Why the Threat of Divorce Is Hard to Spot Among Churchgoing Couples

by | Jun 16, 2016 | Man

Before a divorce, churchgoers in troubled marriages look a lot like their happily married counterparts at church—participating, serving and leading at similar rates.

After a divorce, the differences can be stark. Twenty percent have dropped out of church entirely. In many cases, their children have stopped attending too. A third give less to the church than they did before. Their churches report leadership voids and fractured relationships.

Yet pastors may have difficulty helping couples save their marriages because churchgoers on the brink of separation often keep quiet at church about their marital woes.

Those are among the findings of new research by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, sponsored by Focus on the Family, surveyed Protestant pastors, churchgoing Americans in healthy marriages, and churchgoing Americans who divorced in the past five years.

The research points to a problem with church culture, said Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research vice president. If couples are unwilling to discuss marital struggles at church, they don’t get the help they need.

Many couples also may not realize help is available. While most pastors say their churches offer counseling referrals and other marriage aids, fewer churchgoers agree.

“Either pastors are overstating what they’re doing or not everybody is noticing what their church is doing,” McConnell said. “There are clearly gaps in communication when people don’t even know help exists.”

Divorce is a widespread issue for Protestant churches. Forty percent of pastors say at least one couple in their church separated or divorced in the past year.

Yet among regular churchgoers—those who attend once a month or more—church involvement offers few clues to distinguish troubled marriages from healthy ones. Three months before their separation, 7 in 10 regular churchgoers who divorce are attending church once a week or more. For those in healthy marriages, the rate is 87 percent.

The two groups also report similar levels of involvement in small groups at church (46 percent for those who divorce vs. 41 percent for those in healthy marriages), serving in community ministries (34 percent vs. 31 percent), and positions of responsibility at church (39 percent vs. 45 percent).

“Many of the people who end up divorcing are average churchgoers,” McConnell said. “You’re not always going to see it coming.”

He noted one exception—regular churchgoers whose spouses do not attend. Eighteen percent of those who divorced say their former spouses never attended church three months before their separation. In contrast, just 2 percent of those in healthy marriages say their spouse never attends.

“It is courageous and often uncomfortable for a married individual to attend church alone, but it is also an indicator they’re going two different directions in their lives,” McConnell said. 

Effects of Divorce

After divorce, 8 in 10 still look like average churchgoers. They may switch churches, but they’re as involved as ever.

Twenty percent, though, no longer attend church—and the loss among their children is even higher. Among those with children who attended church before the separation, 35 percent say at least one child no longer attends.

Nearly half of those who divorce (47 percent) leave the church they attended before their separation. Rarely will both members of a couple remain at the same church after a divorce (10 percent), McConnell said. He suggested helping spouses find new places to worship so they don’t step away from church entirely.

A third of those who divorce (32 percent) say they give less to their local church than they gave before their separation. More than a quarter of this group stops giving at all.

Pastors say the repercussions of divorce affect others as well. Thirty-one percent say divorce has fractured other relationships in the church, and 16 percent say it created leadership voids. About 1 in 10 say divorce has hurt the church’s reputation (11 percent), halted its momentum (10 percent), or disbanded an adult small group or Sunday school class (9 percent).

“The vast majority of churches do not have an effective marriage ministry,” said Greg Smalley, vice president of Focus on the Family. “In fact, most pastors are so busy doing other things, they often don’t consider the negative impact failed and mediocre marriages have on the mission of their church.

“The church should be the number one distribution center for healthy marriages because of its unique role. Eighty percent of marriages began in church, giving the church a unique opportunity to build a relationship with couples that can last throughout their marriage.”

Culture of Silence

Nearly 8 in 10 churchgoers—and 94 percent of pastors—say their church is a safe place to talk about marital difficulties.

Experience, however, tells a different story. Among those who divorced, only 48 percent discussed their marriage problems with the lead pastor. Even fewer talked to anyone else, such as another staff member (13 percent) or a member of a small group or Sunday school class (11 percent).

Thirty-one percent told no one—a troubling sign of church culture, McConnell said.

“If churches are dogmatic and not realistic about relationships, then those who have trouble in their marriage are never going to tell anybody,” he said. “That’s a wake-up call to the church.”

