Singleness and Missions: Men v. Women

Photo by marsmetn tallahassee
My friend, Justin Long, has been doing some work on the issue of singleness in missions. What he is discovering won't be much of a surprise for many of you.  That is, that single women greatly outnumber single men in cross-cultural missions -- on the order of something like 6 to 1!

You can read Justin's first few posts on this phenomenon at The Long View here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

So, let me ask you.  Why do you think that so many more single women than single men are interested in being cross-cultural missionaries?


  1. These were excellent questions he closed with:
    "- What we don’t know is: of new yearly applicants, how many are singles, and of those, how many are single males?
    - How many singles (and single males) make it through the application process and on to the field?
    - How long do singles stay on the field vs. the length of service of the typical couple?
    - How many singles get married while on the field and thus become “married” in the statistics?"

    I would be very curious as to the results of question 2 in particular.

    1. Yes, that would be good to know. It makes me wonder about the various litmus tests which agencies conduct. For example, pornography addiction is more common in single men than in single women. If application processes don't allow for more grace in this area then it might result in lower numbers of men.

      But, I think a bigger reason for the difference is that men have more ministry options available to them than do women.

  2. One of the factors that I don't think is talked about often is the dependence factor... that is, missionaries are dependent on the body of Christ for their support. It is much more natural (and not frowned upon) for a woman to ask for support, while a man, especially a young man, it is much more difficult--culturally speaking. That is why I think many young men with a heart for ministry gravitate towards domestic ministry, where there are clearly defined funding channels--and also explains in some part the growth of business as missions. I cannot tell you the amount of times that some well meaning Christian brother has said to me, "why don't you just get a job in Japan?"

    Another factor which may or may not be discussed is that the current way that missions is funded favors women. With funding increasingly coming from individual supporters, those with the best relational networks tend to be fully supported faster--women are on average significantly better at building and maintaining relationships and networks of relationships. With less and less churches giving directly to missionaries, this may discourage the man who doesn't think that he has an extensive network of relationships to draw on from considering missions. I have no doubt that if a study was done, it would find that women are much better at raising support from individuals than men.

    The third factor that comes to my mind is that men have many more options in ministry outside of missions than women--there are not many paid children's or women's ministry positions. Other than becoming the pastor's wife, many women with a heart for ministry will find it hard to be ministering vocationally in the States.

    Oftentimes this 6 to 1 ratio is held up to guilt men into considering missions--the truth is that unless churches and Christian individuals start encouraging men to consider missions, there will be no noticeable increase in missionary sending among single men. However, that leads to the last issue that I think is the elephant in the room.

    One reason that there are not more single Christian men serving in missions is because single Christian men often are stigmatized, knowingly or unknowingly. Believe it or not, as I have been raising support and networking with churches, a few questions that will inevitably come up are, "are you planning on getting married?" "you are attracted to women, right?" etc.

    Many Christian men often avoid overseas missions until they are no longer single--for many Christians singleness is seen as a red flag and not in a positive light. I have only had one pastor ever say to me, "you know, you are blessed to be single, you can do so much for the Kingdom!"

    The specter of homosexuality and sexual brokenness hang over the head of the single Christian man. Until the church develops a healthier understanding of singleness, I don't think more single men will consider serving in the mission field--their is just too much pressure for them to get married.

    1. Good word, Ian. I am not sure if women are better fundraisers than me, but perhaps so. The stigma of singleness has hit both genders to some degree but I think it seems more negative with men. The single woman in mission is often portrayed as sacrificing marriage for the Kingdom. The single male is looked at as odd - don't leave him alone with your kids.

      Funding is getting weirder. We are starting to look at micro-business ideas simply because we are finding that American Christians are getting stingier.

      Anyway, I have great respect for you as a single man who has put the Kingdom ahead of cultural expectations. And I agree with the pastor who spoke of singleness as a gift. Truly is.

  3. It is interesting because our community fits the statistic pretty well. We have including both outreaches 11 single females, and 2 single males living in the neighborhood. Some paid, some not paid, all sharing the love Jesus with their immigrant and refugee neighbor. Sometimes I feel bad for Drew, he gets stuck with some pretty girly topics of conversation.

    1. What do you think contributes to this in your situation, Kristen?