Building Community from Scratch

03/11/2018 .
Stephanie Barney  .  Guest Storyteller

Cook breakfast, dress the kids, clean up the mess the three-year-old just made on the floor — and somehow find the time to get ready to leave the house. With three extra bellies to fill, outfits to pick out, pairs of shoes to put on, and kids to buckle in car seats every Sunday morning, getting to church on time rarely happens. When I was married, being on time was difficult. Now, as a single mom of three kids under seven, if I can make it to the Worship Center before the message begins, I consider it a miracle.

I moved to Orange County from Alaska a few years ago, and within three months my husband and I encountered financial and relational problems, leading to our divorce. After we split up, a lot of my friendships ended, too. I didn't realize at the time that this was pretty common for those going through divorce. I was left all alone — with my kids in tow — to figure out my new normal and to pick up the pieces of my life.

I was unsure what to do with my life. I told myself I didn't want to allow anyone around me who would drain me. I wanted positive, Christian people in my life. But first, I knew I needed to find a church.

As a single mom, church felt very isolating. Just getting to church on time took every ounce of my energy. Then, I had to sit through the service by myself. I preferred to stay home and watch online. It was much easier to let the kids play with their toys while I sat in my pj’s and watched the service on the screen. But on our first visit to Saddleback, my kids fell in love with Saddleback Kids, and they begged me to bring them every weekend. I felt a strong connection to Saddleback when I first walked on to the campus, too. Deep down, I knew this church would be my home. I could feel God's presence; I was where I needed to be. But I had trouble getting connected with the right people.

As a single parent, I felt I was missing a lot of the personal connections at church. I didn't always feel welcomed or experience a sense of belonging. I questioned if God had me in the right place — I desperately needed to figure out where I fit in at church.

Often, marriage seems to be the accepted norm in church settings, and now that I was divorced, I felt pushed to the margins. After attending for several months, one Sunday as I was walking across the patio after service, I thought to myself, “I don't know one person here. I walk to and from the parking lot every weekend without a single personal connection.” I told myself that if this is going to be my church, I needed to change something. I was tired of feeling completely alone in a crowd.

I had been attending Saddleback for about a year before I took Classes 101–401. I believed in this process, that Saddleback Church could help me become a more mature believer. When Pastor Rick said I needed to do something, I knew I could trust his guidance.

I went through every step: 101, 201, 301, 401, and baptism. And I began to feel this pull ... I needed to do something with my life. More than just going to work — something to give back and help others. I didn't feel completely healed from the pain of my divorce or ready to help other people, but I knew it was something God wanted me to do. I didn't know it at the time, but these Classes would become part of my healing process.

Once I finished all the Classes, I looked for a small group. I tried several small groups, but none of them felt right. I thought I wasn't giving myself enough time to get to know the people in the groups, but the more time I gave them, the less I felt the group was the perfect fit.

A friend told me about a singles small-group gathering, and I thought I could give it a try. When I walked in the door, there were round tables set up, and I found a seat, hoping to connect with and begin a new small group with the people who sat around me. I began to chat with the others and found out most of them lived quite a distance away, and that none of them were single moms. We continued getting to know one another, but I didn't really fit in — I just didn't mesh. I knew this was another dead end. As I headed home that night, I threw a frustrated prayer up to God, “I thought you had something for me tonight at this gathering. Now here I am, leaving defeated.”

A few days later, I found out there were other single moms at the gathering who felt a similar frustration. Scott, one of the Singles Ministry leaders, began connecting us together. He asked if I’d be interested in a group specifically for single moms. I didn’t know it yet, but I had been waiting to hear those very words. Within a few weeks, we were ready to launch a new small group — just for single moms. Tiffany, another single mom from the gathering, opened up her home to all of us and our kids to meet every week.

I immediately felt a connection with these amazing single moms. I suddenly had  friends who could totally relate to me; they knew everything I was going through and how I felt. We met on Tuesday nights with all of our kids. I found a whole new level of healing, and it completely changed my life. This group gave me the positive Christian community I needed and made this big church feel much smaller. The other moms keep me motivated, inspired, and spiritually grounded. We even do fun outings together with our kids. It's been lifesaving.

But we ran into a problem — there was no space for anyone else to join. Requests from other moms continued to pour in. My heart broke every time we had to turn someone away. “This isn't right,” I thought. “Every single mom who wants a group like this should be able to have one.”

I became motivated to help these other single moms who were looking for community. My friend Tiffany and I began brainstorming about how we could create more space for single moms. I started reaching out, asking for assistance, and looking for anyone who could help us get started.

Pastor Chris told me he loved the idea of a group for single moms and asked how he could help. There was a single-parents group already in progress, but I knew from the beginning there needed to be a space specifically for moms. Some women can't be transparent if men are in the room — they wouldn’t feel safe, and it would only hinder the healing process. Creating a safe space for them was one of the main goals that has guided me from the beginning. Chris agreed, and during the 40 Days of Prayer series, we began meeting every Saturday evening during the service.

Pastor Rick always says, “God never wastes a hurt.” I'm constantly remembering those words to inspire me to show other single moms that I care about them and that they are welcome at our church.

It has been so neat to see how God is working in our group. I get to hear stories about the seemingly random ways single moms stumble across our group through an internet search — it's quite humbling. One week as we were going around the group sharing our thoughts, one mom said, “You have no idea what it means to me to hear everyone share, because I honestly thought I was the only one who felt like this.” That was all she said. She didn't go into the details of her story, but I could feel the relief she expressed in that moment.

We've helped create a healthy environment to help single moms navigate this season of life. Usually, single moms are on their own to figure out how to deal with being single and a parent and all the other stuff that comes along with that.

I don't want any single mom to feel like she has to walk through this journey alone. There are a lot of people and resources available to help. It's easy to stay home; it's easy to stay disconnected, but it's through other single moms at church that I've experienced the most healing and observed that same healing happen in others. It took a step of faith for me to reach out and begin this group, and I hope other single moms will be able to take that first step to connect with other people in our church, as well. That simple step of faith can completely change a life — I know it did mine.

Learn more about the singles community at