When Lois Breit's husband left her more than 20 years ago, she had five children between the ages of 2 and 11.
"I was hopeless, not even wanting to go on," Breit says. "I was so emotionally broken I didn't even want to be around people at first."
Then the single mom found a caring church community at Maple Grove (Minnesota) Assembly of God.
"The church really stepped up and helped out - not only with the financial needs, but also the emotional needs we had," Breit says. "They became our aunts, uncles and the extended family we needed."
Her children are now grown and serving Christ, but Breit hasn't forgotten those early struggles. In 2010, she became the first Assemblies of God U.S. missionary to single moms.
"I know what it means to be overwhelmed financially and emotionally, and to be so incredibly lonely," says Breit, who now lives in Bradenton, Florida. "If the church can be a family to single mothers, there's such a great opportunity to make a difference. I really feel God has called me to make churches aware of this need."
An increasing number of children live in single-parent households. In 2008, nearly 41 percent of births in the United States were to unwed mothers - more than double the 1980 figure, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2009, approximately 27 percent of children lived with only one parent, the Census Bureau reports. In most cases, the lone parent was a mother.
"Most churches fail to realize how many single parents are out there," Breit says. "Sadly, many single parents aren't attending church. These families represent a whole segment of the population that desperately needs the hope of Christ."
|Gail Cawley Showalter (right) talks with a single mom.|
Gail Cawley Showalter says when her husband left her with three young children to raise alone, Cathedral Church, an AG congregation in Beaumont, Texas, was a source of emotional support for her hurting family.
"There was a grandfatherly Royal Rangers commander who took an interest in my sons' lives," says Showalter, who now lives in Nederland, Texas. "Even when they were grown, he would always ask about them. We were really fortunate to have that kind of environment."
Showalter's experiences as a single mom led her to start an organization called SMORE for Women: Single Moms Overjoyed, Rejuvenated, Empowered! The group hosts conferences, classes and retreats for single moms. Showalter also organizes home events that bring Christian women together to serve and care for single moms.
"These women need support, encouragement and a safe place to fall," Showalter says. "The stress and responsibilities of single parenting are just incredible. My passion is to see them come to God and find the strength they need through a relationship with Him."
Lin Kirschman, a Women's Ministries mentor at Bethel Temple Assembly of God in Canton, Ohio, says the economic downturn has added to the challenges of single parenting.
"Food prices have gone up, and a lot of people have lost their jobs," says Kirschman, wife of Senior Pastor Terry Kirschman. "Many single moms in our area are struggling just to feed and clothe their kids."
The church hosts an annual fall clothing giveaway for single parents and their children. The event also offers free shoes, school supplies, haircuts, furniture, and gift certificates for stores, restaurants and service stations.
At Christmas, the congregation provides toys to single-parent families and gives away used jewelry and accessories to single moms.
The Women's Ministries group also hosts spa events for single moms, providing makeovers, haircuts, manicures, pedicures, hand massages and free beauty products.
"We take the time to pray with the women," Kirschman says. "Many of them are working through difficult emotional issues, facing a job loss, or dealing with other serious needs. We just want to make them feel special and let them know we're here for them."
Kirschman says some of the single moms eventually become a part of the church. Others send their children to services.
"There are a lot of single moms out there who feel they're alone - that no one cares," Kirschman says. "We want to be there to help them and let them know there is a God who cares for them. We're called to be more than just a church that meets on Sundays. We need to reach out to those who are hopeless and hurting."
Concord (North Carolina) First Assembly of God offers free parenting classes for single parents. Pastor Kevin Whidden says reaching these families with the gospel can impact them for generations.
"If the church can come in with the love of Christ and with an outstretched hand and help the moms be more healthy in their homes, and consequently help the kids be more healthy, that's a win-win for everyone involved," Whidden says.
Lori Little, a single mother and author of The 21 Principles of a Healthy Single Mom, says the growing number of single-parent families can no longer be ignored.
"It's smacking you in the face," Little says. "It's not just the traditional family anymore. The church is starting to catch on, but there's always more we can do. Many single parents are living in depression and isolation. We need to make them feel comfortable and welcome in our churches."
Dennis Franck, national director of Single Adult/Single-Parent Family Ministries for the Assemblies of God, says Scriptures such as James 1:27 that encourage Christians to help widows and orphans apply to modern single-parent households as well.
"Single-parent children are today's orphans," Franck says. "The Bible is clear about God's heart for such families and the responsibility we have to reach out to them. The church is commanded to love and minister to all types of people."
Author: Christina Quick, Pentecostal Evangel