groups and groups ministry and then I also oversaw all of our first impressions, assimilation, that sort of thing as well.
Rich Birch — Nice, okay and the to kind of tell us about ah Restoration a little bit. Like give us a sense of the you know, just the kind of style of ministry and how how did small groups fit into that. But just you kind of fill out the picture a little bit for folks that wouldn’t know.
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, sure. Of course. So Restoration’s a nondenominational church and they are fantastic. They really emphasize excellence and they also emphasize um Bible knowledge, and really understanding what our faith looks like as well as making sure that we are growing and that we are also evangelizing – making sure that we’re going out to our city and and telling people about us. So small groups was a pretty integral piece for that. When I got started though they did not have anybody overseeing small groups, so I came on board and I got to really you know, jumpstart their ministry there, and and it was really cool because I was able to try a lot of new things and what didn’t work I, you know, threw out the window and kept going and tried new things. And by the end of the 3 years that I was their Connections Pastor I ended up tripling their their groups’s numbers and it was just a really thriving ministry so it was really fun.
Rich Birch — It’s fantastic. very cool. Well I know from previous conversations as we’ve been connecting and getting ready for today that um, I’m really excited to have you on because this is one of those topics – it hard to believe; I think we’re 600 episodes in and this could actually maybe be germane to the problem. We’re almost 600 episodes in and I don’t think we’ve had this conversation, which is ah, and so I come confessing to you, my pastor, that we haven’t talked about this issue that we should be which is really the whole area of how we create space for single people in our churches. And I think so many times our churches are built around either couples or built around families and I know you’ve got some passion in this area. Um, let’s just start at kind of a broad level. Why should churches be worrying about thinking about creating a space for single folks in their community?
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, so personally this has become a passion of mine because I am single, have been single unmarried, um forty years old so it’s been a while now. Um but wouldn’t change it, to be honest, and but in a broader sense the reason why it’s become such a passion of mine is that more and more people are single in our churches. And it’s from a few different aspects. So there’s there’s the fact that our younger generations are waiting longer to get married, and so therefore we’re going to have more single people because of that. And then also on the flip side of that, we have you know our divorce rates continue to increase and so we have more people who are divorced and so than they’re single. And then as people continue to increase their ah lifespans we’re going to see more and more widows and widowers. So across all age age gaps or age spans, we’re going to see more and more singles—um, unfortunately or fortunately, either way—um, coming into our church or that we can go and evangelize to.
Rich Birch — Yeah I love that. You know, I know um I saw this chart once that was fascinating. It was looking at the age of the first marriage of, it was it was men um over a hundred years. And you know, the interesting thing about this chart was—and maybe I’ll find and put it in the show notes—was if you look back one hundred years ago um the average because of life expectancy was much lower, um, people were getting married in the last third of their life. Well that because of life expectancy has gone up that has even though in the last say twenty years we would say people are getting married later, they’re actually getting married in the percentage of their life way earlier which has this interesting kind of, you know, when you talk about widows on the back end, there’s interesting interesting stuff there.
Kaylee Estes — Yep.
Rich Birch — So let’s let’s dig in. Um, we’ve got, you know, a few thousand church leaders listening in and what would be, where do we need to start when we’re thinking about how do we create space for single people? How? What what are we doing? What do you see in churches that are like, ooh that’s like ah a problem like ah either whether it’s quick fixes or stuff that we should be thinking about? Um, you know how do we create a better a better community feeling for folks who aren’t aren’t married, for whatever reason?
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, exactly. I think that, first of all, I think that a lot of times churches try to find some big fix, like how can we have a paradigm shift, or how can we do—which is great in a lot of a lot of areas—but I think that just some of the the key starting points um, the three that I have identified are actually really subtle and really simple. And the first one is really the language that you’re using surrounding your groups or your Ministry Names. So a lot of times people say oh well we have a singles ministry or we’re going to create a bunch of singles groups for our singles and so then they’ll be able to gather and you know hang out with each other, which is a good intention, right? That’s a great intention. However, for me personally, um and a lot of people I’ve talked to, we can’t stand it. When you put singles in a name. We just can’t, because the moment you do that you’ve now created like this pressure, or this um this perceived assumption that everybody in that group or that Ministry is wanting to date and that that’s a dating pool.
