As single Christians, the majority of whom are women, struggle to find ideal marriage partners in the pews, a new study released by Communio, a national nonprofit organization that works with churches to strengthen families and develop stronger faith lives, has found that most of them aren’t living lives of sexual chastity.
In a Nationwide Study on Faith and Relationships, which draws on survey responses from 19,000 Sunday church attendees conducted during worship in 112 Evangelical, Protestant and Catholic congregations, author JP DeGance, the founder and president of Communio, said this secular attitude among single Christians toward sex and sexuality is likely among the drivers causing single Christians to delay or decline getting married today.
“Despite scriptural teaching to the contrary, research has shown that most never-married Christian men and women are not living lives of sexual chastity. This engagement in sexual relationships outside of marriage coincides with and likely fuels delays and declines in marriage,” wrote De Gance, who is also co-author of the book, Endgame: The Church’s Strategic Move to Save Faith and Family in America. “The delay in marriage represents what some scholars have called the shift from a cornerstone view of marriage to the view of marriage as a capstone institution.”
The cornerstone view of marriage presents the institution as “an essential relationship to construct a happy and successful life” says De Gance and it is the accepted pathway in traditional Christianity to “grow in holiness.”
“When this model is embraced, chastity as a single Christian is more common,” he said.
Many single Christians, he explained, have been influenced by secular culture that has embraced the capstone model of relationships where “marriage is entered into only after getting ahead in life and after reaching some preset level of financial and personal achievement.”
The embrace of this model, however, is contributing to increasing loneliness in society and less fidelity to Christian sexual mores.
“Individuals who pursue the capstone model often have a longer list of requirements before selecting an ideal ‘soulmate.’ Sex before marriage is common in this model. While some celebrate this shift, the explosive, and societally dangerous, levels of loneliness among the never married shows one major defect in capstone marriage,” De Gance said.
He cited research that shows that for every year that marriage is delayed in a nation, the number of individuals who never marry also increases.
“Beyond the moral and biblical imperatives, church leaders must not reinforce the current zeitgeist. Instead, they must find ways to push back against the cultural narrative around sex and reestablish a cornerstone model, because, in part, it leads to less loneliness, more relationship satisfaction, and greater happiness,” De Gance explained.
Just last December, megachurch Pastor Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, Georgia, called for the Church to “repackage” itself to include a discussion of a new “gospel for grownups” that doesn’t tell single Christians that are “used to getting some” that they need to be celibate.
Bryant argued in an interview with actor and media personality Rashan Ali on her “Cool Soror Podcast,” that if conservative Christians don’t evolve in how they engage the culture on issues such as abortion, sexuality and recreational drugs, like marijuana, megachurches might soon become a thing of the past.
“I had a Zoom with all of my singles just this week. … For me to tell 16-year-olds to be celibate is one thing, a 37-year-old who is used to getting some [sex], I need a different kind of gospel,” said the 51-year-old Bryant, who is a single divorced father.
“So the Church ain’t telling me nothing about sex toys; ain’t saying nothing about church telling me to be celibate, but my gynecologist saying something got to happen down there because your stuff’s shutting down. So we gotta have a real gospel for grownups,” Bryant continued, as Ali mimicked speaking in tongues and chuckled in agreement.
In his study, De Gance found that churches focusing on alternative solutions to healthy marriage instead of promoting lifestyles that support the development of healthy marriages is bad news for the Church.
In fact, the researcher found that a 40-year decline in marriage and fatherhood is driving a national decline in Christianity and increasing loneliness, yet 85% of churches were found to spend $0 annually on marriage and relationship ministry.
“To effectively evangelize today, we must address the declining number of marriages, poor marital health and improve the effectiveness of fathers in those marriages,” DeGance said in a statement to The Christian Post. “By addressing these three issues, we can end the loneliness epidemic as well as spark a sustained revival in Christian faith and active church attendance. The link between marriage and faith is clear, yet 85 percent of all churches in the United States report spending zero dollars annually on marriage and relationship ministry.”
