Finding Compassion and Care
In 1960, just 9 percent of American children lived in single-parent homes. By 2013, that figure had spiked to 34 percent. In 2014, 40 percent of U.S. births were to unmarried women.
Single moms are a demographic with special challenges as they raise their children, often under overwhelming financial strain and with little or no help from their children’s fathers. But increasingly, Assemblies of God churches are awakening to these women’s needs in matters both spiritual and practical.
“The church is responding to a generation that had become invisible, avoided, or just too complicated to deal with,” says Lois Breit, the first AG U.S. missionary appointed to minister to single moms. “Where they used to find judgment and amplified guilt, they are now finding compassion and genuine care.”
Anecdotally, Breit has found that most of the congregations she’s visited in the past two years are in communities where single-parent families make up almost half the households.
“Churches are stunned at these numbers and are being moved to action,” says Breit, who as a single mom raised five children. She believes awareness has made the difference as churches nationwide now are seeking constructive ways to make single moms feel welcome, meet their needs, and bring them into the body of Christ.
Overall, Breit thinks church women’s groups have started embracing and mentoring single mothers. Men’s groups and senior citizens are setting up help teams for repairs while teaching and mentoring boys in these fatherless homes.
AG churches and districts are holding special events designed to meet single moms’ needs. Breit spoke at the AG Arizona Ministry Network’s first Single Moms’ Conference in 2011. Afterward, a leader attending the event opened Angela’s Treasures, a boutique that employs single moms. Other districts that have hosted sectional and district single mom events or leadership training on reaching single moms include SoCal, PennDel, Louisiana, and Peninsular Florida.
The AG Minnesota District held its fifth Dare to Dream single moms retreat in May with more than 130 volunteers who prayed, befriended, and provided car care to serve 450 mostly unchurched single moms.
“They go home changed women with connections to a local church,” says Breit, who is a Missionary Church Planters & Developers missionary.
But much work remains in reaching this demographic. Outreach must be intentional and compassionate.
“They do not want to be a project,” Breit says. “They want to be a friend. The Church must once again invest in the lives of people, not just give money toward a project. Relationship with God needs to be shared by relationship with people — even the ‘messy’ people around us.”
Such ministry requires investing time, work, and effort.
“However, when the Church meets the challenges single parents bring, generational patterns are broken, families are healed, and futures are forever changed,” Breit says.
Kay Burnett, director of AG Women's Ministries, notes that while many congregations are being more intentional in ministering to single moms, more needs to be done.
“Even where there’s progress, shifting to recognize we need to do extra for our single moms, the need is so great,” Burnett says. “There’s a need in every church for intentional ministry, just like we do for students, or women’s, and men’s ministry.”
Among those needs are ensuring their children’s well-being, despite the lack of a dad in the household.
“A common theme in their hearts is ‘My kids don’t have a chance,’ ” says Burnett, who directed the Arizona District Women’s Ministry for eight years. “It doesn’t have to be that way. God can be present in the brokenness.”
At Northland Christian Assembly, the Flagstaff, Arizona, church of 150 that she and her husband, Jim O. Burnett, planted 17 years ago, leaders are mindful of where needs may arise. For example, single moms may have difficulty paying school fees, women’s conference tuition, and camp for their children. Leaders are careful to be sensitive to their feelings, Kay Burnett says.
“We don’t want to make them feel they’re a benevolence family,” she says.
Renee Clanton was the single mom of two daughters for eight years after her husband left. Today, she’s remarried, serving the Lord as an AG World missionary, and her children are thriving and walking with the Lord. She also speaks at events for single moms.
“Whether we’re in a broken marriage or a single-parent home, our children don’t have to be a statistic,” Clanton says. “We can see God do a healing work in their lives as well. The hope we offer is that whatever the journey or path that has brought you to being a single parent, God is able to bring good, restoration and wholeness.”