Establishing a Life-Changing Marriage Ministry in Your Community
Over 2,750 Marriages Saved since 2002
- Key Dimensions of an Effective Marriage Ministry
- Key Outcomes of an Effective Marriage Ministry.
- Steps to Establishing Marriage Ministry in Your Church
- Getting Started
Marriage & Family—the landscape is not a pretty picture. The United States leads the world in both divorce and remarriage. 50% of all first marriages and 70% of all second marriages end in divorce. Only half of the children in America now live with both natural parents. It’s no news that family problems are at the root of so many problems in society today.
If the above were not bad enough, what about the rate of “miserable” marriages–where both partners are committed to staying together (at least for the present), but neither partner has any sense of satisfaction or joy in their relationship? Statistics show that of every ten marriages in America today, five end in divorce and three have partners dissatisfied with the marriage. Only two out of ten couples express satisfaction with the marital relationship. How many married couples do you know who truly seem to enjoy being married? How many are experiencing all that they had hoped for and dreamed about when they stood at the altar and made their marriage vows.
What’s worse, there seems to be little difference between Christian and non-Christian marriages. A recent study conducted by the Barna Research Group found that the divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and for atheists and agnostics (Barna Research, 1991). Professing to believe in Jesus Christ and attending church obviously does not automatically make a significant difference in the divorce rate. George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, commented:
“While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages.”
There is much that we- the church can do to strengthen marriages and families, and turn the tide on divorce. We believe the answer lies in establishing ongoing marriage and family ministries through the local church, rather than in secular counseling centers. We believe that the church, the “family of God,” is God’s chosen vehicle to accomplish the work He has ordained (Matthew 16:18).
The Institute for American Church Growth tells us that 78% of those new to church life are seeking ways to strengthen family ties. Certainly the agendas of many churches are crowded with other causes. Church pastors and leaders have numerous demands upon their time and energy.
But if the church doesn’t respond to the current marriage and family crisis with meaningful, practical, low-cost, readily available help, we believe that most people will not find help anywhere else.
What we are finding is that Christians and non-Christians alike are seeking for answers to their families’ needs. These needs offer an opportunity for the church to reach out to people with the message of Christ and His plan for a fulfilling marriage and family life.
An effective marriage & family ministry should be more than just one-shot programs. Ongoing in-reach and outreach programs that meet felt needs are considered essential to the overall health and vitality of the church. They are a natural entree into the spiritual lives of families. Thus people don’t just attend once or twice–instead they keep coming back to participate and thus regularly experience the key dimensions and blessings of that ministry.
The goal is to establish marriage and family ministries which meet needs, are valued and enjoy a high level of priority and involvement. We strongly believe there is a priority, and that the church is in an ideal position to capitalize on that priority. Families desperately need positive models. They need resources to handle their challenges.
To be truly effective, we believe marriage and family ministries must have ongoing opportunities for people to benefit from, rather than just occasional emphases. An ongoing ministry provides a variety of both preventative and corrective help for marriages and families. And this help is regularly available to most if not all the members of the congregation and their immediate community, just as a Youth ministry is regularly available.
Most churches have an organized ministry in pre-school, youth, and adult education; equally important is an established, ongoing ministry specifically designed to meet the needs of marriage and family.
Key Dimensions of an Effective Marriage & Family Ministry
There are at least two key Biblical dimensions to an effective marriage and family ministry:
(1) Inreach– edification of the body, and
(2) Outreach- evangelism of the community. When a marriage and family ministry is effective several things will happen. Families will be edified, strengthened, and fortified against the enemies of divorce, dysfunction, abuse and spiritual complacency. They will be equipped with God’s plan for meaningful marriage and family relationships, not with just the obvious “what to do”, but also the practical ‘how to’s of intimate living with God and others. Equipped, they are then able to reach out and make a difference in other families. Marriage and Family ministry is a natural avenue for members of the church to use their gifts of ministering, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and showing mercy.
(3) Broken marriages and family relationships that are in a state of isolation and separation from God, family and the church will be healed and restored. As this occurs, the body is revitalized and strengthened by having those members restored. The body is also encouraged and edified as they witness the power of God in the restoration of mes. As 1 Corinthians 12:26 says “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it, if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it”.
