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3 Data Trends in Marriage and What They Mean For Your Church [with charts]

3 Data Trends in Marriage and What They Mean For Your Church [with charts]

Many of us are familiar with Mark 10:9, an oft-quoted verse at wedding ceremonies or in relationship-themed sermons that reads, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Whatever one’s personal experiences with marriage, Christians can agree it’s a relationship that must be deeply understood and intentionally stewarded in our ministries and in our personal lives, especially in light of this charge found in Mark 10:9.

At Barna Group, we’re constantly keeping an eye on marriage trends and behaviors within the Church. Today, we want to share with you three findings (and some good news) uncovered within the past year, bringing valuable insight to how we talk about marriage—and, we hope, helping us grow in wisdom and understanding as we discuss this covenant.

1. Divorce rates among churchgoing Christians are lower than those of non-Christians

Over the past four years, Barna has conducted 14,000+ interviews with the intention of tracking the ever-changing religious practices and beliefs of Americans.

We classify our respondents based on their religious affiliations and have created a sub-set of self-identified Christians called “practicing Christians.” To qualify as a practicing Christian, a Christian must say their religious faith is very important in their life and they must have attended a church service within the past month.

Today, about one in four Americans (27%) is a practicing Christian. We find divorce rates are lower among this group when compared to the general population and other faith segments, including non-practicing Christians.

Currently, 23% of all U.S. adults say they have been divorced. Note, however, that this sample includes those who have never been married. In the charts below—built from FaithView, Barna’s interactive, online database—we have removed adults who have never been married, revealing that 41% of marriages in the U.S. have ended in divorce.

As you can see, this proportion varies across faith groups, with non-Christians on par with the average, and Christians diverging significantly depending on their practice.

When taking a deeper look generationally, we see that Baby Boomers have the highest divorce rates with about half of previously/currently married Boomers having been divorced. This percentage may be higher simply because Boomers have had more time to go through relationship cycles than the younger generations.

2. Less than half of unmarried 18-35-year-olds want to get married in the next 10 years

In Barna’s recently published study, The Connected Generation, we take a deep dive into the hearts and minds of 18—35-year-olds in 25 countries.

In analyzing data for this study, we learned that 31% of American young adults say they have already gotten married, while 43% of those who have not reached this relationship milestone say they want to get married in the next 10 years. Looking at the near future, becoming a homeowner is seen as a more urgent or desirable goal than getting married.

Christian young adults are no more or less likely to want to be married in the next 10 years (43% of non-married Christians; 40% of non-married members of other faiths; 44% of non-married young adults who are atheist, agnostic or not religious).

How can spiritual leaders best serve this generation? Understanding what they want for their lives is part of that effort. And we cannot assume that the majority of single young adults today is actively and presently pursuing marriage—at least not more so than other concerns or priorities like career or financial security.

3. Married Christians are significantly more likely than others to understand and embrace forgiveness

The complex institution of marriage often requires couples to mediate tension—after all, this sacred covenant asks individuals to forsake all others and cling to the partner they’ve chosen. Naturally, this includes giving and receiving forgiveness.

Barna’s recently released study, The Mercy Journey, indicates that married practicing Christians are following through in this area and carry a deep awareness of the radical concept of forgiveness.

  • Nearly three-quarters of married practicing Christians say forgiveness is about repairing relationships. Those who have never married are 10 percentage points less likely to agree with this statement, suggesting married couples more often anticipate the hard work of moving on after an offense.
  • When asked “Is there someone you can’t forgive?” single practicing Christians are more likely than married peers to say yes (33% vs. 24%).
  • Married practicing Christians are also significantly more likely to say that forgiveness is easy to give away. Forty-two percent say it’s one of the top two easiest things for them to give away out of a list of the following items: time, money, forgiveness, my pride, my schedule, being comfortable, safety, emotional investment. Thirty-five percent of never-married singles answer similarly.

As we look to the future as the Church, may we continue to invest time and effort in understanding and intentionally stewarding the present-day realities of the marriage unit.

© Barna Group, 2019

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