Sometimes married couples forget how to date. When many couples go out, they forget how to have fun and instead get caught up in discussing finances, children and other matters that are anything but romantic. Pastors want to help the couples in their congregations rekindle the romance in their relationships, which is why some pastors are turning to Focus on the Family's Date Night Challenge for help.
On Monday, pastors and church leaders from around the nation watched a live video conference hosted by FOTF, promoting church participation in The Date Night Challenge event coming up this winter. Globally recognized Christian leaders also threw in their support during the half-hour conference, relaying just how important it is for churches everywhere to present a united front in support of healthy, biblical marriages.
"Many pastors want to do something to strengthen their marriages in their church, but they don't necessarily have a plan or the capacity to enrich really all of their marriages," said Greg Smalley, executive director of marriage for FOTF, who served as the conference's host.
Smalley said many couples don't know how to date. Married couples often go out and, instead of having fun and enjoying one another, their dates end up focusing on other things like finances, their children or some other aspect of their lives. Other couples get into a routine, where every date consists of only dinner and a movie.
To help couples get out of a dating rut, FOTF is providing churches with an opportunity called The Date Night Challenge. This challenge will begin the week of Feb. 7-14, when churches will host a date night and show a video featuring Christian comedian Jeff Allen, romantic music from former Newsong lead singer Michael O'Brien and a talk from Smalley and his wife.
After the event, couples will be able to download date ideas for the following two weeks, though Smalley noted that he doesn't want it to end there.
“The key ... is to challenge them and encourage them to keep dating,” he said, also indicating couples who aren't married could benefit from the event. According to a study, 92 percent of couples who participated in The Date Night Challenge in 2010 say they had increased satisfaction in their relationship.
Rev. Sammy Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said in a clip played during the video conference that the challenge is a great opportunity for churches to reach out to members of their surrounding communities as well, opening a door for churches to proclaim the Gospel and also help them in a practical way.
"We understand ... that when times are tough, in an economic downturn, marriages suffer the most,” Rodriguez said. “This is a powerful tool in our current reality."
Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, said it's important for churches to take the lead in strengthening marriages, and should remind couples that marriage is a symbol of God's love for the church.
Churches leading others to strong marriages, he said, “begins with a clear teaching on the importance and purpose of marriage as God's plan, and also involves care, and support and nurturing of husbands and wives as they work out their marriages.”
Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week, which takes place Feb. 7-14, said “The local church is really the natural vehicle for impacting communities.”
Weber said that 40 percent of all American babies are now born outside of wedlock (that number increases to 72 percent among African-Americans). Each year, American taxpayers spend at least $112 billion on divorce and the results of unwed childbearing. Also, the percentage of married adults has decreased from 79 percent in 1970 to 57 percent “with high rates of cohabitation” today.
In spite of these statistics, however, she was confident that marriages and churches can be positively impacted through the challenge. She described one large church that hosted a date night, for example, and as a result saw an attendance increase of around 2,000 people.
Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of World Evangelical Alliance, also made an appearance during the video conference, saying WEA is supporting the project because “we see the need for Christian marriages around the world ... to be strengthened and we need to be celebrating them.”
WEA, he added, hopes to also be a voice for churches and marriages everywhere to show that marriage is good for our society.
The first date in The Date Night Challenge doesn't begin until the week of Feb. 7-14, though churches are encouraged to register for the event now. The goal, Smalley said, is for five million dates to take place globally by the end of February, and to ultimately strengthen marriages worldwide.