A marriage and family ministry is effective not just when lots of people are involved with lots of good programs, but when families are touched, healed and strengthened for the glory of God. When God does something only He can do, people see it and they are moved. When people in the church and the community see things happening that cannot be explained except that God Himself has done them, it attracts them to Him.
God used Peter and John to heal a crippled man in the name of Jesus. When the people around saw him walking and praising God, they were astonished, “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened” (Acts 3:10). Then when Peter and John preached, “Many who heard the message believed, and the number grew to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). When the people in the surrounding community heard that these disciples cared enough about their needs to come and minister healing to them, they were willing to listen. An effective ministry of healing prepares the way for a more fruitful ministry of evangelism. Let them see God at work– they will come and listen, and be drawn to Him. Let them see the difference that the living Christ makes in a life, a marriage, a family and a church and that will make a difference in how they respond.
An effective family ministry that is both in-reach and outreach oriented will produce key results that benefit the church and the community:
Key Outcomes of an Effective Marriage & Family Ministry
- The deepening of the overall quality of Christian marriage and family life.
3. A growing body of seekers who are not members of the church but increasing in their relationship with and dependence upon the body of Christ as a real agent in their lives.
4. Higher congregational usage of and involvement in the family life ministry.
5. A growing number of referrals and contacts who are involved in family ministry offerings.
6. The teaching and conversion of seekers to the body of Christ.
7. A reputation in the community that sees the church as a positive proactive force for families of all types.
So, how might we proceed from here? Where might we start? We suggest a six step process for planning and administering a marriage and family life ministry.
Steps to Developing Marriage & Family Ministry
A strategic planning approach such as this would assure that appropriate programs are directed at prioritized felt needs of the congregation and the community. Consideration is given to the selection, development and implementation of programs that gain momentum quickly, and are most easily maintained by trained lay leaders.
Step #1: Put Someone In Charge
The need for–as well as the breadth of– marriage & family ministry is so great that some person in the church must give special attention to it. Every ministry needs a person who is the heart and soul of the effort, someone who will put spark into the vision. For a marriage & family ministry this family champion should be a couple who personifies the vision and goals of the ministry. This couple must champion the cause of marriage and family in all areas of church life. Their positive leadership will set the pace for the development and confidence level of the ministry.
The role of a marriage family life leadership couple/team might look something like this:
- Responsible for the design, development and coordinating of marriage and family life programs; classes, enrichment groups, leadership training, counseling, workshops, etc.
- Formulates and articulates the church’s approach and philosophy of family ministry.
- Assesses the needs of the congregation and the community in regard to marriage and family life.
4. Formulates goals and objectives for marriage and family life ministry.
- Coordinates, stimulates, and promotes the church’s marriage and family life ministry.
- Stays informed about the social and political issues related to family and informs leaders and members about them.
Step #2: Develop A Mission and Purpose of Marriage and Family Ministry
Answers to some basic questions need to be decided and formulated. The following are just a few of them: What is a marriage? What is a family? What should be the relationship of church and family? What do we as a church consider are the major features of a healthy marriage? What are the biblical roles of husband and wife?
Then there is the need to spell out exactly what the church’s mission and purpose of family ministry will be. This involves formulating the values and principles that will govern the church’s programs in this area.
There are several recommended steps that a church must undertake, as it determines the mission and purpose of its current marriage ministry. We will not elaborate on these here, but we believe that to the extent that a church intentionally defines the purpose and mission of its marriage ministry (both written and unwritten), marital relationships will be strengthened. We suggest that the end product of your work in this area be a simple, succinct and informative marriage ministry mission statement that lays out the clear purposes your church values and is committed to. Your church’s leadership should formally adopt this mission and purpose statement.
Step #3: Assess Needs and Extent of Current Ministry
Leadership must uncover the most pressing family-related needs of the congregation and rank them according to importance. Knowing which direction to proceed and which programs to proceed with is determined by what could be done and what must be done. There are a number of ways to discover the needs of a congregation and community. The important thing is that over the long term, needs assessment helps to prevent irrelevant programs that fail to address people’s felt needs.
A simple approach is to identify several key lay leaders who are interested in strengthening marriages in your church. These should be mature and seasoned couples. Survey them and ask for their input regarding the current effectiveness of your church’s current marriage ministries. Additionally, you should also survey several newlywed and premarital couples for their opinions. It is important in this evaluation that you measure the characteristics of your church. Don’t feel that you must create every aspect or program of a comprehensive marriage ministry. There may be other quality marriage ministries in your town or city that you can study or borrow ideas from.
