Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to Plan Activities for Singles over 30 (So They’ll Come and Not Resent You)

I don't like day old-zucchini bread, but I bought some anyway. Felt a special kinship to it because it's cheap, stale and never has any dates.
Question of the day- is it possible to plan activities for singles over 30 that they will actually enjoy, attend, and not roll their eyes at the mere suggestion of?
Answer- sometimes, but not usually.
Let’s dive in.
It is not easy to plan activities for singles over 30. Even more so, it is hard to plan activities that they will actually enjoy and want to attend.  Why? Because one size does not fit all. The larger the age span amongst the singles, the harder it is to include and entertain everyone. Add in all of the demographics and you’ll find it is impossible to please the masses. Some of the demographics include:
  • Divorced? Never married? Widowed? Still bitter over the divorce? 
  • Do they have children at home? With their former spouse? In another state? Are they toddlers or high schoolers? Are they grandparents? 
  • Careers? Doctors? Bus drivers? School teachers? Military? Long hours? Work from home?
  • Distance to the chapel? Distance to other singles? 
  • Financially stable? Struggling economically? In graduate school? 
  • Shy? Outgoing? Attractive? Overweight? Gym rat? Socially conservative? Socially awkward?

There are a lot of things to take into consideration when planning activities. Let’s get one thing straight- no one idea will appeal to all groups. Trust me, I’ve tried. It just won’t happen.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind when planning activities.
First and foremost- do not treat 40 year olds the same way that you would also treat 14 year olds. There is a very bad habit amongst Singles Representatives (whether they are married or single representatives) to forget that they are planning and working with singles, and they tend to treat the singles like they are still immature teenagers. Keep this in mind as well when deciding whether or not chaperones are necessary or just silly. In my personal opinion, this is the biggest mistake most planners make.
Singles over 30 are not the same as teenagers who are learning to socialize in mixed groups. Singles over 30 are very aware of the opposite sex and do not need chaperons to encourage such behavior. If the singles want to talk, they will talk. If they aren’t talking, it is because they don’t want to! Remember the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I’d like to add on one more line to that when you are working with singles, “But you can remind him he’s thirsty!” You can plan all the activities you want, but you can’t make the opposite sexes speak to each other if they don’t want to. But you just might succeed in reminding them that they want to look more at the opposite sex.
Second, you can please some of the people some of the time, but you’ll never please all of the people all of the time.  So don’t try to please all age groups and all demographics of single adults at the same time. Plan some activities to cater to your older attendees, and plan some to cater to your younger attendees. And maybe (depending on the reactions of your locals) considering advertising it as such, to encourage the right target audience to attend.
Third, do not plan activities for 40 year olds that you would also plan for 14 year olds. Is there anything you enjoy doing in middle-age that you also enjoyed in your early teen years? Probably not. Keep that in mind as you try to plan activities.
Next, less structured activities are best! This brings me to my first personal example. I have attended very forced structured FHE activities, held in the chapel, and I have attended simple Monday night get-togethers in homes.  My favorite activity was when the singles of my family ward would get together at a popular restaurant on Monday nights for dollar burgers and dollar drinks. It was very informal, and attendees were welcome to show up late. We just sat around and talked and enjoyed each other’s company. No one was under obligation to order food or drinks, plan a lesson or give a thought. But everyone has to eat dinner, so why not do it together? These completely unstructured, unforced, simple, conversation friendly gatherings started small with just a few attendees and quickly grew to our largest activities.
Singles are busy with jobs, responsibilities, and many other things.
The activities that are planned for them have to compete against the “real world” facing singles. When you have worked hard all week, cleaned house, paid the bills, filled your ward calling, and walked the dog, do chips and fruit punch followed by a forced awkward conversation in the cultural hall sound interesting? Plan activities that excite people to want to attend. Give attendees something to look forward to. Consider doing fewer small, weekly, or monthly activities in favor of larger “outside of the chapel” activities instead. Give people plenty of time to schedule the activities into their lives and budget their money if necessary. Again, I will point out the obvious, life is different over 30, as compared to when we were teenagers, or young college students where all we had to think about was school and the opposite sex. Now we just wish that was all that we have to think about!
