By Y Bonesteele
The western, American culture views dating differently than other cultures globally. Our cultural perspective is not necessarily right nor wrong, but it can make navigating dating in a biblical manner difficult—so difficult that pastors and leaders may avoid the topic. Yet, it is an area of need in our churches.
According to a recent Pew Research study, 50% of single U.S adults say they are not currently looking for a relationship or dates, while a little over a quarter (26%) say they are looking for either a committed romantic relationship or casual dates. Few (14%) say they are looking only for a committed romantic relationship. And 10% say they are looking only for casual dates. Men are more likely than women to be looking for a relationship or dates (61% to 38%).Few single U.S. adults (14%) say they are looking only for a committed romantic relationship, according to Pew Research. Click To Tweet
When thinking about how to minister to dating couples or singles interested in dating in your church, here are a few ideas.
Teaching on the Whys and Hows of Dating
Lots of books and talks on dating share the same assumption—you will date, i.e., a guy and girl will go one-on-one to an activity and do such activity, probably starting in your teen years. Building off of that foundation, they move into a focus on avoiding sexual sin.
It seems like we have waned, however, on teaching when and why singles should date in the first place. According to the Pew Research survey, among U.S. adults “who are on the dating market, roughly half (53%) are open to either a committed relationship or casual dates,” while 20% are just looking for casual dates only. What is the purpose of casual dating? When and why do I date? To court or not to court? Online dating? Blind dates? Arranged marriages? Perhaps there are a variety of valid answers, but there are general principles and guidelines from the Bible that leaders should share.In addition to all the teaching on keeping away from sexual sin, churches must also address biblical attitudes for dating. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
In addition to all the teaching on keeping away from sexual sin, churches must also address biblical attitudes for dating. We no longer can assume that people understand dating as a means toward finding a marriage partner. What can we do to be wise in the ways we go about finding a marriage partner?
While dating or seeking to date, couples and individuals need to seek wisdom and discretion in a biblical manner more thoroughly. Let’s teach our singles to think thoughtfully and biblically through their dating decision-making. There are a variety of views, even within the church, but let’s be reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, “’Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up. No one is to seek his own good, but the good of the other person.”
If we as a church value mentors and marriage mentors, have we thought about dating mentors? Maybe a couple has decided that dating is the right thing for them as they sought God’s guidance. Providing them with a married couple to walk them through this time might be a fun way to disciple dating couples, especially young adults, as they learn about relationships and conflict resolution and forgiveness.
Two-thirds of young people say they stopped regularly going to church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22, according to Lifeway Research. Giving young adults mentors for their relationships, or as individuals seeking to date, could be a way to keep them in the church. Those who have additional adults invest in their spiritual life are more likely to stay in church, according to the Lifeway Research study.Teenagers who have additional adults invest in their spiritual life are more likely to stay in church, according to Lifeway Research. Click To Tweet
No doubt relationships in any context are difficult. Almost half (47%) of Americans think dating has gotten harder in the last 10 years, according to Pew Research. Among those, 12% point to technology as the main reason behind the difficulty, 10% say dating has become more impersonal, 9% point to the more casual nature of dating today, and 8% say changing societal expectations, morals, or gender roles have added to the difficulty of dating.
Young couples need more mature couples to help guide them through biblical living and biblical dating. This is a time of learning and growing that might be beneficial to a dating couple that could also connect people in your church intergenerationally. Discipleship through books and Bible studies are essential, but we also need people in our lives to show us how to be more like Jesus in practical ways.
Finance and Marriage Training
Finance and marriage classes tend to be targeted more towards older, married couples. But when many marriages end because of money issues, helping dating couples learn about how to deal with finances and marriage issues is crucial for their personal benefit and the benefit of their relationships, current or future.Getting practical with money and relationships in a biblical way is a discipleship and spiritual issue needed for a maturing generation. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
Encouraging young adults to attend finance and marriage classes could help these adults learn a variety of skills from budgeting and saving to dealing with in-laws and sharing household responsibilities. Young couples can learn from the examples and stories of older adults who share their triumphs and failures in these types of classes to give a realistic look at adulthood and marriage. Getting practical with money and relationships in a biblical way is a discipleship and spiritual issue needed for a maturing generation.
If dating couples in your church are getting serious about their relationship, consider offering counseling. My husband and I thought about this before we were engaged and decided to do pre-marital counseling before the engagement, calling it “pre-engagement counseling.” We knew we were heading towards marriage but wanted more tools and training before we got into the honeymoon stage of an engagement. When we were college ministry leaders, we offered the same for many of our young adults.
Sometimes premarital counseling when couples are already engaged isn’t taken seriously because the ring is already on the finger and you’re in a cloud of flowers and fabric. In pre-engagement counseling, using premarital counseling material, relational issues can be dealt with or realized before getting into an engaged relationship. There’s no wedding deadline or rush when doing pre-engagement counseling so if red flags appear, time and energy can be spent in dealing with the issue, or coming to the conclusion that this might not be a good fit after all.Dating is difficult to navigate in general and young adults need all the tools they can get. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
Dating is difficult to navigate in general and young adults need all the tools they can get. As pastors and ministry leaders, let’s do all we can to help this next generation have a solid foundation to live their life and future marriage on (if that’s what God has in store for them).
Y is an editorial coordinator at Lifeway Christian Resources. She has her M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology with an emphasis in Evangelism and Discipleship.