Most marriage ministries are grouped in several common areas- premarital formation, marital enrichment and post-marital survival. Break out each one of these areas and evaluate what your church is doing or not doing in this area. Remember that there are few churches (if any) that have a complete marriage ministry. You may want to form a task force of lay leaders to assist you in your evaluation.
The areas that should be evaluated are:
Do we have a written church policy that establishes our marriage philosophies, goals and programs? Does this policy address such issues as marrying divorcees, couples that are cohabiting, believers marrying non-believers, non-believers, etc.
What types of premarital, marriage enrichment and other marital development programs do we offer on a regular basis? What type of resources do we use in each area of ministry- books, study guides, seminars, retreats, etc?
Which staff is assigned to perform marriages, provide premarital preparation and overall marital development in your church?
Step #4: Determine Goals and Objectives
This is critical. Once you have assessed needs and evaluated your marriage ministry for its strengths and weaknesses, you are now in a position to establish the goals that you want to see accomplished within each facet. I would suggest that you establish no more than three goals for each area. For example, in the area of premarital preparation, you might require (1) four sessions of premarital counseling; (2) a premarital personality exam; and (3) a pre-marriage mentoring agreement with a seasoned couple. Lay out these goals for each area of your marriage ministry.
The articulation of these goals will be critical as each area is defined and as programs are developed. Of course, each of these areas will require additional sub-goals, such as the required training for offering a premarital inventory (such as Prepare/Enrich). I would encourage you to involve your leadership team in this effort. Set out an acceptable amount of time – approximately 30 to 60 days to finish this portion.
A number of factors should be considered when determining goals. A church will not be able to meet all the needs, nor should it. The philosophy of ministry will play a role in deciding which it will try to handle. Resources and personnel will also influence the choice of goals. The gravity of the need is also influential, asking such questions as “What will happen if we don’t help in this area?” and “How high are the expectations of people that the church will do something?”
At least four different considerations are given to goal-setting:
- The church’s marriage and family ministry mission statement.
- The ministry’s overall purposes.
- Choosing goals.
- Determining objectives.
Goals are carefully evaluated and selected. After goals are determined, programs are selected and designed with quality, excellence and a long-term impact in mind.
Step #5: Programming
Effective programming helps evaluate options and implement programs that target felt needs. Some excellent programs are probably already in place. Additional programs should be chosen to achieve specified goals. It’s important to know what is to be accomplished before deciding what to do. Growing churches are rapidly learning the truth of the adage that “less is often more.” An effective family ministry might do well to offer a few high-quality programs that flow out of a strategic process of planning.
There are a great number of excellent marital resources for churches on the market. You will be able to plug these resources in most effectively as you identify your marriage ministry priorities and the areas that your ministry will focus on.
Successful church-based marriage ministries offer a wide scope of programs and resources- from the annual marriage enrichment seminar or retreat, to marriage counseling, premarital education and education, marriage mentoring, group and individual tapes and books, etc. These are all areas in which there are many good resources. For more information about resources visit the Association of Marriage and Family Ministries website at: www. amfmonline.com.
Consideration must also be given to personnel, money, time, facilities, etc. Of utmost importance consideration must be given to integrating programming with what already exists in the church. The question should continually be asked: “How can we reach this goal through what we are already doing?”
Step #6: Evaluating
The final step in the administration process—evaluating—is one of the most strategic, yet is probably the most often skipped. Effective evaluation accounts for past activities, present activities, and future commitments.
Feedback is the chief basis for improvement. Evaluation can be carried out in a variety of ways including questionnaires, interviews, observations, input from leaders and facilitators, and attendance records. Evaluation is essential to restyling our methods and programs and modifying goals and objectives. With the completion of each of these steps, the church can be confident of having laid the proper foundation for a successful Marriage and Family Ministry
Components of a Marriage & Family Ministry
Components of an effective marriage and family ministry might include:
- An Annual Marriage & Family Life Conference — members can invite friends and use the weekend as an outreach tool. Several speakers and multiple learning tracks can be offered.
- Marriage Enrichment Seminars and Mini-Workshops– offered periodically throughout the year as retreats, evening seminars, and/or one-day (Saturday) events.
