recently sat down with a young couple in my church office. The military moved them to our area, so they don’t have any relatives nearby. Our church is the only family they have.
As we began our meeting, the wife started crying almost immediately. The stresses and strains of the move had taken their toll on this young family. The husband’s long hours and stressful new responsibilities had increased the tension at home. They both needed their marriage to be a source of strength and encouragement during this difficult time, but it felt like the foundation of their marriage was crumbling.
The husband and wife were each dealing with the stress in their own way. They weren’t communicating with each other or supporting each other. They were drifting further apart instead of facing their struggles hand-in-hand and side-by-side. They desperately wanted to make the marriage work, but they didn’t know how to begin.
I prayed with them, reminding them that with Christ as their foundation, they could weather any storm. I told them they didn’t need to face their challenges alone. God calls us to carry each other’s burdens and to find healing and support within Biblical community.
I gave them some resources to help them start renewing their relationship and connected them to a small group where they could find friendship, mentorship, and practical support to help them through this challenging season. I recommended a good Christian counselor who could provide ongoing support and guidance.
Over time, this couple’s marriage experienced healing and transformation.
Look Behind the Smiles
Each week, countless couples walk into our churches. Many of them who appear to have everything together are hiding a different reality behind their smiles. So many marriages are hurting. Our churches need to be a place where broken marriages can be healed and strong marriages can grow even stronger.
As a pastor and the founder of StrongerMarriages.org, I’ve had thousands of interactions with married couples from all over the world. A number of these interactions have taken place in our church, but countless more have taken place online with people desperate for help who feel they have nowhere else to turn.
These interactions have taught me a few things about the current state of marriage. First, I’ve learned all married couples need encouragement and practical tools to help them. Second, most married couples don’t know where to go to get the help they need. Third (and perhaps most important), churches should play a huge part in solving the modern marriage crisis but, sadly, most leaders don’t know where to start.
Why Churches Must Do More
I believe creating and cultivating a church that champions healthy marriages is one of the most practical investments of time and resources a church can make. Let’s consider three reasons churches need to do more to build strong marriages.
1. By God’s design, marriage is the foundation of the family. Building stronger marriages will lead to stronger families, which creates stronger churches, which creates stronger communities, which creates a better world. Marriage is uniquely and sacredly designed to display God’s kingdom on earth. When marriages improve, nearly everything else improves as a result. When marriages are hurting, nearly everything else suffers as a result.
2. Marriage ministry is effective outreach, because marriage is one of the few areas where even people outside the church will listen to what the church has to say about it. Through our online ministry, we’ve found that many unchurched couples are willing to attend a church if it provides practical help for their marriage. When we’ve done a sermon series or conferences around marriage, we’ve always seen a boost in attendance and many first-time guests.
3. If people don’t get answers about marriage from the church, they’ll get answers from the culture (which is why so many marriages are messed up). It’s our sacred responsibility as followers of Christ and ministers of the Gospel to lift up the value of a Christ-centered marriage. We must teach our congregations how to make their marriages all God wants them to be.
When marriages improve, churches and communities improve.
Most of us already recognize the need for building stronger marriages and the need for churches to do more. The disconnect isn’t in the realization but in the application. We don’t know how to create churches that are intentional about building stronger marriages. It doesn’t fit within our model and mind-set, so it gets put on the back burner. The good news is that doing more to build stronger marriages within your church is simpler than you might think, and you can get started right away.
While I don’t claim to be some kind of marriage guru, my background and platforms have given me a meaningful perspective. The list below isn’t comprehensive, but hopefully it will offer some ideas for building stronger marriages in your church.
Provide marriage-focused classes and/or groups. Make sure your small groups and/or Sunday school classes have options geared specifically for marriages. A quick search in any Christian bookstore or online outlet will show you endless options for books, study guides, DVD studies, and other resources that can be used for group study. In addition to the material itself, connecting couples to each other in a small group is a Biblical and practical way to bring growth and encouragement: “Iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17 NKJV).
Develop marriage coaches. Few pastors are marriage counselors, neither do they typically have the time, energy, or expertise to sit down with every couple who needs help. That’s why your church needs a team of “coaches”─healthy married couples who go through training and then agree to meet with couples in crisis for a period of time to offer encouragement, mentorship, and support.
The best coaching often happens within small groups under the care of a husband and wife who model a healthy marriage through their regular interactions with the members. Healing happens best in the context of relationships.
Offer marriage retreats. Getting away with the specific intention of building a marriage can work wonders. Offer this option once or twice a year, and it will be a potentially life-changing weekend for the couples who attend. If your church cannot host events of your own, let your congregation know about other opportunities in your area.
Preach a series of sermons on marriage. Our church did a marriage series last year and created a basic website to go along with it. We had huge attendance and great feedback. Plus, it was a lot of fun.
Teach about marriage, and do so consistently. People want (and need) to hear it. Even the single adults in your church can benefit from messages on marriage. The better we understand God’s plan for marriage, the better we understand our other relationships, particularly our relationship with Christ. The apostle Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church” (Eph. 5:25).
Provide marriage resources. This doesn’t require a massive financial investment. In fact, there’s a wealth of marriage-related resources online that are completely free. In your emails and social media posts, consider including links to marriage articles and videos (after you have screened them). Have a few marriage books and couples’ devotionals available in your church’s resource library. You can start small, but start somewhere.
In short, making marriage a priority in your ministry is one of the most effective ways to build stronger families and stronger churches. An investment in marriages will create a multigenerational legacy and an eternal impact.