Many single Christians feel ‘isolated, invisible and alone’ in church, according to one of the first major studies into the experiences of unmarried worshippers. Researchers say the Church faces a ‘time bomb’ as it focuses on family friendly activities at a time when a growing proportion of the population lives alone.

The survey found that more than a third of Christians who are not married or in a relationship believe they are not treated the same as those that are part of conventional families.

One respondent said church was ‘the loneliest place I ever go to’. Nearly four out of 10 single churchgoers said they often felt ‘inadequate or ignored’ while 42.8% said their church ‘did not know what to do with them’. A total of 37% said they ‘did not feel treated as family members’

The findings are based on the responses of 2,754 people who use the Christian dating site Christian Connection. The survey was the brainchild of Christian Connection founder Jackie Elton who became increasingly concerned both by the lack of thinking in churches around singles and the difficulties her members experienced. ‘The world is changing, but churches aren’t learning how to reflect these changes,’ she said. ‘I was amazed at the huge response the survey received. The floodgates opened. The survey proves many churches are not meeting the needs of the growing number of single people.’

The 2011 census revealed that, for the first time, married-couple households are in the minority at 47%. Single-person households are increasing at a rate of 166,000 a year. ‘In many churches, theology around singleness seems rooted somewhere in the 1950s,’ Elton said.

 "Church is the loneliest place I ever go to"

HopefulGirl, who writes under a pen name, chronicled her experiences on the UK Christian dating scene for her book Would Like to Meet. She told Christianity magazine, ‘A lot of single people do feel invisible and ignored in their churches, or like a “problem” to be solved. The unspoken message they often receive is that they are not a full member of the club ? or even a fully fledged adult ? until they’ve bagged a spouse and had a couple of kids. ‘I met quite a few people during my time on the Christian singles scene who have ended up giving up on church altogether because they were sick of feeling like a “leper” or a “failure”. Leaders will have to start being more mindful of the increasing numbers of singles in their congregations, or people will simply vote with their feet.’

David Pullinger, the statistician who analysed the data, told Christianity magazine he was saddened by many of the sentiments expressed by the survey respondents.

‘They feel part of the worshipping and faith community but not part of the social community of the church,’ he said. ‘I’ve had so many stories of women who stand by themselves having coffee after church and if they have a friend with them, then suddenly everyone talks to them. This is particularly true for people over 30 who really feel less and less like members of the church family, and one of the big surprises for me was that all the data shows it gets worse as you get older.’

Although many Christians are finding it hard to meet other single Christians, more than half (57%) still insist that they could never marry a non-Christian. Just under a third (30%) said they would consider it, but only if their spouse was sympathetic to their faith.

Some also expressed doubts about whether God approves of Christians using online dating.

Vicky Walker, who blogs for Christian Connection, said, ‘There seems to be a mysterious belief that Christians don’t need to actively participate in finding a partner. That it is somehow unholy, unnecessary, desperate or superficial. I do think in rare cases God does bring people together, but only when there is a dramatic call on that couple…otherwise we’re expected to be wise, discerning and engaged with the process.’