By Mike McManus
After hearing a Lenten sermon on the need to repent from sins and make a new commitment to amend our lives, I asked my pastor to consider calling upon area churches this Lent to create a Community Marriage Covenant. Scripture is clear: “`I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel.” We have plenty to repent with regard to divorce. Northern Virginia, where my church is located, had 8,794 divorces compared to 13,407 marriages in 2011, for a divorce rate of 65%. That’s much higher than the U.S. divorce rate of 54% with 2.2 million marriages vs. 1.2 million divorces in 2012. My pastor agreed to take the lead. Why not ask your pastor for a Lenten pledge to radically reduce your area’s divorce rate?
A Community Marriage Policy or Covenant is an agreement by the clergy of diverse churches in a city to make marriage a priority in their congregations. It is signed in front of a courthouse (where couples get marriage licenses and divorce decrees) by 20-300 pastors who pledge to adopt the reforms outlined below. Why have 10,000+ pastors signed these covenants in 230 cities? We have been able to help clergy reduce their own church’s divorce rate to near zero. Great news to pastors overwhelmed by divorces.
An independent study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation reported that on average, city-wide divorce rates fall 17.5% in seven years after a CMP is signed, saving about 100,000 marriages from divorce. In fact, nearly a tenth of cities slashed their divorce rates in half – such as Austin, Kansas City, Salem, OR, Modesto, CA and El Paso, where divorces plunged 79.5%. One welcome result is that El Paso has had the lowest crime rate in the US for the past four years, and Austin is fourth lowest.
When families are headed by married parents, their children perform do better academically and are less likely to be delinquent. In addition, the Institute found that CMP cities cut their cohabitation rates by one-third compared to carefully matched cities in each state. And in some cities like Modesto, CA and Evansville, IN, the marriage rate has risen in contrast to a 57% decline of marriages nationally. Marriage matters!
A dramatic example of what is possible is Kansas City, KS where Rev. Jeff Meyers helped create a CMP that slashed the city’s divorce rate by 70% and by 50% in the suburbs. (You can view three CBN stories and an ABC News story on www.MarriageSavers.org.) How does Marriage Savers help churches achieve these results? By training couples in healthy marriages found in any church to be Marriage Mentor Couples to help other couples at five stages of the marital life cycle:
1. Preparation: Require every couple getting married in city churches to take premarital inventory online in which the man and woman agree or disagree with 150 statements such as:
- When we are having a problem, my partner often refuses to talk about it.
- Sometimes I wish my partner were more careful about spending money.
- Mentors meet with premarital couples 6 -7 times to both review the inventory and to teach skills of conflict resolution. Of the 288 couples mentors prepared for marriage in our home church in the 1990s, 58 couples decided NOT to marry – a big 20%. But of the 230 who did marry we know of only 16 divorces – a 7% failure rate over two decades, or a 93% success rate – virtual marriage insurance!
2. Enrichment: All marriages run down over time and need a booster shot. 10 Great Dates offers a fun, easy and inexpensive way to do so. Churches invite married couples to come to church on 10 Friday nights to watch a brief DVD on a topic such as “Resolving Honest Conflict,” or “Becoming an Encourager.” Couples then go on a date to discuss that subject, prompted by questions in a workbook. Other solid enrichment DVD packages: The Art of Marriage, Fireproof, Love & Respect.
3. Restore troubled marriages by training couples whose own marriages once nearly failed to mentor those in current crisis, saving 4 of 5 of them. Marriage Savers trains couples to review 17 “Action Statements” that are similar to the 12 steps of AA, such as:
- Once obedient to God, we were able to begin to love by his standards, not ours.
- I realized the problem was with myself.
- I became aware I needed to change, became willing to change, learned what and how to change, and began to change with God’s help.
- I learned to put God and mate ahead of myself.
4. Reconciliation of separated couples can be achieved with a 12-week Marriage 911 workbook course taken by the spouse who wants to save a marriage when a partner wants a divorce. The course is taken with a friend of the same gender, an accountability partner, using a Support Partner Handbook to know what questions to ask each week. It is designed to help the committed spouse grow so much that the errant spouse is attracted back. It saves more than half of the marriages.
5. Stepfamilies typically divorce at a 70% rate. However, creating a Stepfamily Support Group makes it possible to save these marriages – the mirror opposite. Couples learn from each other how to make these marriages work.
In the 29 years since Modesto, CA clergy signed America’s first Community Marriage Policy, its divorce rate has remained half of what it used to be for a decade. Its marriages doubled from 1,300 a year to 2,600 (partly due to population growth). Results: school dropouts fell 19% and teen births have fallen by 30%.
Lent is a good time to encourage churches in your area to create a Community Marriage Covenant? The heart of a successful Covenant is equipping Mentor Couples to help other couples prepare for, enrich and restore marriages. Here are three key steps:
1. CMP presentation: Consider sending this memo to the pastors of 10-15 churches, inviting them to a presentation I conduct at no cost, in a Marriage Savers Webinar. It is a 45-minute PowerPoint connecting my computer to one in your church via GoToMeeting so I can explain in detail what a Community Marriage Covenant is, and how it can help churches strengthen and save marriages. Additional presentations are also available, if desired. Consider calling your County Clerk to ask for the number of marriages in 2014, and your Circuit Court to get the number of divorces, and insert them in paragraph one.
2. CMP signing: If the pastors agree, we could schedule a signing of your Covenant and work with you toward making it a sell-attended signing, leaving ample time to recruit potential Mentor Couples.
3. CMP training: Marriage Savers will train clergy and Mentor Couples from each church that Friday evening from 6:30 to 10 pm and on Saturday from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Each church can bring as many Mentor Couples as desired. One couple from each church will be a Supervising Mentor Couple to conduct future trainings.
Let’s use Lent to start a process of creating lifelong, fulfilling marriages in your community. (Census reports that only 48% of American adults are married, down from three-fourths.)
Together, we can turn these dismal statistics around and restore marriage – God’s first institution.