Rich Birch — Hmm. Okay, okay.
Kaylee Estes — And for a variety of reasons there could be people in there who don’t want to date. Um, they could be just feeling like they need a season of of singleness. They could be um, right after a divorce, they could have gone through a really hard season of depression or addiction and they’re just needing to kind of come out of that. Whatever the reason, they may not want to be put into a forced pressure situation where all of a sudden everybody who’s there knows that we’re all singles and we all might want to date. So you know, we have apps for that. We don’t need that in church and then.
Rich Birch — Sure. Yeah isn’t that funny? That that’s an interesting um phenomenon I’ve definitely seen where it’s like any anytime we identify something as a singles event the assumption is that’s a bunch of people who are not wanting to be single…
Kaylee Estes — Yes, yes.
Rich Birch — …which is a funny – that’s that’s an odd kind of cultural thing for sure.
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, well and part of that is um, you know for whatever reason historically um, the church sees singleness as a waiting period before you get married.
Rich Birch — Okay, yep.
Kaylee Estes — And so there’s this assumption that every single person wants to get married and wants to get married right now. And you know honestly, that’s just not true for again variety of reasons. And um like I said for the younger generations it’s just not true because they’re waiting. They’re wanting to um, experience life, work on their careers, go travel, do whatever they’re wanting to do, and so they’re waiting to get married. Um, so yeah, but what I so what I did as a Connections Pastor is I made sure, I intentionally made sure that we did not put the word singles anywhere. And so um when we had groups that started and I had someone who would come to me and say, hey I want to start a singles group. I’d go, great, that sounds wonderful – we’re not going to put the word singles in it. Um, you can, you know, call it the Wash Park Group (which is a location in Denver). You can call it, you know the 30-somethings group. Whatever you want to call it um, just don’t put the word singles in there. And you can make it coed if you want to. Because the truth is is that when you get a bunch of people in a room whether it’s a small group or a larger social ministry people who are single are going to find each other, just like people who are married are going to find each other. So we don’t we don’t need people telling us what to do. We’re we’re grown adults. We know what to do.
Rich Birch — Mmm, interesting.
Kaylee Estes — And the other reason for me too as a pastor is, I really want to keep that small group kind of sacred in a way because the small group specifically, you know, that’s where we’re supposed to come together as a community and grow and hold each other accountable, and learn, and and develop deeper relationship with God, and spiritual rhythms, and that sort of thing. And so I don’t want people walking into a small group thinking, oh who am I going to date from this small group? Like that just kind of weirds me out to be honest.
Rich Birch — Sure. Sure, totally. So now have you found as a Connections Pastor there does seem to be two general schools of thought or two general approaches that churches take. One are kind of affinity-based groups that do that would lend themselves to the kind of like singles group or there’s the like 30-somethings-with-kids group, or there’s the like 40-somethings-bald-guys-who-like-technology group, which would be mine, or or there’s the or there’s the the kind of geographically-based groups that are more like hey let’s be in, like you mentioned, ah you know a particular neighborhood. From ah a single perspective is it better to lean more towards the the kind of community-based – is that is that a better more welcoming environment, or can it work in both approaches?
Kaylee Estes — Honestly I think it can work in both approaches. I think if you’re a bigger church, then you have a lot more opportunity to do everything, right? Because if you have a bigger church then you’re going to have the people who are wanting to go and ride bikes forever, and there’s going to be singles or marrieds. And then there’s going to be people who want to be in the geographic location, and so on and so forth. And so bigger churches have a lot more flexibility. Um, if you’re a smaller church I—like um Restoration is, we see about 400 people on a weekend—um, you you really do need to think a little bit more broad, just because you don’t want to isolate singles and you also don’t want to pigeonhole them. And so you want to think more on the terms of a geographic location or broad age group. So 30-somethings or young adults or um, you know, mid-professionals or something like that where it’s a little bit broader.
