marriage, culture & ministry

5 Marriage Trends and How They Affect Your Church

Scott Kedersha, Director of Marriage Ministry at Watermark, joins Adam and John to discuss five trends he’s seeing in marriages. We hope you leave feeling encouraged to see marriage ministry as a vital strategy to disciple your congregation.

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Introduction (0:20)

Scott is the only proud alumnus of Wake Forest on the staff of Watermark. During his time as Watermark’s Director of Marriage Ministry, he has seen marriage ministries dramatically shift as culture changes. Today, he’ll discuss the five trends he’s seen in marriages and what that means for your church.

5 Marriage Trends

  • Culture is Still Interested (0:34)
  • More Couples Are Unashamedly Living Together (4:28)
  • People Need to Know Marriage is Fun, too (13:14)
  • Beyond Marriage Conferences (20:32)
  • It Takes Leadership from the Top (29:23)

Culture is Still Interested (0:34)

Almost all of the most listened to episodes of Watermark’s Real Truth. Real Quick. in 2018 focused on sex and marriage. People have questions about marriage and they’re not trusting the church to find their answers. Instead, they’re going to the Internet. This is an incredible opportunity to reach people in their need to make disciples. There is no pain like the ones relationships can cause.

Marriage is not dead. Many people still want to get married. However, a growing number of couples are afraid of engaging in “I Do’s”. They feel skittish about the commitment and as a result, are living together instead of getting married.

This fear of marriage comes from high expectations. Couples are more informed of its difficulties and often don’t hear about its joys. The upside of this is couples create some of the healthiest marriages, because they understand the investment. The downside is high expectations can create deep disappointment and frustration.

More Couples Are Unashamedly Living Together (4:28)

A decade ago, couples rarely admitted to living together. Now, an estimated 60-80% of couples Scott counsels openly and proudly acknowledge that they are living together. Some parents even encourage their adult child to cohabitate in order to test drive the relationship. Scott encouraged leaders to address this squarely and not let it slide.

Leaders should not assume perspectives on marriage are the same as they were 20 years ago. Don’t assume that all couples have been raised in the church and remained sexually pure in their adolescence.

It’s also important for leaders to recognize that marriage ministry is complementary.

It bleeds into other ministries as well. Helping a couple’s marriage will also trickle down to helping their children. Marriage ministry should be just as prevalent in churches as kids and student ministries. Watermark has a core belief that if changing kids often starts with their parents in their marriage.

Marriage ministries should be more than Valentine’s Day banquets. Churches should be speaking into relationships. If leaders are timid about this, they should take small steps towards helping marriages. Just like working out, churches get better at it with time.

Marriage ministry is also a side door into the church. People are more willing to enter a church if it meets a felt need, not because they want to learn about the Bible. It’s an opportunity to disciple.

For leaders who want to start a marriage ministry, John encouraged them to seek out the intersection of opportunity and resources. Pray and ask, “Who has God sent us?” and “How can we serve those people?” Don’t start a newlywed ministry if you have no newlyweds in your church.

Couples Need to Know Marriage is Fun (13:14)

Although God has not changed the definition of marriage, leaders need to change how to communicate about it. Many couples are afraid of marriage because of the messages they’ve heard about it. The new challenge for marriage ministry leaders is to convince people how great marriage is. It’s an amazing opportunity not to water down the challenges of marriage, but to encourage people with how glorious it is.

Watermark’s young adult ministry splits this message down the middle. Whenever they talk about marriage, they tell their audience that some need to hear how difficult it is. Others need to hear how beautiful it is. John encouraged leaders to paint an honest vision of marriage - both its joys and challenges. The same also applies to leaders talking about children. Young couples postpone children because they hear only about its difficulties. Leaders should always ask themselves, “What message am I sending out about marriage and kids?”

Watermark likes to view itself as Dallas’ relational hospital, university, and Crossfit box. If you’re hurting in your relationships, this is a great hospital. If you want to get help before you get married, come here. And if you want to get strong, enter the box. We want to be an expression of John 13 and loving one another because of our love for God. If leaders think like this, they will change how they communicate and love.