Offering Support

Pastors say their churches offer a wide range of marriage support services, including resources such as books and videos (77 percent) and referrals to professional counseling outside the church (75 percent).

Many churchgoers, however, seem unaware of the services. Just 38 percent of those in healthy marriages and 21 percent of those who divorced believe their church offers books and videos about marriage. Thirty percent of those in healthy marriages and 23 percent of those who divorced think their church refers people to outside counselors.

Churches can be more effective by being more proactive, McConnell said. He pointed out that two-thirds of pastors say their church has no lay leader responsible for marriage ministry, and 43 percent have no written plan.

“As much as churches already do things to help with marriage, there is still a huge opportunity to do more and to do it better,” he said. “I think the typical pastor would check the box and say, ‘We’re already doing this.’ And yet when we look deeper, there’s so much more that could be done.”

Deeper involvement by churches is critically important, Smalley said. “While the impact is not always immediate and obvious, nothing can negatively affect a church’s ministry and mission, and thwart future health, more than hurting marriages and divorce.” {eoa}

Lisa Cannon Green is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.

For the original article, visit lifewayresearch.com.

CHARISMA NEWSLETTERS

Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


MORE FROM CHARISMA

The Biblical Way to Rise Above Mediocre Expectations

The Biblical Way to Rise Above Mediocre Expectations

We spend a lot of life figuring out if we “measure up,” a phrase someone coined in the mid-1800s. Even in childhood, we begin comparing ourselves with siblings and kids at school, and it never seems to stop. The problem goes back to Cain and Abel, doesn’t it? Most of...

A Better Way to Witness to Others for Christ

A Better Way to Witness to Others for Christ

”Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Rom. 2:4). Looking retrospectively at my past as an atheist, I can see where God...

Why Does God Want Us to Speak with Tongues?

Why Does God Want Us to Speak with Tongues?

Why speak with tongues? There are many reasons for speaking in a spiritual language. Primarily, though, the Scriptures require it. The apostle Paul commanded us, saying, “Pray in the Spirit always” (Eph. 6:18). Jude commanded it in verse 20, saying, “Pray in the Holy...

Why God’s Rebuilding is Better Than His Restoration

Why God’s Rebuilding is Better Than His Restoration

Often, I have prayed for the Lord to restore something in my life. Whenever I have gone through a hard season or a broken relationship, my prayers automatically petition the Lord to restore my situation. Whenever there is a loss, and you are going through the grieving...

Why America Must Adopt the Battle Cry of Isaiah

Why America Must Adopt the Battle Cry of Isaiah

A battle cry is used to summon armies to war. A loud, unified shout could intimidate the strongest of enemies. Confidence in battle often tilts the scale toward victory, whereas timidity, fear and cowardliness will surely lead to defeat. In these dreadful times, don’t...

RECENT ARTICLES

Intentionally Raising a Godly Generation

Debbie put her faith in Christ at age 11. In fact, her whole family met Jesus at just about the same time. As her parents began growing in their faith, they nurtured growth in their children as...
Dream Big: How to Cultivate Divine Revelation While You Sleep

Dream Big: How to Cultivate Divine Revelation While You Sleep

Do you have any dreams from God that you have allowed to fall by the wayside? For some of you, it’s time to dream again. For some of you, it’s time to dust off your previous dreams. For some of you, it’s important to realize God is not late; He’s always on time. For...

Prophecy: God Is Bringing About Swift Turnarounds

Prophecy: God Is Bringing About Swift Turnarounds

In the month of August, God is bringing swift turnarounds so that your hard places will become a wide-open field. God is bringing about divine connections in order to strengthen the body of Christ. He is releasing faith for radical generosity, divine strategy to...

End-Times Truth: The Rapture Reveals a Split Church

End-Times Truth: The Rapture Reveals a Split Church

There are several resurrections and raptures in the Bible. I cannot understand those who argue that because there is no mention of the word "rapture" in the Bible they do not believe in it. They only believe in the Second Coming of the Lord. Some arguments are no...

The Supernatural Secrets of Real Revival

The Supernatural Secrets of Real Revival

What does an authentic world-igniting revival look like? And, how are the seeds of revival planted? This we can learn from the life and work of William Joseph Seymour—God’s chosen vessel and apostle of the Azusa Street Revival.  Bishop William Joseph Seymour, was a...

Pin It on Pinterest

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]