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For decades, the "fact" that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce has permeated the U.S. culture. And a raised eyebrow has been constantly directed at the Church, whose divorce rate was thought to have reached 50 percent as well.

These condemning statistics — and many more — have been repeatedly quoted by leading experts, the media, and even from the pulpit as fact.

But the results of an intensive study have revealed that oft repeated "facts" on marriage statistics are fiction. Moreover, these "facts" are not even close to accurate.

Shaunti Feldhahn
Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn, a Harvard-trained social researcher, spent eight years researching the facts about marriage statistics with her senior researcher, Tally Whitehead. What they discovered surprised even them — marriage in the United States is an incredibly successful institution.

According to their findings, the urban legends that became "marital facts" were based on decades-old "projections," not facts. The actual numbers tell quite a different story.

When comparing the actual statistics to what are now nothing more than "marriage urban legends," the differences are shocking:

* More than 70 percent of all first-time marriages are still intact. Of the less than 30 percent no longer together, that figure includes widows/widowers whose spouses have died.

* The divorce rate of those who attend church is less than that of those who do not attend — up to 50 percent less. Based on her exhaustive research, Feldhahn says the divorce rate of those who regularly attend church is likely in the teens to single digits.

* Feldhahn's study found that 80 percent of married people consider themselves happily married.

* She also discovered that most remarriages are successful.

Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family, adds that there's even a statistical difference when it comes to Christian marriages. "The truth is, there's a huge difference between Christlike marriages and two Christians who are married," he states. "There is almost no divorce with the first — people who pursue Christ, they're staying together because Christ makes a difference."

Smalley also cites another significant study concerning couples who described their marriages as "in crisis" five years ago. Of the couples who chose to stay together, two-thirds now rate their marriages as satisfying.

Greg Smalley
Smalley

"When people hit rocky times, their hearts tend to shut down, they give up and they believe their marriage is over . . . the media and statistics continually reinforce that message," Smalley observes. "But for those who hang in there, weather the storm, and get the help they need, two-thirds now love their marriage!"

Roger Gibson, senior director of Adult and Family Ministries at the AG national offices, was greatly encouraged by Feldhahn's findings.

"Overall, this is groundbreaking for the church and culture," Gibson says. "I think a lot of pastors, leaders and couples have been so influenced by the negative press of divorce statistics that we simply started to give up on marriage. Against such a pessimistic cultural view, Shaunti's research puts the fight back into the case for marriage."

In her quest for the truth, Feldhahn says that she "spoke with leading researchers, dug into the complexities, and began realizing the vast scope of misinformation, incorrectly-interpreted research, studies that downplayed positive findings, and quite often, commonly-cited statistics based on studies that didn't even exist."

One of the most troubling results of her findings is that for decades, some of the most common statistics about marriage were not only unfounded, they discouraged those considering marriage and those who were already married. The statistics seemed to unequivocally declare that the chances of having a lasting marriage, much less a happy one, were far from certain — and the odds were getting worse all the time.

But even that's not true. Feldhahn says that in fact, divorce rates have been declining, despite the promulgation of the urban legends surrounding marriage.

Gary Allen
Allen

Gary Allen, a former U.S. Navy and police chaplain who spent nearly 30 years pastoring Assemblies of God churches, is currently the pastoral advisor/counselor at the AG National Leadership and Resource Center (NLRC). He says Feldhahn's findings confirm what he has personally believed, but had no way to prove.

"In all my years as a chaplain, neither the Navy or police stations I worked with had a divorce rate near 50 percent," Allen states. "And in the churches I served, the couples I married, I believe nearly all of them are still married."

Allen adds that he read on an online dating site that in a survey of more than 19,000 couples married between 2005 and 2012 through the help of this online service, the marital break-ups were under four percent.

Although the time frame is relatively brief (7 years), Allen says this example shows the importance of being intentional in marriage. "As a pastor, couples who came to me went through six weeks of intensive pre-marital counseling," he says. "So, I believe, through my personal experiences, the online study, and Feldhahn's research, with just a little effort on the front end, marriage should be an anticipated successful venture — nothing like this 'roll of the dice,' 50-50 chance that we've been led to believe."

Smalley agrees and says that you can't underestimate the impact of hope — or the lack of it — in marriage.

"I've interviewed many millennials," he says, "and even though they've come from the most divorced generation in the history of our nation, their desire is to be married for a lifetime, but they're not sure it's possible. They've heard over and over again the 50 percent divorce rate; that statistic sticks with them and they're afraid."

