Many churches did not respond proactively to the changing demographics among young adults. Young adults are waiting longer to enter committed dating or engaged relationships. The average age of for a man and woman to become engaged is twenty-six and twenty-seven years of age. These changes have created many struggles among young adults. Some of these struggles include a prolonged commitment to purity, high level of independence and higher debt loads. Sometimes it seems as if the church is stuck in a 1950’s mentality toward young adults; when ninety-five percent of young adults were married and approximately five percent lived alone (Cherlin 153). The young adult culture does not look like this any longer. Nearly half of young adults live alone.
Many young adults who did not grow up in an intact family ask these questions: 1) Does marriage work anymore? 2) How do I sustain a healthy relationship and family? It is not uncommon for young adults to have divorced parents and grandparents. Dating relationships often ends prematurely with one person being deeply offended. One of the reasons for this trend is one person feeling pressured to participate in decisions that were formerly reserved for married couples. Today’s couples often ask each other for advice on buying homes, business, cars or investment plans. These Relationships are also challenged with parenting responsibilities due to the high divorce rate and thirty percent of children born into single parent homes. These types of responsibilities place a lot of pressure on relationships. Couples find themselves engaging in important decisions without an agreed commitment level between them.
Many relationships that do not establish healthy boundaries will end abruptly due to the resistance they feel when one person puts boundaries upon the level of involvement with these types of issues and decisions. These types of decisions require a level of commitment and emotional honesty that far exceeds the maturity of the relationship.
Relationships in the United States are following in the footsteps of other Western nations. Many couples in the U.S. no longer think of marriage as the ultimate or highest value of their relationships (Cherlin 164). The devastating impact of divorce has caused young adults to question the validity of the institution of marriage. Young adults consider cohabiting relationship to be safer than marriage. Marriage relationship too often, end in divorce while cohabiting relationships seem to have a less damaging effect upon a person’s future. These ideals are not true but many young adult believe it to be true. The divorce rate for couples within the first five years of marriage is twenty-three percent while the breakup of cohabiting couples after five years is up to fifty-five percent (Cherlin). The failure rate for cohabiting relationships can up be up to twenty percent higher than couples that do not cohabit (Deal, The Elephant in the Bedroom).
The United States was at one time a leader in family values. However, it is more common for married couples with children to divorce in the United States than for cohabiting couples with children to break up in nations such Germany and Sweden (Cherlin 17).
The average church does not hire staff to develop marriage and family life ministries. Perhaps, this is why churches have not developed a missional view of marriage and family life. Churches have relied on Christian organizations or ministries to develop a biblical view of marriage and family within its membership. Whatever churches do not specialize in or prioritize will not become a missional focus of its congregation. Christians are the primary beneficiaries of organization like Focus on the Family and Family Living. Churches rarely look at couples in their community with a missional view of helping their relationship outside of inviting them to bring their children to Children’s or Youth Ministries.
A missional view of marriage goes beyond preaching, teaching or offering Bible studies that address marriage and family life issues. Churches become missional by equipping couples and parents to give the grace (strength) that God has placed in their relationship or family life to other’s who need to discover these strengths. A missional view of marriage will see every married couple and family as a missionary in their community.
Young married couples who have been married one to two years are best suited to become coaches to dating couples. They have recently participated in dating relationships and understand the struggles of single adults. Dating coaches do not help couples to prepare for marriage. They help dating couples to form healthy boundaries. These boundaries include: purity, time together and making room for his/her family and friends. Dating couples who do not encourage their partner to spend time with family, friends or participate in ministry with the other being present have the potential to develop controlling attitudes or behaviors.
Churches that develop a ministry to dating couples will be helping to raise- up a generation who understands the benefits of marriage. It all starts with their ability to develop healthy Dating relationships. Couples who spend time with their coaches will be better prepared to become a future husband/wife and parent. I believe that churches can regain its voice to speak about relationships and parenting in their community by developing a missional view of marriage and family life. The secular culture does not have an answer for young adults who desire to be married and start a family.
However, the church is a family that can bring healing to a culture that has been devastated by divorce and father absence.