In a 2015 interview with Francis Chan on John Piper’s podcast, Chan expressed his view that young people are delaying marriage because they are engaging in premarital sex. Immediately alarm bells went off in my mind when I read this.
Another single person, Caitlin, also must have heard those same bells. She recently listened to the 2015 interview and wrote in to Piper’s podcast expressing her concerns over this reasoning. She writes:
I have been deeply impacted by the writings and teachings of Francis Chan in the past and have profound respect for him. But his reasoning that singles in the church are engaging in sexual immorality and therefore marrying later felt dismissive for a lot of us. I cannot name a single Christian couple that is in the situation he describes and is therefore delaying marriage. His response felt like it skimmed over a topic with so much more depth to it.
Amen, Caitlin. I hear you. I think every single person who has stuck it out in church hears you.
Caitlin then goes on to describe her situation and that of her friends. I feel like I could have written what she did. She writes of faithful, committed Christians trying to stay in community and working their tails off to pay student loan debt all while waiting for their spouse to show up at church one weekend. I’ve seen my own friends do this for years. Ummm….going on decades now.
Some of us have stayed committed to the hope of a good, godly marriage, and others of us have gotten discouraged and left the church in search of a relationship.
Problem #1: Those Numbers, Though
Briefly, I want to talk about numbers. Because for all practical reasons, this is a numbers issue.
In 1980, the average age of marriage for women was about 22. In 2018, it’s about 28. That’s a pretty steep climb if you compare the ages in 1950 (around 20) and 1980 (again, 22). In that thirty year stretch from 1950 to 1980, the age increased by two years. But in the 38-year stretch from 1980 to 2018, we’ve leaped from 22 to 28. The ages for men hover slightly above their female counterparts, and have also climbed steeply these last few decades: up and to the right (and not in a good way).
Honestly, I just don’t think we know what to do about this change as a society.
It’s important to say that the desire for marriage hasn’t waned as the average age has risen. Those of us in the church are especially keen on marriage. I don’t have a single (double entendre intended here) friend who doesn’t want to be married. Literally.
Added to the hike in age, the church has its own numbers problem. There are simply more women than men who attend church. A study by Pew Research shows that currently those who attend church at least once a week are composed of 43 percent men and 57 percent women. Of this group of people who attend church at least once a week, only 19 percent have never been married, 9 percent are widowed, and 12 percent are divorced or separated. The rest (60 percent) are married or cohabitating. There just aren’t a lot of single people at church in general.
Additionally, the single people at church are disproportionately represented by women. Single Adult Ministry cites 23 percent of single women attend church regularly, while only 15 percent of single men attend regularly.