So what activities might actually appeal to singles? This is a tough and loaded question. Every demographic will have a different answer. Every different town will have different answers. The list below are nothing more than what appealed to me, a 35-year-old, never married, socially-outgoing, big-city woman, who likes good conversation and big outdoor events. And I can absolutely guarantee that someone is reading this article disagreeing with everything I have said- which actually only proves my point further- single adults are not a “one size fits all” category. What works in one town with one group of singles will probably bomb and be a disaster in another town.
Activity ideas
Service projects, service projects, and more service projects. Really, you can never have too many service projects.
Local sporting events- pick a local team, whether it is major or minor leagues, or even the local high school, and become supportive fans. Buying group tickets to multiple games usually means you can get a significant discount.
Outdoor concerts- especially free concerts!
Overnight camping trips
Beach or lake trips
Hikes- try not to do anything too difficult that will scare off the less pedestally gifted. Rent out a local movie theater for a private screening of a popular movie. Invite attendees to invite non-member friends to join them. Fill the theater with friends and allow for time for socializing before and after.
Potluck Sunday dinners (someplace besides the chapel)
Monthly dinner groups at popular local restaurants
When your stake organizes basketball/volleyball/softball teams, ask if the singles can be a team, instead of participating on ward teams.
Do look around and ask if most of your participants are single parents. Consider offering daycare during the activity.
Advertise, advertise, advertise. Call each individual ward bulletin rep and ask him/her to advertise the activity. You never know who will only learn about your activity that way.
Pick up the phone and invite all of your inactive attendees for every activity.
Things to consider not doing
Dances- dances are fun in moderation. But do you remember how awkward it was to dance in the church gym when you were 15? It doesn’t get less awkward at 35, especially when most of the opposite sex are the same age as your dad/mom (or older!).  Have dances, just don’t only have dances.
Activities that force people to talk to complete strangers while other people watch.  Always ask yourself, “If I was new here, would I want to be forced to talk to this person twice my age that I have nothing in common with while doing this activity?” If you have to stop and think about the answer, don’t do it.
Gear all your activities to the younger crowd/older crowd. Remember that what will be interesting to the over 50 crowd will not be of interest to the under 40 crowd. Don’t try to please both groups at the same time. Try to please them at different times.
Plan an activity just to impress or include one person. Come on, admit it planners, you have done this at least once. I know there are more than a few guilty parties out there who planned an elaborate or specific event just to catch the attention of one special someone. How do you think the rest of your attendees felt about that activity?
Speed-dating- here’s another great example of something that will sound fun to a select few, and will send the rest of the crowd running. Men in particular do not care to be forced into a situation where they have to talk to someone they don’t know, and may not care to know better.  No one appreciates forced conversation.
(That being said, yes, some people love speed-dating.)
Don’t hold all of your activities at the chapel. Try to get out of the ward building and into member’s homes, or outside, or into local venues.
Now it is time for a confession from me. I didn't go to a church sponsored singles activity for nearly three years. There was once a day where I was the activity planning queen and had vowed to support all of my singles activities, because I knew how hard it was to plan the activities.
So why did I stop attending? Well, first it was because I moved to a new town. I was the only single in my ward, and one of the very few singles in my stake. We didn’t have any activities, or at least, I never heard about any of them. I attempted to attend the activities of a nearby singles ward. But while I am outgoing and unafraid, I absolutely hate walking into a new environment where I don’t know anyone. I went to a few activities and felt so out of place that I gave up. That cycle repeated itself for the next few years.  I’d get up the guts to attend, find myself alone and out of place, and just leave. There weren’t any other singles in my wards, and I had to put a lot of effort into going to other ward’s activities. When I would hear about the activities, they rarely sounded like something I wanted to put a lot of effort into attending. So there I was a single woman, who really didn’t have many ways of meeting other LDS singles, who would have loved to attend activities, but the activities were what was keeping me away. I wish my stake had provided activities, or at the very least, that the coordinators from my stake (if we even had them) had tried to invite me out.
Single adult activities are often a “never give up, never surrender” trial. You may feel like you have bombed and everyone hates your activities. But somewhere, I can promise you, there is one single who was grateful you gave them the chance to get out and make friends that day. So don’t give up! Never surrender! Just get up and try, try again!

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