As any participant in an unsuccessful blind date knows, being single is about the only thing some single adults have in common.

The diversity of Salt Lake-area singles presents a particular challenge for the churches that serve them. Meeting their needs sometimes takes special attention."It is very much a growing portion of our population," said Pastor Jerry Lewis of Southeast Christian Church. "People are waiting longer to be married and they need to be ministered to, and we need to provide areas where those who do want to get married can find people."

Beyond the fact that they worship and don't have a partner, single churchgoers often have very different needs and concerns. Many are busy with little time for group involvement, so participation tends to be sporadic. And even the most cohesive of church-sponsored singles groups change frequently as members leave the singles world for married life.

Accordingly, the focus of church-affiliated singles groups can vary. Some are essentially dating services with a religious backdrop, while others amount to serious Bible study groups in which interpersonal relationships are an afterthought. Others try to encompass both extremes.

Despite the challenges, many local churches have been successful in catering to the needs of their singles.

"The objective of our group is simply to provide an environment where you can go and be with other singles and have fun with other adults," said Julie Vangalis, who helps coordinate activities for a singles group sponsored by Christ United Methodist Church. "I'm divorced, I have a child and I love him dearly, but I don't want to talk about Dr. Seuss all day long."

Typical group activities include cross-country skiing and movie outings - anything that's enjoyable and not too expensive, Vangalis said. The group held a Thanksgiving dinner this year. About 40 singles attended.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the singles groups have a stereotype of being called a meat market, but we're just there to have fun, relax and enjoy," Vangalis said. "Dating is like the last thing we're promoting."

Salt Lake's First Presbyterian Church has two separate singles groups, one for the 20-something crowd and another for people in their 30s and older. Kathy Gullberg, coordinator of ministries for the church, said the younger group includes several couples as well.

"The one thing we've found with any singles group is that it fluctuates so much," she said of participation. "With the younger ones, they're just looking to make friends, and they enjoy doing things together and aren't necessarily looking for a partner. The older ones, I think they're just looking for companionship."

The Anchor Group, sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake but open to everyone, is one of several groups directed toward second-time singles - people who've lost a partner through death, divorce or separation.

Far from just a dating service, the Anchor Group is a 12-step program that helps individuals make what is often a difficult transition.

"It's really hard once you're single because you're no longer welcomed in couples groups," said Betty Vaughn, an Anchor Group board member whose husband died 20 years ago. "They're mostly people who don't want to bother with the bar scene."

At the Salt Lake Christian Center, dozens of singles from all faiths gather weekly for fellowship and, afterward, a light meal and conversation. The group, the Fellowship Of Christian Adult Singles, or F.O.C.A.S., was formed in 1985 and is one of the oldest church singles groups in the area.

Greg Wolf, the Christian Center's minister to single adults, said the group has changed as the needs of single adults have changed. The current approach is to concentrate on worship, prayer and Bible studies but also to extend the relationships developed in group meetings into the outside world.

"It's more than just a Bible study, it's a support group," Wolf said. "I try to encourage people within their own fellowship ties to establish comfortable working relationships with each other so they can come to one another in times of need.

"We do want to encourage fellowship because we think it's important in anybody's life. We are social creatures. But to have a group that is based solely on that, I think, is not going to help one's spirituality and growth as a Christian."

It is that philosophy that attracted Jeff Brown to the group. Brown, 33, felt lost in the singles world after his divorce two years ago. When a friend persuaded him to attend a F.O.C.A.S. meeting, it changed his life.

"It's a place to meet friends and fellowship, and it's something to do so you're not lonely," he said.

The strong emphasis on Bible studies is somewhat unique to Salt Lake-area church singles groups.

"We've tried doing those kinds of studies and we don't have a large enough response, so it seems like there isn't a call for it," said Jeanette Stubbe of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sandy. "A lot of these singles are in other Bible studies so that probably does it."

Some singles aren't as interested in studying as they are in getting together with a nice bunch of people.

Central Christian Church takes more of a fundamental approach to Christianity than Joan Balde is accustomed to, but the church's singles group fits her just right.

"The minister (Steve Sandlin) and his wife (Sharon) are the ones leading the singles group, and they're really fun to be around," said Balde. "We meet on Fridays, and it's great to know there's something happening every Friday that you can look forward to."

Such stability is uncommon here. Perhaps because the lives of singles are generally more fluid than those of established couples with firm roots, church-affiliated singles groups in the Salt Lake area tend to have uncertain futures.

A list of local groups compiled by one of Balde's friends last year is already out of date. About half of the 20-plus groups have disbanded.

Recognizing that trend, and the fact that most church-related singles groups tend to be small, it has occurred to Balde, Brown and others that a more coordinated effort could prove rewarding.

Balde said her group has organized joint activities with other singles groups and wants to continue doing so. Brown said F.O.C.A.S. is heading in a similar direction.

"If all of these little groups with five, six, seven people could all get together in one place, it would really benefit the whole community," Brown said. "The advantage to a large group is that there'd be more of a mix of single men and single women. Some groups have nine men and one woman or another group might have seven or eight women and two men.

"And this way, it would promote harmony among different Christians in Utah."

In the meantime, singles will continue to gather at churches throughout the area in search of friendship, fellowship and, in some cases, a mate.



Where to call to get involved

The following are Salt Lake-area singles groups affiliated with individual churches but open to all:

- The Anchor Group 968-8336

- Christian Adult Singles 825-1115

- Christian Single Adults 363-5559

- Christ United Methodist Church 486-5473

- Fellowship of Christian Adult Singles 268-2178

- Intermountain Singles 944-5531

- Jewish Community Center 581-0098

- Metro Fellowship 264-9999

- Outdoors with Jesus 467-3585

- Single, Widowed or Divorced 359-8939