Rich Birch — Right. Right.
Kaylee Estes — But you also don’t want it to be so broad that you end up with some 20s and 40s and 60s…
Rich Birch — Right.
Kaylee Estes — …because yes they can get along – I’m not saying they can’t; please hear me there. And yes, they can have fun. I have mentors who are older than me and I mentor younger people. So um I’m not saying that, but like I said you get a bunch of single people in a room and they’re going to be looking for someone else – potentially. Maybe not right now, but maybe someday down the road if and if and when they want to get married. And so you don’t want to put 20s and 40s and 60s together because a twenty year old does not need to be dating a sixty year old and vice versa.
Rich Birch — Right.
Kaylee Estes — Um, so you do want to kind of keep some boundaries in there.
Rich Birch — Okay, very cool. So You said there were there were a number of things so I get this our language totally understand that what else should we be thinking about.
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, so another thing that’s really simple for um, lead pastors for sure, but then also anybody who does social media marketing or any sort of communication coming from the church, is also a language thing. So it’s changing um, your stories, your metaphors, your examples – those sorts of things. So a lot of lead pastors, not all, but a lot of them are married, and so by default they will share stories from their marriage, or from a marital perspective, which again I totally understand and I get because that is easy for them, and also Jesus used a lot of marriage metaphors, so I I truly do understand that. But again, there’s more and more single people in our church and so it’s harder for a single person to hear a marriage story or a marriage metaphor and switch that into: well what does that look like for me as a single person? However, if you share a story that’s more relationally neutral, so you talk about friends, or you talk about coworkers or whatever. Then that married person can put themselves into that pretty fast, especially if you’re talking about friends because typically your spouse is one of your friends, and so you’ll just automatically think oh well I’ll just grab my spouse and go do x-y-z. Um, a simple one that I’m thinking about is a lot of times pastors like to talk about um you know, being a good neighbor. And so inviting neighbors over for dinner with your spouse, right? And so um, that happens a lot I hear that one a lot and that’s great, but again for a lot of people who have roommates who are single, who are living by themselves, like they don’t have a spouse. And so if we can say things like, hey go grab one of your friends, or go grab your roommate and invite your neighbors over for dinner or um, go play games with them. You know, game nights are super fun, or whatever it is, then that again that married person can put themselves into that story really really easily. And so it makes it a little bit more um, a little bit easier for the single person to be invited into that conversation, and not feel ostracized which is usually what ends up happening.
Rich Birch — Love it.
Kaylee Estes — And so similarly with social media, with other sorts of you know, communication again, make sure that you’re using examples that are I guess single-friendly for lack of a better term.
Rich Birch — Mmm-hmm – no, that’s good.
Kaylee Estes — Um, but always grab stories from, you know, the couples, the marrieds, the couples with kids, you know, whatever – also try and grab stories from single people. You know, how are single people stewarding their finances well? How are single people reaching their communities? And again that single person could be a widowed 42 year old. It could be a divorced 64 year old. It could be a never married 23 year old. But getting those different perspectives um, again helps those people not feel ostracized, not feel like they’re on the outside. Because there is plenty of messaging within a church talking about marrieds and families, and I always put families in quotations because that’s usually assuming that it’s a married person with children.
Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes.
Kaylee Estes — And there’s a lot of different families out there.
Rich Birch — Yeah, the definition of family is pretty broad in most of our communities, right?
Kaylee Estes — Yes.
Rich Birch — And and we often do just portray family as mom and dad and kids, right? And that’s you know that’s not necessarily the case for sure.
Kaylee Estes — Yes.
Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. I think that’s a great coaching around you know the language we use. And it’s a good reminder that you, know, we’ve seen this in other contexts, other podcasts that we’ve done, that particularly as the church grows, teaching, the kind of weekend teaching/preaching…
Kaylee Estes — Yeah.
Rich Birch — …whatever that’s called your church becomes a team effort – that there’s like multiple people contributing to that message…
Kaylee Estes — Absolutely.
Rich Birch — …and ensuring that someone who is single, or at least has that hat on is thinking about it from a single perspective, would be very helpful to be like…
Kaylee Estes — Yeah.