DeGance found the Church and society, in general, would enjoy significantly better outcomes with more married fathers being present in the home and that the growth of religious nones is unlikely to stabilize until 25 to 30 years after married fatherhood stops its decline.
In order to do this, however, churches will need to work on addressing issues such as the current enduring gender gap in the pews.
“These survey results show that the alternative (capstone approach to relationships) leads to epidemic levels of loneliness and suffering among their congregants. Going beyond preaching, churches must also embrace ministry approaches that both champion and give agency to healthy relationships from youth, young adulthood, and deep into the married life. Christian parents and churches must become serious and effective in discouraging the many existing marriage competitors (such as cohabitation) and sexual alternatives to marriage (premarital sex and pornography),” DeGance wrote.
He added: “Church leaders must also find ways to balance the gender gap within the pews. Among the never married, there are 42% more women than men sitting inside of churches on Sunday. While many women may prefer Christian marriage to the available counterfeits, a lack of marriageable men, faithful to the gospel’s view of sex inside of marriage, remains a real and substantive obstacle to the cornerstone model of marriage.”
DeGance highlights in his study that a significant majority of the 19,000 respondents in the study who were attending church across all age groups came from homes where both parents are married. He also found in his research that a married father plays a significant role in the transmission of faith.
“It is helpful to step back and look at the larger role a father plays in the overall emotional health of his children and then come back to its relationship with faith practice. Indeed, the collapse of fatherhood in the home (as experienced through marriage) is associated with increases in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE),” DeGance wrote.
A 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Adverse Childhood Experiences such as divorce, racism, witnessing violence, substance abuse or having a parent in jail have now been linked to at least five of the 10 leading causes of death in America.
“ACEs are associated with increased risk for numerous negative outcomes, including a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of morbidity and mortality, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, suicide, and drug overdose. Risk is particularly pronounced for individuals who experience multiple types of ACEs,” the CDC researchers note.
“ACEs are also associated with negative effects on educational achievement and employment potential. Importantly, the historical and ongoing effects of racism or poverty, living in under-resourced or racially segregated neighborhoods, and experiencing housing or food insecurity (social determinants of health) can contribute to and exacerbate the effects of ACEs.”
According to DeGance, a child who experiences married fatherhood throughout his childhood will, on average, experience far fewer ACEs than one who does not.
“Men who arrive at unwed fatherhood through divorce or through not marrying a child’s mother are apt to become nonresident fathers. Nonresident fathers are far less involved in the daily life of their children than resident fathers. A majority of nonresident fathers have contact with their children less than once per week and less than monthly contact within two years of birth,” he explains.
“These fathers are, statistically speaking, much less likely to become the archetypal ‘authoritative father’ who generates optimal parenting outcomes for their children. An authoritative father is one who develops parenting relationships with a healthy balance between closeness and warmth as well as the instruction and discipline that is firm but not overly coercive,” he adds.
He further explained that while married resident fathers aren’t guaranteed to become successful parents, “they are much more likely to become the balanced father that raises thriving children.”
“While it might be common sense to most Americans, many of our nation’s elite appear less interested in recognizing the link between healthy fatherhood and the institution of marriage. A growing amount of philanthropy and public policy is geared toward mitigating the effects from the collapse of marriage while forgoing any attempt at treating the root cause,” he says.
DeGance urged influential Christians to start using their voices to push back against the alternative narrative on marriage.
“The Christian elite should seek to influence and shift the secular elite on this issue. Scholars have noted that our elite embrace marriage in their own lives at high levels, which compounds our growing income and wealth divide,” he added. “Yet, our nation’s elite have failed to preach what they collectively practice on marriage. This silence is increasingly at odds with the avalanche of evidence that marriage greatly benefits today’s mothers, fathers, and children. Indeed, marriage appears to be an antidote to combat loneliness, produce long-term happiness, and increase human flourishing.”