- Interactive Marriage & Parenting Bible Study Classes for Couples- focusing on application of biblical principles for strengthening marriage relationships, parenting skills.
- Growth/Enrichment/Support Groups- which address specific needs such as: Marriage Intimacy, Parenting, Blended families, Single parenting, Conflict resolution, Managing Stress in the Family, Empty Nest Adjustments, Job Search, Balancing Home and Career, etc.
- Family Resource Center – staffed by trained mentoring couple volunteers, including community resource referrals, a marriage & family library with resources such as, audio and video resources, family magazines, books, games, and family activity guides.
- Engaged Couples Ministry – two tracks could be offered: one for those marrying for the first time, and a second for those remarrying and forming blended families, utilizing state-of-the-art tools such as the PREPARE Inventory.
- Video-based Parenting Seminar- a three-stage program designed to equip parents with a plan to bring up their children according to a biblical mind-set; “Preparation for Parenting”, “Preparation for Toddler Years”, and “Growing Kids God’s Way”.
- Outreach Seminars and Workshops to the Community- on-site or off-site from the church, advertised in local newspaper and radio to reach couples from the surrounding areas.
- Outreach Seminars to Businesses- providing businesses with the resources to cope with the changing American family and its impact on the workplace, and to integrate the balance of work, home and church. This could include seminars to meet the needs of dual-career couples and single-parent families, offered free of charge to interested businesses in the area. (Perhaps no one societal change has had such dramatic impact on the American family as the change in the nature of work in one generation).
- Marriage & Family Counseling Ministry- although a comprehensive ongoing family ministry is preventative in nature, therapeutic counseling can be a significant in-reach and outreach tool to assist families through crises. Preventative and therapeutic efforts should complement each other. A family ministry can help a church develop multiple levels of response to the various needs of the congregation and the community.
For example: a couple calling the family life pastor for help could be referred to one of several sources or a combination of resources to help address their needs. A multilevel response might include counseling with a Christian counselor, attending a support group, being discipled with a lay-mentoring couple, reading a book or listening to a CD, attending a class, seminar, or retreat, or receiving assistance from an appropriate referral source. Counseling loads can be eased as people work in groups or are listened to and discipled in biblical marriage and family relationship principles by trained, compassionate lay-leaders.
- Trained Leadership and Mentoring couples- the goal being to create a more caring Christian community within the church with trained couples ministering to other couples in a discipleship setting.
- Periodic emphasis- addressing relevant marriage and family issues from the pulpit.
- Marriage and Family Life Newsletters – encouragement and resources sent to members and guests to update on events and opportunities, address relevant marriage & family issues.
- Dads Discipling Dads Program- yearly video conference; 12-week one-to-one discipleship training; weekly encouragement/accountability group.
- Moms-Mentoring-Moms Discipleship Program– monthly support/educational group; a.m. group/p.m. group.
- Family Retreats and Camps– Couples getaways and family retreats encourage families to build relationships and strengthen spiritual ties; Marriage camp – a yearly couples enrichment program for couples at various stages of married life.
God has a wonderful design for the family … to grow, to nurture life, to serve Him, and to make Him known. However, even within the church today, many families are struggling under life’s challenges.
- Christians are experiencing a high divorce rate — 50%
- Less than 10% of church-going families read the Bible or pray together in the home
Families in the church are under attack, and they are experiencing spiritual and moral decay because the Word of God is not active in their homes.
We believe the local church is the answer to these family issues, but we also realize that many churches and pastors are not sure how to help these families. It can be difficult to recognize hurting families on Sunday morning, and many times as a pastor, you are not aware of the problem until it’s too late.
Our approach to Marriage and Family Ministry is not another burdensome program or a “cookie cutter” approach into which your church must fit — we realize every church is as unique as the needs of each of their families.
Our aim is to support the local church in the development and implementation of a custom fitted comprehensive Marriage and Family Ministry. This would be accomplished through supporting you in planning and administering programs, recommending best Biblical resources and materials, and workshops, enrichment groups, and training of leadership and mentoring couples.
- We’ll help you discover your church’s families’ greatest needs.
- We’ll help you train leaders to meet those needs.
- We’ll come alongside you to build a strategy and plan that works for your church.
Get Marriage-Saving Tips and Updates
The American Association of Christian Counselors
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The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries