Some people would say that churches are the primary educators of premarital and marriage relationships in their communities. However, most churches do not have marriage and family life departments. This trend limits educational opportunities to couples following an engagement. For many churches premarital education consists of three pastoral counseling sessions that include reading a marriage book, watching a video series or reviewing a premarital inventory.
“In my opinion, premarital education that begins following an engagement is insufficient to form lifelong marriages in a culture that is not marriage friendly.”
The majority of engaged couples who have wedding dates are very reluctant to delay their ceremonies even when abusive indicators are clearly present in their relationships. In my experiences less than five percent of couples will delay or call off wedding dates even when a fiancé is suffering from regular outbursts of emotional or verbal abuse; however, some researchers report up to 15% of engagements end abruptly (Rachel Safier, 2003).
In order for churches to become the primary educators of relationships and family life they must develop a strategy and theology of discipleship that includes relationship training for singles, dating and engaged couples. At one time discipleship classes addressed the need of filling the hole in someone’s soul as men and women described their search for significance, “I feel as if there is a hole in my soul.” While this question is still valid, another question is being asked,
“Who can help me have a healthy relationship, marriage and family?”
The Journey to Oneness allows churches to develop a strategy for healthy relationships before someone begins a dating relationship. Churches will find many opportunities to come along side of singles and premarital couples searching for rewarding relationships.
“Healthy relationships are the holy grail of this generation. If you can attain healthy relationships you have found the keys to successful lives.”
Churches that are only prepared to come along side of engaged couples will not develop a culture of healthy relationships in their churches or communities. Premarital counseling is mostly date driven rather than a process of discipleship.
“I believe that discipleship is most effective in the context of engaged or married relationships rather than as individuals.”
The question, “Who can help me establish and maintain a healthy relationship?” is an invitation that churches cannot disregard. Many unchurched couples contact churches to perform their weddings. Some researchers say that 80% of weddings occur in churches and synagogues (Wedding Statistics in the United States, 2015). Wedding are expected to reach 2.2 million in 2015 (Loehrke, 2013).
These statistics suggest that churches are relevant to couples seeking support for their weddings.
These couples are looking for support in making the most important decision in their lives. However it is unclear whether or not couples would be available to receive support and resources to help in choosing a future fiancé and spouse. The statistics show us that once a couple becomes engaged it’s a done deal, but many questions are being asked all the way to the altar because couples receive so little help in learning how to choose future spouses.
Most churches would appreciate six months of advanced notice to prepare couples for marriage. However, even with this timeline churches are limited in what can be accomplished prior to the wedding day. For this very reason many churches fluctuate between offering premarital classes or newlywed classes. In my experiences fewer couples are motivated to attend newlywed classes unless major conflicts go unresolved in their relationships. In many cases, weddings produce crisis marriages because premarital counseling was insufficient to resolve preexisting or current relationship struggles.
In my opinion, most premarital education does not go deep enough to help couples overcome negative behavior or poor concepts of marriage in a culture that I describe as, relationally deficient.