A recent report from Barna Research shows that cohabitation is the new family norm. More and more Americans are moving in together before marriage. In fact, the culture has shifted to the point where the majority of adults (65 percent) either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to live with someone before marriage.
“America is well beyond the tipping point when it comes to cohabitation,” says Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna Group. “Living together before marriage is no longer an exception, but instead has become an accepted and expected milestone of adulthood.”
If this is the new norm, how should the church respond? How can we reach parents who are living outside of God’s plan for marriage and help them discover God’s best for their life? Here are three keys to effective ministry in the new family norm.
HAVE A HEART FOR THEM AND GO TO THEM.
Jesus modeled this for us. He didn’t shy away from people who were living together. Quite the opposite. He went to them. The woman at the well is a great example of this. Jesus went out of His way to reach out to this lady who was cohabiting.
Do you have couples in your church that are cohabiting? If not, then you’re missing out on the heart of Jesus. He cares deeply about them. He wants them to find forgiveness and healing. He wants to change their lives.
Here’s a snapshot of the average community in America: 88 percent of the people who are not believers say cohabitation is a good idea. And 57 percent are either currently or have previously lived with a boyfriend/girlfriend. If you are reaching your community, you will have couples attending your church who are cohabiting. Remember, the church should be a hospital where couples can find healing and restoration rather than a museum where perfect Christians are on display.
MODEL WHAT A STRONG MARRIAGE LOOKS LIKE.
Before we look down on young adults who are living together unmarried, we have to take a hard, hard look in the mirror You see, Millennials see marriage as a risky endeavor. And you want to know why? Because they are trying to avoid the heartbreak they have witnessed in their parents’ divorces.
Living together has become a way for them to test their relationship before making a final commitment. Eighty-four percent of young adults living together say this is why they are choosing cohabitation. This compares to only 9 percent who cohabit for convenience and only 5 percent who do so for financial reasons.
It’s time we model strong marriages for the next generation. When they see love and commitment actively being lived out in long-term marriages, they will follow our example.
CELEBRATE THE BENEFITS OF WAITING.
It’s not easy in today’s culture to swim against the tide of cohabitation. As with premarital sex, the arguments against cohabitation are increasingly being seen as outdated by the culture as a whole. Today’s young adults constantly see people living together unmarried at work, in the media and next door.
The answer is not in simply bringing down the hammer against cohabitation, but in showing young adults the benefits of waiting and lining up with God’s plan for marriage. They must be clearly shown that marriage leads to better spiritual growth, stability, family life and commitment. The divorce rate is much lower for couples who wait until marriage to move in together.
They need to know this. We must make marriage so attractive that cohabitation will be seen as a cheap substitute for real love and commitment.