It’s no secret that the divorce rate among Christians is only slightly better than outside the church. But according to a recent study, only about 18 percent of churches nationwide have some sort of marriage ministry, leaving most Christian couples to fend for themselves. However, an organization called Communio is trying to change the way churches and Christians view the importance of strong marriages and family.
Meet Mike and Tammy McIver of Ft. Worth, Texas. When asked how they feel about each other, Mike said, “Her heart is just the purest, she’s the most kind person I’ve ever met in my life. And boy, did I need that. And God blessed me with her and put her in front of me in just the right time in my life,” he said.
And when asked what Tammy loves about Mike she said, “Everything. He’s amazing. He is my knight in shining armor. I love the way he cherishes me and the way he thinks of me. I’m a priority,” she beamed.
It sounds like Tammy and Mike have a nearly perfect marriage – an achievement that’s taken hard work to maintain. Their love story began 30 years ago as high school sweethearts. But after graduation, they went their separate ways, married other people, and then, got divorced. Facebook helped them find each other again. A connection that led to marriage, and after four years together, they don’t plan to make the same mistakes they made in their first go-round.
“Our previous marriages were not Christ-centered and caused so many issues, conflicts, lack of communication, and ultimately apathy. We knew that we wanted a Christ-centered marriage. And the question was how? How do you do that?” Mike asked.
And that is precisely what the group, Communio, is helping churches offer their married or soon-to-be married members – a way to answer that question and ultimately save marriages.
“Seventy-two percent of churches lack a substantive marriage ministry. And if you just looked at what churches allocate, 85% of all churches in the United States report spending $0 annually on marriage and relationship ministry. Zero,” Communio President J.P. De Gance told CBN News. “The number of people getting married each year has dropped 61% since the year 1970 and 31% since the year 2000. The number of people getting divorced is still too high and yet the church has not gotten strategically engaged in renewing the marriage in the family. We’re still behaving like it’s the 1950s,” De Gance said.
De Gance’s mission to save marriages includes equipping churches with the resources and tools they need to foster and nurture healthy marriages.
“And so when we work with churches, we want to be data-informed. We want to come alongside the church and help the church understand what’s going on, analyze what’s going on in the congregation, in the community, in order to design a ministry that’s customized for the church,” De Gance said.
Thanks in part to the ministry’s influence, Mike and Tammy sought pre-marital counseling as a safeguard and didn’t stop there. After taking their vows, they signed up for a church marriage class called “Undivided” where they discovered the true meaning of having Jesus at the center of their relationship.
“A Christ-centered marriage is a marriage where you love your spouse the way that Jesus loved us. Jesus loved the church, Jesus loved Israel, His bride, unconditionally through sacrifice, through love, and honor. That’s how we’re called to love our spouse, where I put her first, she puts me first,” Mike said.
Today, Mike and Tammy co-lead a “Marriage Boost” class each Wednesday night at their Ft. Worth church where they focus on everything from conflict resolution to learning each other’s love languages to hosting “date nights” with free childcare.
“And it’s really cool to see what the class does for people,” said Tammy. “We have had people come in that were living separately, that were on the verge of divorce, that hadn’t talked to each other in a deep manner for a year. And slowly but surely, they keep coming back in. And then they’re holding hands and then they’re talking and now they’re going on dates and they’re moving back in together,” Mike said.
The McIvers say without Communio, many people wouldn’t know about their church’s programs.
“The amount of work that they’ve done within our church and our marriage ministry, as far as helping us to market the program and talk to the right people and gather the right data on, you know, where we can best focus our efforts for marriage ministry, is impressive,” Mike said.
“And you see when you go to those date nights, you can see that there are so many people there that are not in our church that just hear about it. It’s amazing that Communio helps with that, and they really bring extra new people in and into our church,” Tammy said.
Former junior high sweethearts, Michelle Berger and Lloyd Swords of Billings, Montana, also went on to marry other people and get divorced. When they found each other again and married six years ago, unresolved issues nearly tore them apart. Thanks to Communio’s influence and a Marriage Master Class that focused on forgiveness, the couple is back on track.
“You’ve got to try everything you can. You know, God is not a fan of divorce. And I think in our society today, it’s too easy, it’s too easy to just say, I’m done, I’m leaving. Take the time, invest in this course, go through it, because it is life-changing in the marriage,” Berger said.
“So I quickly figured out that if your marriage is in a dumpster fire, it’s really hard to disciple your children,” said Parent Discipleship Pastor Sarah Siegler of Denver, Colorado. Siegler, who’s been married for 28 years and has four children, including three of whom were adopted, says it’s important to invest in your marriage at every stage.
“Your marriage is your number one relationship outside of God, and you’ve got to invest in it. You’ve got to keep it healthy. You’ve got to keep it strong so that you can support your children and pass on the faith,” Siegler said.
De Gance agrees and believes now more than ever, Christians need to pursue healthy marriages, not just for themselves, but for future generations. “And it does look like God has made the family and marriage, in particular, an essential ingredient for advancing the Christian faith and that’s clear through Scripture. And it’s important for churches not to walk away from that,” De Gance said.
For more information on Communio’s programs and research, visit their website HERE.