by Matt Engel
Marriage Ministry can often be based on our best guess as church leaders. After all we understand the married people in our church and community, right? Maybe. But what if we don’t?
While on staff at Mission Community Church in Gilbert, AZ, we decided to take a more calculated and targeted approach.
As we researched the community’s desires and demographics, we gained data that drastically impacted our approach. One of the top things the data uncovered was that the average age was 39—and our ministry was not reaching our target group. Our research also unearthed that marriage was the top priority in the community and that marriage was the key topic that could draw unbelievers to our church. The unchurched didn’t want to come to church to know God, but they did want to gain practical advice for their marriage. What a staggering statistic!
So the first task for our marriage ministry was to scale and sustain a ministry to meet this opportunity. The philosophy behind everything we created was offering the right couple the right information at the right time. Our previous approaches towards pre-marriage, enrichment, and crisis were only hitting a minority of our church and community.
As we continued to measure and improve couples’ marriage health, we could cultivate continued buy-in and not worry about who was engaging because we were constantly adjusting our model to continually improve.
One of the easiest things we did was send out a survey to over 750 couples who attended our DateNightPhx event, and asked everyone for a ranking of environment, content, and current health of relationship. This was the quantitative side. Then we also asked for personal stories. The feedback we got off this began the cascade of changes we implemented in other areas of our ministry.
For example, we had people say that they didn’t want to be separated from their spouses when going through courses, and they wanted to have more fun versus feeling beat up. They wanted a little content, but more fun. That is why we decided to go with a 51% fun, 49% content in our efforts.
Throughout all of our programming, we asked people who were both in and out of the church what they wanted or thought and delivered on that, instead of forcing something they didn’t want to happen. We tried to find out WHAT they wanted to happen and helped make THAT happen—and stopped assuming we knew it all.
LIVING IN THE UNKNOWNS
This means we had to be willing to live in unknown unknowns. Let me explain. Picture a pie chart with three basic categories: the smallest piece on the chart is the KNOWN KNOWNS—for example, I KNOW my eyes are green.
The next piece slightly larger is the KNOWN UNKNOWNS, for example, I KNOW I DO NOT KNOW how to perform brain surgery.
The largest piece of the pie and maybe the most important is the UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS. An example of this is our willingness to listen, learn, and adapt as we begin to fill this piece of pie.
When we live in the UNKNOWN of UNKNOWNS, it frees us up from locking into one pattern! This piece of pie is where true learners live, and the investigation and constant monitoring and tweaking for continued improvements happens.
Don’t force or expect everyone to be in the same boat nor have the same desire. Leverage an approach that includes constant feedback and room for adjustments. Understanding who our people are and providing vision and direction is the one constant. People want to be known and empowered.
Matt Engel formerly worked as a Senior Director at Arizona State University, and then as Marriage Pastor at Mission Community Church in Phoenix, AZ. Matt is currently the Executive Vice President of Operations and Data Intelligence at Relationship Enrichment Collaborative.