Rev Steve Mitchell is the director of Club Solo Ministries in Australia. Here the Melbourne-based 59-year-old married father of two talks with DAVID ADAMS about his role with the singles-oriented ministry...

Steve Mitchell 000

Rev Steve Mitchell

"Club Solo is a place where single Christian singles can get together in friendly and non-threatening environment to have some fun, fellowship and spiritual uplifting."

What is Club Solo all about?
"Club Solo is an interdenominational ministry of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia, serving Christian single adults, who have never married, are divorced, or widowed, through social, holiday and activity programs. It is in its 33rd year of ministry. It is a place where single Christian singles can get together in friendly and non-threatening environment to have some fun, fellowship and spiritual uplifting. Since its inception in 1983, thousands of singles have attended various camps and tours in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the US, and the South Pacific."

Who is involved - is it across all age groups and both men and women and from a range of different circumstances?
"Males and females of any age that have never married, are divorced, or separated for over 12 months, or widowed. The age bracket at present is 40-plus."

How did you become personally involved in the organisation?
"When I was at Kingsley College (a Bible college), I was appointed the Sunshine Wesleyan Methodist Church under the pastor, Rev Bill Foster, from America. That was in beginning of 1987. I was leading worship at the time and Bill offered me a free camp if I would come to a singles' camp on the June long weekend in 1987. It was at Creswick in Ballarat and. being a college student I took the offer for a free camp not ever expecting to last more than one camp. From then on I went to every camp and activity until I took over as director in 1998 when the Fosters moved to Adelaide. 
      "In 1998 I left my job as a postie and went fulltime with Solo so that I could help it grow. It was difficult and exciting all at the same time as my wife Michelle was working fulltime and Solo didn’t have any regular income coming in for the director. But this move helped me become a pastor to singles, not just a director of the organisation. Many in Club Solo see me as their pastor because they feel either their pastor doesn’t really care for them or they are the only single in their church."

Do you think singles tend to get overlooked in the life of many churches?
"Yes, I believe that there is a false stigma associated with being a single in church. The common thought-pattern from pastors seems to be that being single is not an advantage but a disadvantage. If you are a divorced single in a church then you are looked on with twice as much suspicion because members of the opposite sex are always thinking that you are trying to steal their husband or wife. Very few pastors look at a single and see a person who can contribute to a church - in some cases, far better than marrieds can. A single in most cases has extra time, money and energy to give towards ministry and if a pastor could learn how to harness that, they, the church, and the single will be much better off."

How can churches get better at including single people?
"Every single has a need to be loved and accepted. It is hard going home to an empty house every Sunday for lunch when an invitation from the pastor or other families within the church would make their week/month/year. I know when I was single, an invitation to another person’s home for a meal etc was the highlight of a month sometimes. Starting a singles' Bible study and/or prayer meeting would help; encouraging one or two singles in the church that they trust (or even better, a married couple) to start a singles' ministry within their church would be a blessing also. If you can keep it up, the church will draw singles in because they are being ministered to. Single people are whole people and need to be seen that way, by themselves and by others, and that will help everyone in a church to understand them better."

Do single people also have some responsibility in this?
"Yes! Like others in a church who are waiting for the leadership to do something for them, singles need to take the lead and ask the pastor/leaders to allow them to start something. Most pastors would allow that to happen if someone would approach them. It is easier to wait and hope someone will organise something for you but it won’t happen unless someone makes the first move. This is where plugging in to Club Solo’s monthly activities and camps could help them get started and meet other Christian singles in Melbourne and so on. They don’t have to reinvent to wheel so to speak, just go to other singles groups and see how it is done and work out what is best for your small or large group."

Club Solo says it's "not an introduction agency". Does that take the 'pressure' off singles joining in?
"Yes, it certainly does. There is an overall feeling that they are not going to a ‘meat market’ where they are being objectified by the opposite sex with a view to matching up with someone. They are coming along to meet other Christian singles who, like themselves, are in need of some fellowship, friendship and fun within a group setting, whether there are 10 or 100 at the event. We at Club Solo emphasize this very much. If anything untoward happened at an activity or camp, the person or persons would be sent home and never allowed back again."

Does being married help or hinder you in the job?
"Being married both helps and hinders. It helps in a number of ways. Because I am married and secure in our relationship, I can run Solo and attend singles' events and both my wife and I know I can be trusted not to be in search of intimacy or looking for someone to ‘fill a gap’ left by the other. Being married also offers stability to leadership...and means I already have boundaries in place with regard to relationships with the opposite sex. And God knew who I needed to help run this ministry and put Michelle into my life. I am the general picture person, she is the detail person. We complement each other in this ministry well. Even though I sometimes find it hard to see the detailed picture without it, Solo would fail. The fact that she supports my heading off to camps in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and encourages me to go is such a blessing not only to me but to those who are ministered to.
     "The hindrance is to do with the fact that I am not my own and therefore can’t always go to the singles' events and activities of other Christian singles' groups in Melbourne because of family commitments...This probably is good as well as I know I would probably be involved ‘25 hours’ a day if it was just me. For the same reason, I'm not able to visit and spend time with those who lead interstate groups...I believe that the leader should be seen as much as possible by those that are in each group. Lack of money and freedom of time are the two main hindrances to doing my job."

"The greatest challenge is probably to educate churches - and pastors in particular - that Club Solo is a place where you can send your single Christian and, with the ministry of the Holy Spirit and Solo, we will send them back to you a better person."

What's the greatest challenge in your role as director of Club Solo?
"The greatest challenge is probably to educate churches - and pastors in particular - that Club Solo is a place where you can send your single Christian and, with the ministry of the Holy Spirit and Solo, we will send them back to you a better person. They may have been refreshed, healed of their sickness, or healed of their relationship problems or difficulties, may have found a few new friends that they didn’t have before, or just found a new purpose for living. I know for sure that there have been individuals who have said going to Solo when they did saved them as they were considering suicide beforehand. If only churches and pastors could understand that Club Solo will not take anyone away from their church - we don’t have a church. Solo sends each single back into their own environment to influence those where they are."

And what do you love most about it?
"Outside of the fact that I found my wife there in 1992, the thing that I love most about Solo is seeing the change in people who have come to a camp for the first time and are ready to go home as soon as they step into the campsite or room. But at the end of camp you can’t get them to leave. Their demeanour has gone from sour to sweet; their depression has lifted to be bright and cheery; and I know that God has done a work in them that I or Solo could never do.
      "I also love the long-lasting friendships that I have made. Each of the folk who come along are willing to open themselves up to allowing God to work on them and allow others to see them as they are. For a long time, all of my close friends and acquaintances were from Solo. Solo folk seem to have a common bond that (means) they just get on well and are prepared to share experiences with each other. Being invited to teach other's birthdays and so on as well as going out on a regular basis for social and spiritual activities."