And even when marriage is entered into, there is still the spiritual aspect to consider.

"Satan is so attacking us during this time," Smalley says. "We don't often talk about the spiritual battle that is going on, but Satan wants to destroy marriages - he's saying 'You're right, you'll never make it, your marriage is doomed.'"

Roger Gibson
Gibson

But Smalley says when young people are given hope, when they hear that 60-70 percent of marriages are making it, there's a different mindset about marriage, not to mention the ability to weather the difficult times marriages can experience.

"Give people even a tiny bit of hope to hold on to," Smalley observes, "and they start thinking that if someone else can make it, maybe they can too!"

Gibson says Feldhahn's research could ultimately shape the culture of future generations who might think marriage is "old school."

"With cohabitation on the rise over the years, it is obvious many couples don't value marriage or the covenant between husband, wife and God," Gibson says. "However, with Shaunti's new discovery of marriage between husband and wife showing a higher level of happiness, it could be the tipping point to the revitalization of the family."

Feldhahn's findings are also significant for churches and ministries.

"This is our opportunity to cultivate a different mindset about marriage," Smalley says. "Marriage is amazing. God designed it — it's His idea, and God doesn't create junk. It is not only possible, but it's expected that you will have a successful marriage!"

 


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More than 1,100 volunteer to "give a year"

Mon, 14 Jan 2013 - 3:26 PM CST

Volunteering 1 year
More than 1,000 young people crowd forward to volunteer one year of their lives to missions.

As the third World Missions Summit concluded, students responded, with 1,148 young men and women coming forward to declare their intent to give one year of their lives to missions.

Held December 28-30 at the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention Center, the World Missions Summit was a cooperative effort between Assemblies of God World Missions and Chi Alpha, the AG ministry to college students.

Themed "Because I Care," the summit gave students and other attendees an opportunity to experience what life is like in different countries, worship, eat with a missionary and pray for the nations.

Throughout the conference, the regions of Africa, Northern Asia, Asia Pacific, Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean set up interactive encounters known as Windows to the World so students could experience the smells, textures, noises and sights of that part of the world and learn about opportunities for missions.

Chi Alpha and XAi (Chi Alpha International) also conducted encounters to inform and recruit students to work with American and international students. University of Central Arkansas students, dressed up in circus and carnival costumes, paraded around the convention center urging students to attend the Chi Alpha experience focusing on the American Dream.

"The American Dream is not really what it seems," says Jennifer Schiefer, who is on staff with the University of Central Arkansas Chi Alpha. "The American Dream is rooted in self-provision and in self-service, and you cannot start down the path of self-service and end up at the Cross."

worship at TWMS
Thousands worship during the third World Missions Summit.

Those who attended the American Dream experience were ultimately asked to make a series of four life decisions in what was most important to them in life, marriage, legacy and career. At the end, they were given a new pair of glasses and asked if they were willing to trade in their life decisions for a new perspective on the American Dream.

World Missions Summit Co-Director Scott Martin says the summit wasn't only about challenging students with the motto "give a year and pray about a lifetime," but also helping them become selfless and more focused on loving others.

"It was about the circumcision of the hearts and minds of this present university student generation; the cutting away of the fleshliness of a self-absorbed culture," Martin says. "It was about every participant walking away with a knowledge of their responsibility to fulfill Jesus' mandate to reach the lost around the world."

During the Summit, Chi Alpha also announced Feed One (feedone.com), its humanitarian branch and new partnership with Convoy of Hope. "We want to partner with Convoy of Hope to give our students the opportunity to meet the real needs of children and be part of the global movement to eradicate hunger on the planet," says Boston University Campus Pastor Lynn Breitenbach, who earlier joined other campus pastors in Haiti to launch the partnership.

Second-year graduate student Nikki Nuttal from the University of Illinois says the messages given during the summit were different than what she has heard before, calling them blunt and challenging. "This is Jesus. This is the Bible," she says, echoing the tone of the sermons. "This is what it says. Take it or leave it."

American Dream
Chi Alpha presented the "American Dream," where attendees learned that the American Dream isn't all it seems to be.

Kathryn Tetley, a sociology major and junior from the University of Missouri, says God is teaching her about the different ways and opportunities she can serve.

"God's really been testing me on what I am willing to do and what I am going to do," she says.

Eurasia Representative and Vice President of Global Teen Challenge Kevin Tyler says he loves watching the students accept the baton being passed down to them.

"This is the generation that is going to get it done," he says about the students. "You can tell that God is at work."

Authors: Melanie Lynch

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