IFS studies has an article by the same name and why I put “new game plan” in quotes.
1. Preach regularly on marriage and relationship health.
In the small churches I attended as a young person, most of the sermons on marriage focused on the “sin” of divorce without much attention to the meaning, purpose, and good of the marital bond. This is not the way it should be, according to Van Epp and De Gance, who emphasize that churches should “preach, teach, model, and celebrate” marriage on a regular basis. This preaching, they explain, requires authenticity from the church’s leaders, who should share about their own relationship ups and downs when they can: “Sharing your own personal struggles places any ‘negative’ message within your own life experience, giving credibility and allowing others in the church to identify with it.”
2. De-stigmatize relationship enrichment.
This recommendation is so important for helping churches get rid of the damaging myth of the ‘perfect’ Christian marriage and the shame that often comes with it. “The single biggest barrier to a successful marriage and relationship ministry is the perception that the only people who attend or participate in such a ministry are people who have problems,” Van Epp and De Gance write. “By making a positive case for relationship ministry—that it’s for everyone at this church, especially for people with great marriages—you allow those who are struggling in their marriage to attend without any shame.”
3. Stress that every marriage has seasons.
“Advancing a message that marriage has different seasons (and some are more challenging than others) can help couples see their struggles as part of the norm of relationship life,” the authors write. “Every couple should be told and understand, through your preaching and teaching, that such ebbs and periodic unhappiness are normal for all marriages—including great marriages.”
I can’t say enough how much this message matters to a church’s marriage ministry, especially for those who come from broken families and need to hear it again and again. As I shared earlier, this is not a message I consistently heard from pastors or church leaders growing up—or even as a single or newlywed—in the small, Evangelical churches I attended. The ideal of Biblical marriage that is too often presented from the pulpit often feels like a pinnacle of relationship perfection that is impossible to reach. Being assured that there is nothing abnormal about experiencing hard times in a relationship can encourage couples and free them to seek help when needed.
4. Publicly recognize relationship milestones and new marriages.
Van Epp and De Gance note that marriage is declining in the United States, writing that “every church in America should lean into the catastrophic decline in marriage by holding up and encouraging marriage in creative ways.” They recommend highlighting couples who are engaged or newly married, as well as celebrating the anniversaries of long-time married couples. Putting the spotlight on both new and long-term unions in the congregation also helps connect newlyweds to more mature couples and vice versa. Moreover, celebrating couples who have been married 30, 40, or even 50 years sends an inspiring message to the entire congregation that stable, lasting marriages do exist and are attainable. It is a great way for a church to hold up the beauty of marriage and to applaud those who have gone the distance, while offering support to those who are new at it and may have never seen a strong marriage in their own families.
Of course, there is much more churches can do to strengthen family life in America, and De Gance and Van Epp provide a game plan for faith leaders, including recommending that churches realign their “vision statement to prioritize marriage and family health,” conduct regular assessments of relationships in their congregations, and institute “skills-based relationship supports that address the most relevant needs of their people.”
There is evidence that church-led marriage enrichment efforts can strengthen family well-being in entire communities. In Jacksonville, Florida, De Gance led an extensive three-year marriage campaign working with area Protestant and Catholic churches and non-profits. A study of that campaign found that divorce in the Jacksonville area dropped by over 20% during that three-year period—significantly more than the rest of Florida and similar counties across the nation.
I won’t argue that these aren’t some good things, and that they should help some. At least the study confirms it’s helping some.
The big issue is clearly that they’re still dancing around the topics like most complementarians.
Let’s ignore what the Bible actually says about marriage such as headship and submission, love and respect, not defrauding each other, and all of the other marital roles and responsibilities. Not a peep about the Biblical marial roles and responsibilities in Ephesians, Corinthians, Colossians, Titus, etc much like the YouVersion Bible “marriage courses”.
As long as these things are ignored, you may get minor improvements but you will never really fix the issue. God instituted the structure that works best for marriage and how to go about it, and we’re ignoring it in favor of putting cosmetic makeup instead of preaching what the Bible says.
Frustrating to say the least.