When the pastors and staff at Trinity Fellowship Church were preparing for a sermon series on marriage, they realized many people who were joining the church were cohabiting.
So the big question was: Why are people putting marriage off?
Jimmy Evans, senior elder of the Amarillo, Texas, megachurch, doesn't blame couples for being wary about marriage and hesitating to take that next big step, especially at a time when many people have been hurt in marriages and cohabitation has become more mainstream.
But he's convinced that God bestows a special blessing on those who tie the knot. And he wants to spread that message to a culture where marriage has become anything but what God intended it to be.
"God will bless you if you get married," Evans said at the kickoff of his four-week marriage sermon series, entitled "Sex, Love and Communication," last month. "I'm not talking about run out and get married. I'm saying if you got someone that you believe God's put you with for the rest of your life, there's a special blessing when you get married."
The latest sermon series at Trinity Fellowship was developed partly to prepare couples for "The Big Summer Wedding" this month. Thirty-two couples were married at the same time by Evans in the west sanctuary of the megachurch last weekend.
Although the nearly $3,000 event was timely for couples caught up in the economic downturn (the wedding was free), it was also designed to provide a bit of a push to get couples who have been living together to the altar.
"Our goal was pretty simple – we wanted to help couples," Matt Spears, executive pastor of Ministry Development at Trinity, told The Christian Post. "We believe in marriage – one man and one woman – living in covenant with one another. So many people are living together and having kids together, for whatever reason they are running away from marriage. Many couples are not getting married for fear of failure; others are not getting married simply because they do not have the means to do so."
The Big Summer Wedding was one of the answers to the question of why people were delaying marriage, said Spears.
Although a small step toward "curing a large problem," Spears believes it is a step many others will follow.
The church did not enforce any stern rules or requirements for getting married. But couples who signed up for the mass wedding were encouraged to attend pre-marriage training and also asked to either abandon cohabitation or not be sexually intimate until their wedding night. Moreover, they did not necessarily have to be a Christian. It wasn't a requirement, according to Spears.
The only thing required of the couples was that they bring a Texas marriage license and a pair of rings to the ceremony.
Complete with the church's female and male pastors as bridesmaids and groomsmen, the Big Summer Wedding may sound like just a big hoopla but it was a serious occasion for the 32 couples.
"We were a bit taken back at just how serious they took it," Spears noted.
As Evans, the senior elder, emphasized to the church, marriage is sacred. It's not just a piece of paper.
And when you're married "God's way, it gets better and better, not worse and worse," he said during the marriage series.
The world is hungry to see a healthy and stable – not perfect – marriage, Evans indicated.
Calling the church to reveal such marriages, Evans said, "When a man and woman are loving each other as God intended, it portrays the love of God to each other and to the world like nothing else. Marriage is the image of God and the devil hates it because he understands its potential.
"What God wants is for other people in the world to look at us and say 'I wish I had their marriage.'"