Rich Birch — …hey there’s you know there are probably some simple ways we could tweak this that that are not going to take any problems. It’s not gonna take away the messaging for people who are married with kids but could really open up the door a little bit more for single folks.
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, and I’m actually really glad you brought that up because one of the things that Restoration did that I thought was really excellent is that um they had me as a single female on their teaching team calls. And so we had like you said a variety of people teaching, and I would be on those calls every single week, and it was really just so that I could sit there and say the things that you’re just now saying. So I could sit there and say ,oh hey like you just talked a lot about marriage like can you please do do something that’s not about marriage because people like me are just going to shut down, because we’re not there yet and we may never be.
Rich Birch — Yeah.
Kaylee Estes — So um, just finding that person that that you trust theologically, that you trust their opinion and asking them to be in those calls, or in those meetings is a really simple, easy way to make sure that when you’re structuring your series, when you’re structuring your messages, you have someone kind of checking checking that out for you.
Rich Birch — Yeah I love that. Are there other areas where you could see that engaging a single you know like you say a trusted leader who’s single um are there other areas where you could say, hey this would be a good place to just bring them in the room and ask questions and and explore. There’s some other examples of that – the teaching one seems like a really obvious one to me.
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, yep.
Rich Birch — I’m like oh yeah, of course that’s like such a win. Are there other, you know, aspects of our – design of our experiences or, you know, those kind of things that would be really helpful you think?
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, to be honest, the short and easy answer is invite them everywhere.
Rich Birch — Sure, sure. Yes.
Kaylee Estes — Because because here’s the thing, like a lot of times people make a lot of assumptions about singles instead of just asking the singles, what do you want to do, or how can I support you? And so no matter what the area is—whether it’s your your kid’s ministry, whether it’s your students’ ministry, if you have college your college ministry, your first impressions, greeters—whatever it is just ask. Ask them, you know, what what can we do better for you, or what do you want to do? Um, you know I have an example where we had a young lady. We had a college that’s really close to our church and we had a young lady who came in and and said, oh I really want to serve and so the person my colleague immediately put her on the greeting team. And said: great – we need greeters. Let’s put you on the greeting team. She’s like great. Okay. So she starts greeting. Well about three months later she comes up to us and says you know I’m really shy, and I can’t stand greeting. I actually really want to do the tech team.
Rich Birch — Ah, sure. Sure. Yes. Yes.
Kaylee Estes — And we’re like yes, we need people in the tech team. We always do. So we immediately switched her over and that was – that ended up being a positive experience because she was brave enough to come and talk to us but a lot of times people just get irritated, and they need to get angry, and to be honest, sometimes they leave the church because they’re like, wow you didn’t even ask; you just assumed. And um, that was ah a nice story because the assumption was also greeting, but to be honest, a lot of times for female singles the assumption is let me put you in kids. And I just personally that one ruffles my feathers because I…
Rich Birch — Mmm, grates on you. Yes.
Kaylee Estes — Um I don’t always want to assume that anyone wants to be with our children and also we want people who are with our children who are excited to be with our kids, right? We don’t want like quote unquote second tier and I’m not saying singles are second tier, or but or parents are, I’m just saying when you just automatically assume, oh well, we need help here so I’m just gonna put you here that…
Rich Birch — Sure.
Kaylee Estes — …that’s not the best way to build any ministry to be honest. Um, so really just asking questions and also another thing that I see happen a lot, and I literally have had colleagues say this to me, is they start asking single people to do multiple serving opportunities. So, oh you’re leading a small group. Great. Then that means that you can be um, you know a communion lead or you can be a first impressions lead, and also we’re gonna need help at parents night out so you’re gonna help with that too. And they just start heaping things on, and I’ve literally turned to my colleagues and been like, what are you doing? They’re going to be burned out and overwhelmed. And their response is, well they’re single – they have plenty of time.
Rich Birch — Right.
Kaylee Estes — And again that one drives me crazy. But it’s because just because we’re single doesn’t mean that we have tons of time.
