- A church that fails to teach how to love is a church that is failing to teach how to live the faith. Tweet This
- Churches need to get into the business of teaching members to greet others well, especially family members. Tweet This
- Churches need to become centers where people can come to be loved and to learn how to love. Tweet This
It’s long past time for the American faith community to lead a relationship revolution. Our society is beset with a confluence of alarming trends. Marriage rates have hit a new record low, and cohabitation is rising. But we’re not just facing a marriage crisis. We’re in the midst of a full-blown relationship crisis.
The Harvard Loneliness in America study found that 36% of Americans “reported feeling lonely ‘frequently’ or ‘almost all the time’ in the prior four weeks,” with a “startling 61% of young people” reporting serious loneliness. About half of the lonely young adults in the survey “reported that no one in the past few weeks had ‘taken more than just a few minutes’ to ask how they are doing in a way that made them feel like the person ‘genuinely cared.’”
For Christian churches who are taught in the Bible, “It’s not good for man to be alone,” this state of affairs should have provoked a call to arms long ago, yet most churches have been bafflingly complacent. The Virginia-based nonprofit Communio commissioned a survey of Evangelical, mainline, and Catholic churches and found that 85% had spent exactly zero dollars on marriage programming.
I am a member of the Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic men’s organization in the world with nearly two million members. The Knights do great work. The organization’s website lists more than 30 worthy programs it currently sponsors—but not one of these programs focuses on marriage.
The Knights' failure to prioritize marriage is not because every man in the group has a great marriage. My own small council has been touched by divorce with several brother Knights having ended their marriages. Why aren’t we doing more to support marriage?
It’s not as if nothing can be done.
Alarmed by the struggles of its young, the city of Tacoma, Washington, almost doubled its high-school graduation rate by, among other things, teaching its bus drivers to greet students by name. Greetings are not insignificant. As a marriage coach, I have witnessed how learning to greet one’s spouse with joy can transform many marriages—including my own. Our churches need to get into the business of teaching members to greet others well, especially family members.
How many of us have heard our parents tell us we are beloved? That they are pleased with us? How many of us have told our own children these affirming words? I told my daughter these words, and she was surprised to hear them. Despite her many obvious strengths, she was all too aware of her failings.
The good news is that we can get better at expressing our love to others. Blake Brewer was recently featured on the Today Show discussing the Legacy Letter Challenge he founded after reading a letter from his late father, expressing his admiration and hopes for him. Brewer now organizes classes teaching mothers and fathers to write similar letters to their children. Every church should be teaching parents how to express love to their children. Our children deserve to know they are beloved and that we are pleased with them.
There are thousands of church-affiliated schools across the country. Every religious school should also be teaching relationship skills. I’ve recently begun teaching just such a class with a priest friend at a Catholic high school. As one of their homework assignments, students were asked to develop a ritual for greeting their parents well. They were instructed to show their parents they were happy to see them, ask how their days went, and offer to do something for them. Parents, also, deserve to know they are loved. Just imagine how family lives across America would be transformed if teaching students how to greet their parents became standard practice?
All these are small things—writing letters, encouraging joyful greetings—that can make a big difference, but big things can be done as well. In one of the most hopeful experiments ever conducted, Communio recruited more than 50 churches in Jacksonville, Florida, to participate in a trial relationship education program, through which 58,912 residents of the city completed skills-based relationship programs lasting four hours or longer. Over the three years of the program, the divorce rate in the city fell by 24%—and church attendance grew.
So many churches offer food pantries, and it is only right and appropriate that they do, but Mother Teresa—who did so much to alleviate material poverty—was right when she said, “the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.” Every church needs to start offering “love pantries,” and not as a side business. “God is love” after all. A church that fails to teach how to love is a church that is failing to teach how to live the faith. Churches need to become centers where people can come to be loved and to learn how to love.
“It’s not good for man to be alone” should be the daily rallying cry of the American church. If our churches fail to lead a relationship revolution in our country, who will? Let’s get to work.
Peter McFadden, a New York-based marriage coach, blogs on marriage at MarriageFun101.com.