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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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God at work: transforming tragedy into testimony

Wed, 23 Jan 2013 - 3:31 PM CST

Full Gospel Church -- damage
Ruined drywall, carpeting and other water-logged items begin to pile up outside a side door of the Full Gospel Church of Island Park.

It wasn't a good day.

Pastor Peter Conforti and the members of Full Gospel Church (AG) of Island Park, New York, were left shocked, speechless - struck to the core. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast late in October 2012, damage was expected . . . , but this. This was much more than anyone imagined.

With many of his congregants from the hard-hit areas of Island Park and Long Beach, Pastor Conforti suddenly found his church of 250 had almost instantly dwindled to 60 as some members had their homes totally destroyed or made at least temporarily uninhabitable. And unknown to them at the time, the area would mostly be without power - with the exception of generators - for the next three weeks or more.

The church building didn't escape the wrath of Hurricane Sandy either. Four feet of water sat in the parking lot with a foot of standing seawater inside the building. The parsonage (located in Long Beach) was also heavily damaged by the flooding.

"The church was on higher ground, so we never thought it would be flooded," Conforti says, a sense of disbelief still evident in his voice. "But the sanctuary, fellowship hall, kitchen, Christian education wing - all had water standing in them. When the water receded, we took out the carpet, pews . . . anything even remotely close to the floor was finished, because the sea water is so corrosive and full of bacteria, it made a mess of everything.

"One of the first things that hit me," Conforti continues, "was how inclusive the damage was - it was everybody, everybody [in the community] was under water - basements, first floors and even higher than that. Everyone was scrambling trying to find places to live, or to come back to, but for many, everything was gone."

But even as things seemed to be going from bad to worse, as freezing temperatures and a snowstorm were expected to hit the area with power still out, God was already at work.

"Convoy of Hope was here within 24 hours," Conforti says, "setting up a relief distribution center at a nearby elementary school. People also came down from the New York District office, including Chaplain Don Schneider, and churches came to help and show their support in a big way."

Yet, as Convoy of Hope began distributing emergency relief supplies, Conforti says something odd began to happen.

Full Gospel Church -- sign
People, anonymous and known, began to drop off all kinds of supplies at the church for victims.

"For some reason, people just started coming by the church and dropping off clothing and furniture for people in need," Conforti says. "Within days, we were a clothing distribution center."

As the community reeled, Conforti and Full Gospel Church became a constant. The community knew where to go for aid. After three weeks, power was restored, and the church unexpectedly transitioned again.

"When the power came back on, Samaritan's Purse contacted us - they wanted to use our church for a staging area," Conforti says, conveying his surprise. "I tried to explain that our church interior was nothing more than cement floors and exposed beams where the drywall had been ripped out. But they assured us that the church would be fine."

And so it was.

Joining with Full Gospel Church and chaplains, Samaritan's Purse brought in teams to go into homes, rip out the damaged drywall, dry out the home and then spray it for mold - at no cost.

It wasn't long before word spread about what Samaritan's Purse and Full Gospel Church were doing. More and more people came to the church to sign up for a team to come to their homes.

"The sole purpose of the Samaritan's Purse outreach was to show people God's love in a tangible way," Conforti says. "We were there as well, with chaplains from the Billy Graham organization, helping people deal with the loss and frustrations they were experiencing."

As the teams ministered to people with their attitudes and physical labor, the spiritual doors began to open. "People were asking, 'Why are you here?'" Conforti says. "And we told them, 'We're here to help you and show you God loves you, knows what you're going through and to trust Him.'"

Conforti explains that prior to Hurricane Sandy, the church had many walls and stereotypes to overcome in order to reach the community. But following the storm, where the church and ministries displayed the love of Christ through being a servant to the community, people were suddenly more receptive and open.

"Our first week of services, we had about 60 people here," Conforti says. "The next, we had about 120."

However, since the beginning of the Samaritan's Purse outreach into homes, Conforti says about 80 people have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. The church is also running 250 again - but the congregation is made up of a lot of new faces as many of the original families have still been unable to return to their homes or have moved from the area.

Conforti doesn't believe the church could have ever made this kind of impact upon its community through evangelism, crusade meetings or programs.

"I don't see how," Conforti says. "Even if we went door-to-door in this community - half the doors would never be opened and those that did open, once they heard where we were from, they would never listen."

He explains that once people come to realize the offer to help is legitimate and they aren't asking for anything in return, attitudes change.

"Many have seen acts of love before," Conforti observes, "but for a person to go down into a crawl space loaded with mold and scrape it out for a total stranger? That's love. And people are responding to a demonstration of love they've never seen before!

Full Gospel Church -- interior
Stripped of the "amenities" of most churches and acting as a storage area for donations, Full Gospel Church has found God doing incredible things in the community as the church places the community's needs ahead of its own.

"We prayed as a church for many years to be a lighthouse to the community and to see people come to the Lord," Conforti says. "Look at what God is doing! People know us and not in a negative way - 'You're the church that's helping the community even though you have damage to your building.' Only God can do that. He's the One that's changing hearts and minds - even when we still have concrete floor, blue tarps and wet dry wall around us."

Author: Dan Van Veen

Editor's note: Convoy of Hope is also helping families with recovery by working through churches, in conjunction with local recovery efforts and case managers, to provide insulation and sheetrock. The church is following up on Samaritan's Purse contacts with a team of 12 people and is also developing small groups to meet within the community. For those desiring to help, contact Convoy of Hope, the New York District Office or the church for additional information.

 

Keywords: AG churches

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