A new study released earlier this month explored recent trends on marriage, online dating, and cohabitation, and where Christians fall in the map.
On marriage, the Barna Group study, which was released on February 9, found that while just a little over half of the general adult population are married (52 percent), a higher proportion of practicing Christians and evangelicals (59 percent) are married. Among evangelicals alone, the proportion was even higher: 67 percent of evangelicals are married.
However, the proportion of Christians who are divorced is the same as that of the general population, the study found. Among practicing Christians, 25 percent have been divorced, and the same rate was found for evangelical Christians (25 percent) and the general adult population (25 percent).
Christians were also among those who supported cohabitation, though the likelihood that they supported it was much lower than those with no faith. While 88 percent of those with no faith agreed that "it's a good idea to live with one's significant other before getting married," 41 percent of practicing Christians, 35 percent of born-again Christians, and 6 pecent of evangelicals said the same. But among those who disagreed with the idea, "religious reasons" was the most prominent reason for not supporting cohabitation (34 percent). Other reasons survey respondents didn't agree with cohabiting before marriage included, "I don't believe people should have sex before getting married" (28 percent), "It isn't practical or doesn't make sense" (16 percent), and family or traditions (12 percent).
The study also found that the majority of the general adult population have not tried online dating at all (72 percent), and 52 percent said they would never try the service. Among those who shy away from online dating, evangelicals were most likely to say no to it, as 75 percent said they would never use it. Only 9 percent said they have used it once or twice, and 1 percent use it regularly.
Roxanne Stone, the editor in chief of the Barna Group, said that ideas around romance, and marriage in particular, have changed in recent years.
"While once viewed as the primary end goal for romantic relationships, the institution of marriage now seems to be under great scrutiny," Stone said. "The 'trials and errors' of dating now include living together as an assumed, final hurdle before marriage. In 2014, we found that while 82 percent of Millennials want to get married some day, they want to wait until they feel more fully developed as a person (70 percent), are financially established (69 percent), and have lived together (60 percent). A full 30 percent of Milliennials aren't so sure about marriage at all -- they express doubt as to whether or not they even believe in the conventional form of marriage."
Stone encouraged church leaders to take these factors into consideration in evaluating the way they minister to young adults.
"Are your ministries set up to meet the fundamental needs of that age group: career building, personal formation, social activities, friendship and the complexities of singleness and dating? Do you talk about the benefits and risks of online dating? Are you having frank conversations about sex? Are you able to offer a believable reason for why people shouldn't live together before marriage?"
"Churches are often afraid to address these questions outside of youth group -- but increasingly, young adults need this kind of guidance. They are skeptical that the church is relevant to their lives -- or that faith has answers for them," said Stone.