By Aaron Earls
A third of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important problems facing families today, and many say it has brought increased stress in their families.
The 2020 American Family Survey found a rise in a number of stressful changes.
Nearly 9 in 10 parents restricted their children’s in-person interactions. About 2 in 5 say they or their spouse or partner (if applicable) had a change in employment since the start of the pandemic.
Those who have endured an economic crisis during COVID-19 are more likely to say they have had increased stress in their marriage (37% to 20% of those without an economic crisis) and questioned the strength of their marriage (21% to 8%).
Around 1 in 5 Americans admit they are experiencing more tension in their home this year. Increased stress is more likely for those under 45, ages coinciding with small children in the home.
This reality provides an opportunity for churches to meet the needs of married couples and parents in their congregation and community.
Here are five ways the church can provide relief for those enduring increased stress and strain in their relationships.
1. Acknowledge the stress-inducing moment
The first step to helping families is to simply acknowledge the issue, says Michael Kelley, senior vice president of church ministries at Lifeway.
“Give people permission to be human right now, which is to say, acknowledge that given everything happening, it’s entirely expected that everyone—and therefore marriages—would be struggling,” he said.
Couples who believe they are alone in their stress will place even more pressure on themselves and their marriages.
2. Provide relational opportunities
Spouses and parents may simply benefit from having someone else to talk to about their home life and relationships.
Kelly King, manager of women’s ministry training at Lifeway, says churches can offer opportunities for couples to connect and talk with other couples.
These times can give space for couples to talk with others, deepen relationships, share prayer requests, and just be around other people.
3. Offer counseling opportunities
For some couples, this moment may have may have revealed some areas where couples could benefit from more than the listening ear of another couple.
Some may realize they need to seek professional help. And the church should be ready to help them find it, says Kelley.
As the church acknowledges the current stress on some marriages, he says, they could help by connecting couples to local counselors or even providing those opportunities directly.
4. Give tangible help
“The church currently has the best opportunity it has had in the last century or longer to go out and be the church,” says David Bennett, managing editor of HomeLife Magazine.
Previously, churches have often relied on drawing people through programs or experience, he says, but now they must go out and provide practical and spiritual help for couples and families even if means delivering it online.
For King, churches should look for ways to provide relief to parents and kids struggling with virtual learning.
Some churches have opened areas for local school children to use the church wi-fi for distance learning. Tutoring may also be an option or offering an afternoon of free childcare.
Offering simple helps and practical resources for couples and parents can have lasting, long-term impact.
5. Strengthen marriages long-term
Stress on marriages and families will not end even if the coronavirus is no longer a prominent concern.
Bennett says churches can continue to offer many of the same resources into the future to help relationships remain strong in the future.
As the pandemic dies down and families become more open, Kelley says churches can begin holding marriage retreats or, if that’s not an option, classes focused on marriage during the week.
“When we were first married, our church offered a class for young married couples. It was designed for couples who were recently married, and you could stay in the class for a year,” said Kelley.
“Some of the friendships we formed in that class continue to be relationships that we are closest to. We still enjoy getting together and doing life together.”
This season may have added stress to marriage and families, but it has also provided opportunities for churches to meet needs and help secure families for decades to come.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.