Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Massive Social Phenomenon

A Massive Social Phenomenon

It used to be that first-time married couples and their children were the norm in society and the church focused its ministry on them while (in the best instances) also acknowledging the special dynamics and ministry needs of singles, the divorced, single parents, remarried couples, and blended families. Those days are gone.

In an outstanding article in this month’s Christianity Today (“Redeeming the Remarried: There’s a lot at stake if we neglect ministering to stepfamilies,” October 2007), Ron Deal, who has done two seminars at West Houston and is president of Successful Stepfamilies (, notes the following demographic realities:

Half of all children in the U.S. will have a stepparent during their lifetime.

  • 40% of women are predicted to either be a stepparent or be married to one at some point.
  • Approximately 30% of weddings in America today give birth to a stepfamily.
  • The percentage of first-marriage nuclear family homes in America is 23% and functional stepfamily homes is 25-30%. Single-parent or single-adult households make up the remaining half.
  • First marriage nuclear families are the exception, not the norm, in the United States. As Deal notes, “This massive social phenomenon represents millions of people who need ministry from the church.”

Another demographic change suggests churches have been slow to adapt. Between 1972-2002, the percentage of Americans attending church or synagogue on any given weekend declined from 41% to 31%. In other words, as churches focused on nuclear families, and nuclear families declined as a percentage of the population, lower (relative) church attendance was a natural result. As Deal puts it, “For a multitude of reasons, divorced and remarried people frequently find themselves disconnected from God and marginalized from the church.”

The church understandably has been torn between, on the one hand, holding onto its conviction that life-long marriage is God’s ideal and divorce is a sin, and on the other hand, offering compassion, support, and ministry to people whose marriages fail. Deal notes that this tension, though, is at the heart of the gospel. “Sinners really can receive forgiveness and acceptance, despite their pasts. When it comes to most other sins, the church has long realized that it can be pro-hospital without being pro-illness. Remarriage does not diminish God’s intent for the home any more than a ministry to alcoholics encourages drinking.”

This is not a zero-sum game. I believe it is Biblically faithful to offer resources, teaching, support and encouragement to couples to stay married and thrive, while also pursuing similar ministry to people who are divorced, remarried, or in blended families.

The heart of the gospel calls Christians to holiness and obedience while acknowledging our weakness and failures. The church is both a hospital for sinners and a training camp for saints – single, married, divorced, and remarried.


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