by John McGee
If you’re looking for a way to build a healthy congregation, build healthy marriages. If you’re looking for a way to build healthy marriages – make sure you honor marriage in your congregation. Most pastors understand that healthy marriages make healthy churches, so they look for marriage programs and strategies. However before a church begins to implement strategies it needs to have a Hebrews 13:4 culture where marriage is honored among all. There are many ways a congregation can honor marriage. Here are a few practical ideas to get you thinking.
Honor Big Anniversaries. I recently presided over a vow renewal service for a couple that had been married 40 years. Although the ceremony was smaller than their wedding, the vows had a much larger meaning 40 years later. At a wedding, the guests hope the couple will keep their vows, at a vow renewal guests celebrate the ways the couples have kept them. It struck me as upside-down given that so much time, energy, and money is spent on weddings when couples start, and so little is made of those that actually have made it. Everyone leaves a wedding encouraged to be in love like the young couple. Everyone left that 40-year celebration with a clearer picture of covenant commitment and motivated to commit to their spouse in the same way. Maybe one of the best ways to honor marriages is to find ways to honor those who have kept their vows and are providing an example for the church.
Teach on marriage. Some churches are giving up teaching on marriage, or apologizing when they do so as not to offend those who are single. A wise pastor can acknowledge that not everyone is married but that some of them will be in the future, and all of them know married people they can help. A few well-crafted sentences are all that’s required before a pastor teaches unapologetically to the whole congregation. Some churches teach on evangelism or giving every year, and the congregation learns these are important actions to their fate. If your congregation is going to honor marriage and be characterized by strong families, you’ll have to teach on marriage with some frequency.
Celebrate great role models. People gravitate towards what you celebrate, and churches have many great examples to celebrate. For example the next time you have a men’s Bible study, hold a contest for the husband who takes his wife on the best date. Besides providing a fun outlet for competition this communicates that being a great husband is something that is valued at your church. It also gives tangible examples that others can follow. Something similar could definitely be done for women or even as couples. Churches generally do a good job celebrating their best volunteers in hopes that others will volunteer as well. If you celebrate great husbands and wives, others will often follow their lead.
Help Singles Honor Marriage. Several years ago our singles ministry teamed up singles in groups of 4 to come and babysit in the homes of married couples so they could go out on a date. The idea was that singles would have a tangible way to honor marriage, and when the married couple returned from their date they could talk relationships or anything else the group wanted to discuss. Personally my wife and I had a great date and really enjoyed talking into the evening with our new single friends. A few years later I actually married two of the people that watched our kids that night – I’d call that a success all the way around. You obviously need to think through safety issues in this example, but as you look for ways to honor marriage, don’t forget to involve those that aren’t married.
Program for strong marriages. In a single calendar year, churches will have a retreat for youth, singles, college, women, and men, but not do anything for couples. I recently spoke at a marriage retreat that went from Friday evening to Sunday morning. I asked the pastor if he was going back early to teach Sunday morning services. He replied “No way. I told our church this was important, and for me to leave might say otherwise.” Not surprisingly, this pastor who participated and programmed for strong marriages had a congregation full of great marriages. You can program as elaborately as a marriage conference or as simply as encouraging everyone in the congregation to date. As you look at your next season of ministry, ask if your calendar and programs demonstrate that your congregation honors marriage.
Honoring marriage isn’t difficult or complicated, but it does take some planning and prioritizing. As you begin planning and prioritizing for your next ministry season, what will you do to create a congregation that honors marriage? It’s hard to imagine anything having a bigger impact on the health of your church.