A job as an on-air personality for Christian radio station WAFJ-FM (88.3) brought John Bryant from Tupelo, Miss., to the Augusta area about a year ago. He found a place to live, joined a church, and then it hit him - there was nothing for young Christian singles to do in the area.
He helped launch Single Christians United as Believers in Augusta in March with other like-minded men and women at First Baptist Church in North Augusta. The group draws mostly twentysomethings for a weekly Bible study upstairs in the administration building.
"This is a way for them to get into God's word," Mr. Bryant said.
The ministry to singles, divorcees, and widows and widowers is picking up steam at area churches and clubs.
The group's nondenominational, communitywide format is modeled after one in Tupelo. The North Augusta gathering opens in the church's snack bar with coffee before moving to another room for teaching. There's a different speaker each week, and it is up to the speaker to pick a topic.
"We try to vary it up. A speaker could do a two- to three-week series as an option," Mr. Bryant said.
The Bible study portion lasts about an hour. The members then go bowling or hang out at a restaurant. The group wanted to add the social aspect, he said.
"We didn't originally start with that, but have done it. It added an element of community," Mr. Bryant said.
The church also is home to Connections, a study group for singles 30 and older. Meetings are scheduled around other congregations' meeting times, such as Wednesday night services, to avoid conflicts.
"We are not trying to steal from other churches but are trying to give people from smaller churches an opportunity to meet other singles from across the area," said Ty Lochridge, who returned to First Baptist of North Augusta this year to lead the senior and single adults ministry. His first stint on staff was from 1995 to 1999.
At Warren Baptist Church on Washington Road in Augusta, the Rev. Sean Allen focuses much of his ministry on the individual who does not feel connected, he said. Some of the most productive people in a congregation are those who have not married feel like a fifth wheel, he said.
"Some have been ignored. Some have been around for a while," the Rev. Allen said.
Those who are divorced or widowed feel they are branded and have no role to play in the ministry of the church, the Rev. Allen said.
"But the message continues to be, 'Hey, God's got a new beginning again. This is another chance as you look to him for daily power and grace.' That gives them a sense of purpose," he said.
Another group, Christian Social Organization for Single Adults, is open to any age, though the crowd at Saturday dances at Westside High School tends to be grayer.
The dances draw people from a wide area, from Lincolnton, Ga., to Blackville, S.C., said Don Stephens, the club secretary.
Admission is $5-10 for members, $7-12 for nonmembers, depending on whether a DJ or live band plays the tunes.
The price includes snacks and drinks. The club also holds covered-dish dinners.
People who feel out of step can get free lessons in line, shag and other dancing an hour before the dance.
"It is really a good deal. There are not too many places to go for that little, take a dance lesson and have snacks and drinks," Mr. Stephens said.
After the Recaps and the Sassy Brass band went on break during a recent dance, patrons stood in a circle on the dance floor to pray, then gave a hug to the person on their right and their left before the next dance, a women's choice.
The club also invites couples who have married to come back.
"They wear a 'married' tag," Mr. Stephens said.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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