To Divorce-Proof Your Church in 2015
Every pastor would like to have a church with zero divorces. However,
what have you done to achieve that goal? We at Marriage Savers have
invested three decades of research to identify the five most important
interventions that can offer practical assistance to help couples better
prepare for, enrich, or save troubled marriages, help separated couples
to reconcile and save four of five stepfamilies who normally divorce at
a 70% rate. We have helped 10,000 churches adopt marriage-saving reforms
in 230 cities that have created Community Marriage Policies. We offer 12
hours of training to help churches implement these reforms, and you
probably attended one of our trainings.
However, our experience is that churches tend to implement only one
or two of the reforms needed to create a safety net under every
marriage. (If you lead a Community Marriage Policy, please forward this
memo to the pastors of your churches.) Marriage Savers would like to
make these reforms universal in CMP churches so that each pastor could
literally “divorce proof” his church.
If you do not have all five of these reforms in place, I suggest
that you order the materials to help fortify your couples’ marriages.
The costs are modest – from $10 to $50 per intervention. These are the
proven reforms for five stages of marriage:
Preparation should require every couple to take a premarital
inventory. For example, the PREPARE inventory includes 150 items like
1. When we are having a problem, my partner refuses to talk about it.
2. Sometimes I wish my partner were more careful in spending money.
We train couples in healthy marriages to discuss these issues with
premarital couples over 6-7 evenings. Marriage Mentors are also trained
to teach skills of communication and of resolving conflict. Over the
1990s in our home church Harriet and I trained Mentor Couples who
prepared 288 couples for marriage. Of that number 58 decided NOT to
marry, a big 20%. Studies of PREPARE report that those who break up
after taking an inventory – have the same scores as those who marry and
later divorce. Those 58 couples avoided a bad marriage before it began.
But of the 230 couples who married in the 1990s after our preparation,
we know of only 18 divorces now in two decades. That’s marriage
insurance – a better than 90% success rate, and should be part of any
church’s marriage preparation. These results stand in stark contrast to
the 90% failure rate of cohabitation – which is the typical way 1.5
million couples “prepare” for marriage. Chances are, we trained you and
couples from your church in this intervention.
However, there are four other proven interventions which every pastor
needs in his congregation to divorce-proof it:
Enrichment: Every year married couples should be given an
opportunity to deepen their marriage. One particularly effective program
is 10 Great Dates created by David and Claudia Arp. They created a DVD
with brief (15 minute) introductions for a date on such themes as
“Resolving Honest Conflict,” “Becoming an Encourager” or “Building a
Creative Love Life.” Churches schedule showing the DVD excerpts at 7 pm
on 10 Friday nights and then couples go on a date to discuss that theme.
Each couple buys a paperback book (for $13) with a chapter on each
theme. Hopefully, the couples have read it that week. But even if not,
they go to the back of the book to Date 3 or whatever, and each spouse
tears out a perforated page with 5 questions on Resolving Conflict,
which they fill out while waiting to be served dinner. They then talk
about that theme for a 90-minute date. It is fun because it’s a date,
but the couples grow so much that no one drops out. Several hundred
thousand churches have used 10 Great Dates. There are lots of other
excellent DVD packages that could be used in future years, such as Love
and Respect, Fireproof, The Art of Marriage. Average cost for these DVD
Restoration: What most pastors do with crisis marriages is
send them to counselors. However, this increases their odds of divorce
2-3 fold. By contrast, Marriage Savers trains couples who have survived
a major crisis like adultery to tell their stories of recovery to those
in a current crisis over infidelity. They tell their story of recovery
using a 17-step outline, like the 12 steps of AA, such as these:
1. I made a decision to follow Jesus as my Savior and Lord.
2. Once obedient to God, we were able to begin to love by his
standards, not ours. (Love in Scripture is always a decision and action,
not a feeling, such as “Love is patient.”)
3. We/I made a decision to stay together.
4. I realized the problem was with myself.
5. I became aware that I needed to change, became willing to change,
learned what and how to change, and began to change with God’s help.
6. Through Christ, I began trusting enough to increasingly put my
whole self in the care of my mate.
7. I learned to communicate honestly, truthfully and openly in love.
8. We are still in the process and realize that we must share what we
have found with others.
This form of couple mentoring saves 4 out of 5 marriages heading for
divorce – at no cost to the couple or church. For example the hurting
couple needs to learn how to restore trust after adultery – which can be
confidentially communicated by Couple A to B. We have a $10 DVD that we
offer to churches we are training which they can use to train other
“back-from-the-brink couples” in the 17 steps.
Reconciliation: A man comes to his pastor and says, “My wife
wants a divorce.” What can I do?” Most pastors say “I will pray for
you,” or will send him to a counselor (who is likely to increase his
odds of divorce 2-3 fold*). The distraught husband needs more help than
that. The perfect answer is a 12-week course he can take with a male
friend called Marriage 911. He fills out a workbook during the week,
which requires him to look up a lot of Scripture. He also reads a
chapter of Proverbs daily He meets for an hour with his friend, who has
a Support Partner’s Handbook that give him the questions to ask each
week. The purpose of the course is to help the committed spouse to grow
so much he/she attracts back their errant partner. It saves most of
these marriages. Cost: only $28 for the workbook and handbook.
Stepfamilies: Couples who remarry with children have a divorce rate
of 70%. The children do not want “a new Mom,” and can make her life so
miserable that she leaves. However, a United Methodist Church near
Atlanta invented an answer called the Stepfamily Support Group which
meet biweekly. Couples learn from each other how to make these marriages
work. A kit of materials to create these Groups includes a Manual, a CD
from the author and a paperback book, Willing To Try Again. Result: 80%
of stepfamilies are saved – instead of a 70% failure rate. Cost: $35.
(For more detail on any of these interventions go to
http://www.ethicsandreligion.com, click on Search the Site, and type
in a key word like Stepfamilies, which will lead you to Col. #1,695,
which I have attached to illustrate.)
Results of Community Marriage Policies
If you did not attend our 12-hour training in these interventions, we
could come to your town and provide that training on a Friday
night-Saturday. If you gather 8-15 pastors from diverse churches, I can
offer a free 45-minute Marriage Savers Webinar presentation, giving more
detail on these interventions and their results. Your committee of
pastors can then decide whether to invite us.
We have helped a cross-section of Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic
churches in 230 cities to create a Community Marriage Policy in which
dozens of churches adopt these five reforms; and we train clergy and
couples to implement them. Community Marriage Policies have been adopted
by 10,000 churches in 230 cities. An independent study by the Institute
for Research and Evaluation of our first 114 cities reported these
- Divorce rates fell 17.5% on average, saving 31,000 to
50,000 marriages from divorce in our first 114 cities by 2001. With
13 more years in the original cities and twice as many cities now
involved (230), the churches probably have saved 100,000 marriages
- Cohabitation rates fell by one-third in our cities
compared to cities without a Community Marriage Policy.
- Marriage rates rose in some cities. Evansville, IN had a
14% increase in its marriage rate over 8 years. Modesto, CA doubled
This is an ecumenical strategy which is designed to rebuild marriage
in America, couple by couple, church by church and community by