Rich Birch — Right, right.
Kaylee Estes — Like yes, we do have some time that is more than a married person because we’re not investing in that marriage that married people are investing in. And we absolutely have more time than parents do ah hands down parents I just bow to you all. But um, but as singles we do have things that we’re doing. We have jobs just like everyone else. We make plans. We have friends and relationships that we’re trying to cultivate, and if we are choosing to date, well then we’re spending time dating and developing those relationships as well. And so you don’t want to burn your singles out.
Rich Birch — Right.
Kaylee Estes — And so don’t just automatically assume that they’re going to do two or three or four things. You know, really ask them. Ask them what they want to do. Ask them how they can be supported. Ask them if they want to potentially, you know, be on an advisory board or something like that to help you know, make sure that your social media is more friendly to singles – that sort of thing. But just ask questions. It’s really simple and we really appreciate it when he get asked.
Rich Birch — Love it. That’s so good. That’s so so helpful. When you think about um this you know I’m sure that you’ve bumped into churches that are like super pro, you know, singles – they’re like, hey this is a great, you know, this is a great thing. And then it’s almost like you can you can smell it from a mile away you walk into a church and you’re like oh this just is not this is not a great, you know, place for singles. What would be you know, two or three of those things on the negative side?
Kaylee Estes — Yeah.
Rich Birch — You’ve been so positive today. You’re a positive and uplifting encouraging person. What would be some of those things that you as a single leader ah you know you sit in a really unique spot. You’re both single and you’re a leader in in the church that you can just pick out quickly, like man you we need to stop. We need to avoid these things because they just single folks can smell it from a while away.
Kaylee Estes — You know when you walk into a building or um, walk into the foyer or whatever and all you see are pictures of couples and kids, then immediately you’re like oh great here we go. Because that right there, right? Imagery can set the tone for culture super fast. And so that one’s a big glaring one for me. Like it’s also a big glaring one for me for you know, um, showing different ages. Like just put a variety of people in your pictures. And that goes for your social media because a lot of times the quote front door is not walking into the building, but it’s going on to social media and it’s looking there. So for me, that’s a big glaring one, and then also um I would say just again, it’s it’s your messaging. It’s your language. So if someone sits in and on their very first sermon whether it’s in person or they’re listening to it online, and you don’t have any examples that include a single person or a single person’s perspective, then a red flag, red flag, red flag.
Rich Birch — Right. Love it.
Kaylee Estes — Um, and it just it’s just one of those things where you just really have to be as aware as you possibly can, and I know it’s hard from when you’re married. But um, yeah, you just really do have to work on it.
Rich Birch — Love it. So helpful. As we’re kind of coming down to land today’s episode, anything else you’d like to share with us as we kind of wrap up today’s conversation?
Kaylee Estes — Um, I just think bottom line I just want people to know that you know singles a lot of times get ah a bad rap as being selfish or or being self-centered, or whatever, because we we do cry out like this. Um, but but honestly it’s just because we want to be seen, we want to be heard, and we want to be known. And so that’s the simplest thing, again, is just go and engage the single people in your church. And just talk to them because that’s really all, we’re desperately wanting.
Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. Love it. This has been so helpful – I really appreciate you ah you know being here today and helping us think through these issues. You’ve been so helpful for us as we wrestle through this issue and and hopefully it’s been encouraging for you listeners as you’ve been listening in. If people if people want to get in touch with you, kind of track with you on social media or any of that stuff, where do we want to send them online? Where’s the best place for them to to connect?
Kaylee Estes — Yeah, they can find me on Instagram – um I think my Instagram handle—I know I should know this—but I think it’s 303kaylee
Rich Birch — Nice. Great. Perfect.
Kaylee Estes — Um, and so yeah, go ahead, find me on Instagram. I’m starting a blog and so you’ll start hearing more from me. And yeah I’d love to have any of you there and and engage with you there. So please do.
Rich Birch — Perfect. Thanks, Kaylee – I appreciate you being on the show today. Thank you so much.
Kaylee Estes — Yes, thank you so much, Rich.