Judy Anderson, a part-time organist for Fourth Presbyterian Church in Rockville, said she only dates people from the church's Sunday morning singles Bible study group. "Where else can you find a Christian but in church?" she asked.
Twenty-four-year-old Barbara Mullon and her divorced mother Eula belong to the singles group at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church. "We both get a great deal from the friendship and fellowship at the socials," she said. "There are a lot of people around here who don't go to church at all."
"Singles services," Bible groups, even basketball games are just some of the things churches and synagogues here and across the country are doing to attract adults to their congregations and keep the ones who already belong.
In the Washington area alone, there are an estimated 650,000 single adults.
Religious groups are wooing them for reasons ranging from fear of intermarriage to concern for their spiritual needs.
Nationally, the United Methodists recently began media campaigns in four U.S. cities where single adults "looking for more meaning in life" are invited to church activities.In addition to the ads, church groups have placed notices about the program in restaurants and bars.
One reason religious institutions have fallen short in ministering to single adults is that "single means such a variety of things," said the Rev. Dr. William R. Yount, assistant minister at Columbia Baptist Church.
Widowed adults don't have the same needs as younger divorced parents, said Yount, and middle-aged persons who've never married don't have a lot in common with single people just out of college. "So sponsoring 'singles groups' doesn't exactly fit the bill," he said, "you're talking about lots of people with lots of different needs."
Columbia Baptist Church has tried to solve the problem by forming two singles groups, one for older or divorced persons and one for young people who have never been married. "Then we work as a team within the group," said Yount. "If someone is hurting over a divorce, we offer him that extra support. For a young person right out of college, we offer a chance to meet other young adults" through Bible studies, volleyball games, and outings.
Rabbis are interested in bringing young Jewish adults together to encourage marriages within the faith and because the Jewish tradition emphasizes the family so much.
"When only one out of 40 people is a Jew, it's not hard to see why there is such a high rate of intermarriage among Jews," said Rabbi Stephen Listfield of Adas Israel Congregation.
"In our 4,000-year history, Jewish meant married," he said. "When rabbis get together, they don't compare the number of inidividuals in their congregations, they compare the number of families."
Listfield knows of a rabbi who could not decide what membership fee to charge a single woman who wanted to join his congregation. He finally decided to charge her the widow's rate, rather than the family fee.
Listfield recently held an impromptu, experimental singles service at his synagogue on Connecticut Avenue and was shocked when 300 people showed up. Because of the response, he is considerng holding regular monthly singles services.
The Church of the Pilgrims a Presbyterian congregation on P Street NW takes a different approach.
"Instead of singling singles with special programs, I make them feel like they're a part of the church community here," said the Rev. Herbert Maza, the church's pastor. "I've found they want to be part of that larger family and we insist that we're one family and we work hard to build that family."
Maza said he believes the single adults who make up more than a third of his congregation also are attracted to his approach to Christianity. "We're a gutty church," he said. "We take risks. We're just connected to the neighborhood and the issues" -- the Iranian situation and local politics, for instance.
The Rev. Jim Sirbaugh, a minister at Idlewood Presbyterian Church, said singles who belong to churches in Washington "don't have it so bad. It's the single people who belong to suburban churches who feel like fish out of water" because more families belong to suburban churches.
Sirbaugh is a member of the Presbyterian task force that is studying they idea of ministering to single adults. "It's a phenomenon that's taking off. I think churches are finally discovering there are a lot of single people within their reach.