Church programming is largely based on segmentation. In other words, most churches build their programming based on some assumptions about:
- Marital status
There is a general assumption in church programming that when a person hits their 20s that most will head towards marriage and having kids. And for most of human history it’s been that way, so it’s not discriminatory to base programming on that assumption at all. It’s been a safe bet. (Just like it’s a safe bet that if you have a lot of young married couples you should invest in your nursery, etc.)
But here’s the problem.
For a wide variety of reasons fewer adults are choosing to get married. To really grasp this I’d encourage you to read Derek Thompson’s, “The Death (and life) of Marriage in America” featured in The Atlantic last week. As he says, the reason fewer people are getting married is complicated. But the basis of this discussion is that as the wage gap between men and women continues to shrink, fewer women need marriage for economic stability. I’d never thought of the washing machine as a reason for a lower marriage rate, but he makes an interesting argument!
[Sidebar: From a Christian perspective we’d likely want to introduce sexual morality into that. But if we’re honest we know that few people, even in the church, are waiting until marriage for sex. That’s an influence on marriage but not the fulcrum we often see it as. When I do pre-marital counseling, most often, the couple is either sexually active or obviously lying to me about their sexual activity.]
So what’s the problem with building church programming around the assumption of marriage?
You’re eliminating 48% of the population of people over 18 automatically. They aren’t married. And with the age of first-time marriage rapidly moving towards 30 it’s safe to say that nearly half of the adults in this country aren’t walking around in a huge hurry to get married. We can lament about that all we want, but it’s the world we actually live in!
Yet, if you listen to both the words coming from the mouths of leaders and the metastory of assumption that every adult is either married or wants to be married, you can see why the 48% of people who aren’t married might think, “Church isn’t for me.”
Hang out with Christian adults who are single and you’ll quickly notice that they see the favortism in the church towards married people.
Even if you think that there should be a marriage assumption, can you see how this is a messaging problem for the church to wrestle with? Can you see how empowering the marriage assumption could be a wedge for a huge percentage of the population and what they think about God? (The church is living evidence of Christ, right?)
What does your church do that drives you nuts on this issue?
What, if any, success have you had in helping your church deal with the statistical realities of the country we live in? Have you been able to adapt?