Do you work in marriage ministry? Do you live in Atlanta or Southern California? Then you might want to join us for one of our two upcoming Marriage Ministry Gatherings.
Working in ministry can be a lonely endeavor, especially when you work as a field as small as marriage ministry. We try to help cultivate community with things like our webinars and Facebook group. But digital connections only go so far.
Sometimes you just have to meet with people face to face and relate to them in person.
I’ve been working in marriage ministry for a few years now. Actually, it’s over fifteen. And I’ve been married for over twenty years. In that time, I’ve learned a few things about how churches can help couples improve their marriage.
Studies show that people think of marriage ministry as preachy, outdated, and overly feminine. We’ve lost our relevance in people’s lives. But there are some shifts happening in some ministries that are changing how they approach marriage ministry.
3 Approaches that Fall Short
Before we get into the ways to improve how your church approaches marriage, let’s take a quick look at the trends that do not work.
The Hands Off Approach: Many churches do little to help marriages because of the pace of ministry or because they don’t feel a need.
The Topical Approach: Some churches view marriage as a topic to be covered, so they address it through various “one-offs”—a sermon series, a study, an event or a book. They treat marriage ministry like a task on a to-do list.
The Reactionary Approach: Other churches spend time and resources on marriage, but they focus solely on couples in crisis—in essence, waiting until marriages are in trouble before offering help, rather than taking a proactive approach that could help couples avoid crises in the first place.
A Proactive, Strategic Approach
A proactive approach—a strategy—is more effective than a topical or reactionary approach. Changing from one of these historical marriage ministry approaches to a proactive approach requires some paradigm shifts.
From an intervention to intervention and prevention : Intervention is emotional and the results are measurable. Prevention is neither—but is far superior.
From isolation to relationship : Technology makes people feel more isolated than ever before. A strategy ministry places a priority on building community and authentic relationships. Not just between couples, but with others that we can learn and grow from.
From information to experience : As a society, we’re suffering from information overload. As a result, people value experience more than another content dump. That’s why it’s important to give people less content, more often.
From feminine to feminine and masculine: Too many marriage ministries are geared almost exclusively at women. They’re overly harsh on men, who stop listening as a result. We can improve more marriages if we appeal to both men and women.
From general to focused: Sharing an overly general message doesn’t resonate with people. Getting specific with examples and practical applications makes a message relevant to couples. They want to hear authentic stories they can understand and use in their marriage.
From programs to process: Marriage retreats are great—but they give couples a year’s worth of resources in a weekend. That’s a lot to process and they often forget what they learned after a week. Why not give them bite-sized pieces of advice spread out through an entire year? Help them process and progress gradually.
How Our Strategy is Proactive
Because marriage is a process, the MarriedPeople strategy is designed to encourage and empower couples on a consistent basis—no matter where they are in their marriages.
This shift is what makes MarriedPeople a proactive approach, not a topical or reactionary one. Our strategy leverages three environments to reach couples:
Individual Couple Experiences: date nights and monthly emails to help couples connect
Small Group Experiences: community, accountability, and faith building
Larger Group Experiences: vision casting, outreach, and inspiration
How would you explain how to walk to someone? This is how Wikipedia describes walking.
“Walking (also known as ambulation) is accomplished with a strategy called the double pendulum. During forward motion, the leg that leaves the ground swings forward from the hip. This sweep is the first pendulum. Then the leg strikes the ground with the heel and rolls through to the toe in a motion described as an inverted pendulum. The motion of the two legs is coordinated so that one foot or the other is always in contact with the ground.”
Talk about over complicating a seemingly simple process. How about just “put one foot in front of the other?”
Overcomplicating Marriage Ministry
It’s not unusual for those of us in marriage ministry to sound like this. Sometimes it’s necessary to over explain—but usually not. Most marriages just need simplicity.
That’s why I always encouraged church leaders to be consistent, encouraging, and simple.
Encourage married couples to take one step, take that one step often, and to know that you’re cheering them on as they do. Simple as that.
Teach Less For More
Through the years, I’ve learned that if you teach people less, they will actually learn more.
This principle may seem counter-intuitive. It’s a principle that’s rarely applied, especially within ministry to married couples.
Many church leaders believe if we give people enough information, something is certain to work. But heaping more content on stressed couples can become the tipping point between “energized and encouraged” and “giving up.”
Churches schedule a weekend marriage retreat that requires thirsty couples to drink from a fire hose, or tired couples to hike to the highest mountain. Or they plan a five-week sermon series on marriage, giving couples enough content to last them for several years until they do a series again.
These well-intentioned church leaders offer couples everything they know about marriage all at once. Even if it’s great content, it’s too much to digest in one sitting.
When it comes to helping marriages, the church is content heavy and application light. What’s the solution to this dilemma? Teach less for more.
Give Couples Less Content More Often
Instead of covering a lot of ground at a retreat or through a sermon series, narrow your focus to only the most important topics and talk about them more often.
Whatever marriage-supportive experiences your church offers, give people the opportunity to take “just one step” weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
If you can’t do anything else, give couples a step-by-step date opportunity once a quarter and send them the MarriedPeople Monthly email resource. These simple, bite-size resources help couples succeed in practical ways.
Move from General to Focused
While there are many effective marriage principles and practices, giving couples a single, clear, focused message is powerful. Reduce the total number of topics you could cover to just a few essentials that you will cover.
The MarriedPeople strategy uses a clear, consistent terminology throughout. But just as important, it condenses a multitude of principles and practices into a few key values.
We call them the Core 4 Habits.
Have Serious Fun
Love God First
Respect and Love
Practice Your Promise
Everything we do is focused around one or more of these major topics. That’s not to say there aren’t other things that could be helpful to married couples. Just that we’re trying to stay focused to prevent couples from being overwhelmed.
Provide Action Steps
Would you rather married people spend an hour reading a chapter in a marriage book or have them spend 10 minutes filling in the following blanks for each other?
I am impressed with how much you know about ______ .
Something special about you that not many people see is ______ .
One of the nicest things you’ve ever done is ______ .
If you’re like us, then you chose the later option. Because it’s a practical application of the principles we teach. Reading marriage books is great, but actually taking action is even better.
When in doubt, give couples something you know they and will do. If I could go back and do one thing differently in my first years in ministry, I would have made our content more practical.
When I first got hired at my church to help married couples, I was a little overwhelmed. There are a lot smarter people than me, a lot more skilled individuals who could be occupying my office right now. The thing is, God brought me here. That means I’m responsible to do the best I can with the resources I have.
Here are the things I’ve learned that have helped me grow in my role:
1. Help Parents Become Their Kids’ Heroes
Whether it’s sending Parent Cues by email or having a hardcopy of GodTime Cards to hand out to parents as they leave on Sunday morning, I’ve bought into the idea that kids are going to spend the rest of their lives with their parents. Parents mostly want to do a good job with their kids.
They don’t need to hear “just trust God more,” they need to hear: “If you’ll take 5-10 minutes to talk through these questions with your kids, it’ll help you really connect with them.” If I’m not specific, I’m wasting my time.
2. Help Husbands & Wives Learn Communication Skills
It seems like everybody texts but nobody talks anymore. I need to give husbands and wives specific instructions on how to carry on conversations.
If physical proximity and emotional openness are the keys to intimacy, I may need to physically show them how to face each other, make good eye contact, hold hands, express themselves and ask for what they want with the right tone of voice.
3. Connect with Others Working with Married Couples
I’m not always going to have the best answers, so why not reach out to other churches, counselors, and non-profits who are focusing on the area of marriage?
Read an article or book. Call somebody. Who knows? I might be able to help them!
What are you learning so far? What’s helping you build stronger marriages?
Call it helping marriages, creating a marriage strategy, or revamping an existing marriage ministry. Church leaders have questions for us about helping marriages. And the questions are coming from people in every position of the church.
In fact, MarriedPeople, the marriage division of Orange, has a running list of the different types of positions who have added helping marriages to their already full ministry plate. These positions include children’s pastors, youth pastors, Next Gen pastors, family pastors, bi-vocational pastors, senior pastors, senior pastor assistants, volunteers…the list goes on and on. While the positions and passions of these leaders vary greatly, there are a few common questions:
How is MarriedPeople Orange?
While Orange is primarily known for helping children, parents, and student ministries, we added MarriedPeople in 2010. While not every child has two parents at home and we never want to marginalize single parents, we know that marriage is relevant to everyone in our churches and communities.
That is why we say all the time: one of the best things a church can do for kids is help marriages thrive.
From parents to small group leaders to paid staff, marriage impacts the health of everything including the lives of kids and of course the life of the church.
How can our church help marriages when our staff is already so busy?
Giving a great answer to this question is one of the driving forces behind MarriedPeople. We know that 90% of churches don’t have a paid staff devoted to marriage, or a part-time staff for that matter.
That is why MarriedPeople gives church a customizable, plug and play marriage strategy and the resources to empower that strategy, plus a real life person to help churches. We truly want you to think of the MarriedPeople team as your marriage ministry staff.
Where do we start?
Step One is getting buy-in from senior leadership. Let’s start with the obvious. We need to recognize where the power for change lies—senior leadership. You can put so much effort into a ministry, but if it isn’t supported and promoted by the leader, not as many people will know about it or participate.
And then that same leader will say, ‘See? There’s no need/desire for this. Getting senior leader support will be the base you need to create a marriage strategy that last. (To continue this conversation, check out our marriage ministry crash course.)
You can do it. We can help.
For years, Home Depot’s tagline was, “You can do it. We can help.” I would really love to rip off that tagline because that is the heart of MarriedPeople. Instead, our version of that is: You empower couples. We empower you.
Here’s how we seek to empower church leaders like you:
We started a Facebook group for leaders like you to network and ask questions.
Our Orange Specialist is always here to answer you questions. Just email them.