Beyond Marriage Conferences (20:32)

The best way churches can encourage couples to seek the church instead of the Internet for help is to create experiences within a community. Watermark’s formula for creating this experience is a combination of “rows and circles.” Rows indicate the chairs in a line so couples can learn. Circles is when the rows break up and couples can discuss the information. It’s a simple formula that works no matter the size of the audience. It’s a great way to disciple and create conversations.

Because there is so much noise on the Internet, churches can also come alongside couples by curating the information. Giving them a list of books or even chapters in those books for couples to read will bless them greatly.

Churches must also be aware of the rise of blended families. In 2019, one in three marriages will be blended. Statistics also indicate that divorce rates are higher for second or third marriages. However, studies have also shown 80% of blended families will survive if given community, support and a plan. If they integrate into life of the church, they are less likely to end in divorce.

Many leaders may be afraid to acknowledge these families for fear of watering down the value of marriage. But John challenged those leaders to come alongside those families and nurture them. Allow them to be an influence in the church and support them. Don’t tell them that they’ve messed up Plan A and hopefully, Plan B works out better.

Although many people have believed that kids are permanently damaged after divorce, research shows that many bounce back when they have parents who love and invest in them. For the church, helping kids starts by helping the parents.

This again shows the radical importance marriage ministry has to reach nonbelievers. It’s important that churches not pander to the lowest denominator or water down their message. But, instead, point couples to Jesus as a solution to their problems.

It Takes Leadership from the Top (29:23)

“Your family is your first ministry. It doesn’t matter how gifted and talented you are, if you aren’t leading your family, you don’t have the opportunity for a second ministry.” - John McGee

“Every key marriage ministry leader’s #1 pain is not the people below them. It’s the leadership above them.” - John McGee

Scott believes Watermark’s marriage ministry has survived and thrived because of the authenticity of its senior leadership. Leaders are not exempt from marriage struggles. John affirms that marriage ministries will survive or fail based off of the senior leadership’s marriages.

For leaders who want to see marriage ministry happen, first pray for their senior leadership. Second, align the vision of marriage ministry with the church. Tell your senior pastor that you see marriage ministry as a means to disciple people. Don’t try to create a platform for yourself and don’t go rogue. Third, take small measured steps. Watermark’s senior pastor, Todd Wagner often says, “Don’t ask for a platform. Ask for permission.” Over-communicate to senior leadership and tell them the wins. In time, leadership will see the value in this. Above all else, don’t go to senior leadership angry.

A leader’s first ministry is to his family. If you see your senior leadership struggling in their marriages, be part of the solution. Pray, offer to babysit. Never make an accusation against your pastor or elder willy-nilly. The church is to execute Matthew 18.

Scott issued a final challenge to churches to step up in a culture that desperately wants help. Instead of running away or outsourcing, the church has an opportunity to do what it’s designed to do.

When addressing this issue, many pastors are afraid to isolate or hurt others. John encouraged pastors to talk about what God talks about. Also, pastors can open their marriage series on addressing how it applies to everyone. Whether you’re married, have been married, want to be married, or know someone whose married, this applies to us all.

Scott also wrote a book! Launching February 5, 2019, Ready or Knot gives 12 conversations every couple needs to have before getting married.

Application Questions

  • How is your church ministering to couples who are about to be married, currently married, in crisis, or doing well?
  • Who has God sent to you in your church and how can you serve them?
  • How is your church loving blended families?

Questions or comments? Email CLP@WATERMARK.ORG


Resources Mentioned:

All or Nothing Marriage by Eli Finkel (www.amazon.com/All-Nothing-Marriage-Best-Marriages/dp/052595516X)

Ron Deal’s ministry, Smart Stepfamilies (www.smartstepfamilies.com)

Marriage Ministry Training Conference (WatermarkResources.com)

Watermark’s Favorite Marriage Resources (www.watermark.org/blog/our-favorite-marriage-resources)

Ready or Knot? by Scott Kedersha (www.amazon.com/Ready-Knot-Conversations-Co…)