How do we get there? We must change our thinking to match our desired result. Because our language reflects how we think and perceive our world, we need to choose with care the words we use to describe our world. In short, we need to watch our mouths.
Perhaps the most important language change involves how we describe singles groups. By using singles program to describe singles groups, we reinforce the less effective idea that all singles need are activities, thus making singles in leadership little more than activity planners. By using support network, we reinforce the more effective idea of ministering to “the one.”
The traditional idea behind singles groups has been that simply mixing singles together produces couples. Pressed by a religious subculture that extols marriage as a rite of passage, many singles attend activities with exactly that view. But the ever-increasing average age at which LDS singles marry indicates that model doesn’t work very well.
The underlying idea behind support networks is different. Singles congregate specifically to strengthen and uplift one another. Participants follow the example of the Savior in ministering to individuals one by one. Loads of personal experience tells me this model works very well.
But replacing less effective ideas with more effective ones won’t happen if we don’t look to our language. In short, we need to watch our mouths.
Why "programs" don't work
What comes to mind when you hear someone say "Watch your mouth"? I think about Grandma with a bar of soap. I knew she would make good on her promise if I ever crossed the line. So I made sure never to cross the line. I watched my mouth.
Likewise we need to watch our mouths with respect to singles groups. Singles program reinforces the less effective model that glorifies activities and defines success by how many people participate in the program. That usually leaves people to their own devices.
That means most people won’t get the help they need. Unfulfilled, they will revert to making decisions based on cultural influences. Because LDS subculture views marriage as a rite of passage, people easily view singles activities as a dating forum. And when everyone is looking out for Number One, “the one” gets lost and forgotten.
What singles really need
Singles don’t really need activities. They need friends who understand what they experience and feel. They need support when those experiences and feelings seem overwhelming. They need to be part of something bigger than themselves. And they need their confidence and self-worth reinforced with positive influences when the hurricanes of life come crashing.
Ultimately, that’s what all people want — help navigating their road in life. Activities programs will never do that more effectively than support networks.
We need to replace singles program with support network.
This one simple change can have a powerful effect.
With it, we exchange programing activities with meeting individual needs. Programs don’t minister to individuals, but groups can. Programs don’t provide a sense of belonging, but groups can. Programs don’t support lost souls, but groups can.
Activities are tools, not destinations
I’m not advocating an abandonment of activities. We just need to see activities for what they really are --- tools by which individuals can minister to singles. Activities are a means to an end and not the end itself. By viewing activities more appropriately, we help them to become more effective.
I’ve been single now for almost two decades. In that time, I’ve attended literally hundreds of activities. Not a one makes my life better today. But my life is better because others reached out to me, shared goodness with me, and touched my heart.
That’s the difference between a program and a support network. Fifty years from now no one will care that they participated in a program. But fifty years from now people will care they were part of a group that reached out to individuals and changed their lives.
So watch your mouth. By adopting more effective language, we help everyone minister more effectively to the singles in our midst.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and since 2018 I've been producing a weekly radio show to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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