Does your church measure divorce?

Organizations of any size and kind measure what they care about.  This is a bit of a cliché in business, but it happens to be true.  It is even true for bloggers.  I don’t think you will find a single semi serious blogger who doesn’t know how many hits their site has been getting.  Most probably make a mental note of how many comments each post generates and make adjustments to posts (even if unconscious) based on that.  But Id be willing to wager that very few if any bloggers count the number of say action verbs in their comments section;  it simply doesn’t matter to them.

The maxim in business says that you will measure what you care about.  But it also works the other way around.  Start measuring something and it is amazing how quickly everyone starts caring about it even if you fail to set and enforce performance goals.  It changes the way people at all levels think and behave.  A great example is workplace accidents.  I think everyone has seen one of these signs:

This department cares about worker safety.

This department cares about worker safety.

Conversely, sometimes an organization wants to talk the talk but avoid any meaningful action on a topic.  One of my early jobs in the corporate world was reporting.  I learned early on not to take many managers at their word about what mattered in their sphere of influence.  Often they would harp on one aspect of the business every time you saw them.  They could be really convincing.  As a young man I made the mistake of trying to find ways to measure just such things.  I’ve seen more than one manager turn white when I presented them with a way to measure what they claimed was a top priority.  Looking back I realize how lucky I was to keep my job in these cases;  I was threatening them at their core by measuring something they loudly claimed to care about but had no intention of taking any meaningful action on.  Now I don’t measure anything my manager doesn’t specifically ask me to.

Does your church care about divorce?

I’m guessing most readers who regularly attend church would answer an emphatic yes.  When asked for proof, they would point to several Bible verses, a page on the church website admonishing against divorce, or maybe even dig up an old memo from the pastor.

This congregation cares about families.

This congregation cares about families.

But how many could post a picture of a sign like above?

I see a lot of people on the manosphere questioning what the church can do to counter the trend of friviolous divorce and the damage it does to men, women, and children.  The simple answer is first they have to care. The good news is if they care there are some really great options at their disposal.  Here are three ways your congregation could work to keep families intact:

  1. Keep track of every marriage the church performs. The church could keep a simple spreadsheet or database and each week try to contact all of the couples married by the church which had an anniversary the last week.  Getting the initial contact information would be easy to do when doing pre marriage counseling.  Do like creditors do and get the contact information of close friends and relatives at the same time to track down couples when they move.  While speaking to them during the annual followup, the church member could invite the couple to rejoin the congregation (if absent), offer to pray with them about their marriage and family, or help direct them to resources they might need to strengthen their marriage.  For married couples who join the church but weren’t married there, ask them to symbolically rededicate their marriage one Sunday in a short ceremony in front of the congregation and add them to your database for yearly follow-up.  Key to this process would be to track the stats of how many of the church’s marriages are still together vs ended in divorce.  I would bet money your paster would love the idea until you get to this point.  Then he will likely turn white like the managers I mentioned.
  2. Calculate the ratio of the number of divorces per married couples who are members of the church for the past year (and historically).  For example if there are 100 married couples who belong to your congregation, and 5 of them divorced last year, you had a 5% annual divorce rate last year.  Track the trend.  Don’t look for cop outs of “well this couple didn’t read the Bible much”, etc.  Take your lumps so you can understand the true nature of the challenge.  Publish the statistics for everyone to see.
  3. Track and post the number of days since a frivolous divorce. Just like the sign above.

Print this out and take it to your pastor.  Post back with what he does.

My bet is he will turn white and excuse himself to go make preparations for the divorced members support/fellowship group.  Or maybe he will tell you you should only read the Bible and not blogs with dangerous ideas.  This is one time I’d love to be proven wrong.  Please let me know what his reaction was.  Please also let me know your thoughts on this idea whether or not you are an active member of a congregation.

See Also: Flyer sent home with our kindergartner.

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53 Responses to Does your church measure divorce?

  1. Will S. says:

    Love that sign! {Sigh} If only…

  2. grerp says:

    I think you need to remove the word “frivolous” from your signage, unless you want to spend all day every day defining and re-defining “frivolous” instead of trying to limit divorce using a little social pressure. In the first sign, it just reads “accident” and not “preventable accident.” Just as in some types of work, there will always be failures and accidents, with marriage there will always be failures and divorces. Under ideal circumstances with people who are entirely in accordance, there will still be failed marriages; it can be a tough gig, and these are not ideal circumstances. In any case, “frivolous” is best defined at the group level, not the individual. Given the same situation, someone else’s divorce will seem far more frivolous than your own because in your own situation it is you who is hurting and angry.

  3. tspoon says:

    dunno Grerp,

    afaik the only biblical basis for divorce is adultery. It’s rare to find cases of ‘accidental’ adultery. Even acknowledging that there are other common, non bible sanctioned, even understandable, causes of marriage failure, does not remove the fact that one or both human signitories to the marriage will clearly behaved in a manner which here can only deemed as ‘frivilous’.

    Your argument seems to be that it ‘just happens’ and no one could have prevented it. No, it doesn’t just happen. And a church should be the last place to be handing out free passes to those who could not honor a contract they freely signed ‘in front of God and everyone’.

  4. grerp says:

    No, my point was not that “divorce just happens” and that there should be free passes. What I’m saying is that, by adding the word frivolous to the sign, you derail your objective from the get-go because suddenly everyone starts arguing about what “frivolous” entails and forgets that the point is that churches should be exerting pressure on their congregants to avoid this outcome because it’s bad for families, bad for individuals, bad for society, and also bad for churches.

    As far as Biblical divorce – the Old Testament laws allowed a man to divorce his wife – and not vice versa. New Testament Christian thought allowed for divorce under two circumstances: sexual immorality and abandonment by an unbeliever.

  5. grerp says:

    Just as in some types of work, there will always be failures and accidents, with marriage there will always be failures and divorces.

    When I stated the above, what I meant is that, as with any other human endeavor, a certain number of attempts will be failures. Some marriages are just bad. Miserable, angry, uncooperative – for many reasons such as alcoholism, mental illness, dire poverty, infidelity, child loss, or just picking an incompatible or bad-natured person to pair up with.

    I probably did not communicate my original thoughts clearly. I’m sorry.

  6. tspoon says:

    Possibly, but no need to apologise. Where I’m coming from is that practically any divorce stems either from a lack of due diligence, or lack of will. Genuine bad luck stories, where there were no prior signs of one partner being trouble in future, or where both gave it their all and still somehow failed, are much much less common. Looked at under a certain light, the word frivilous, or something similar, could describe most cases. Perhaps it was the marriage itself that was frivilous.

  7. dalrock says:

    I think you make a great point grerp. I’m not totally sold one way or the other. All divorce should be seen as failure by the congregation. If it happened, they didn’t achieve the outcome they set out for. And I also think there is a real risk that the modern church which hasn’t been able to be bothered for what 60 years of broken homes, suffering children, etc may no longer be trustworthy to offer a moral judgment. They simply may not have it in them.

    On the other hand, I want to force the church to make a moral judgment here. We knew a couple where the husband cheated on the wife repeatedly, over at least 5 years, probably longer. For at least part of that time she put up with this because they had two kids. She clearly made the bad choice to 1) marry a bad boy based on her tingle and 2) have kids with him after she must have known he was a cheater. But the divorce itself wasn’t frivolous. If they belonged to a church and she divorced him, the church would be sending a moral message by not counting this as frivolous. He would be shamed and in my view appropriately so. Likewise Edna in my Grey divorce P3 post. That was frivolous and the ladies at the church would watch the number roll when she did that.

    Frivolous contains a sense of judgment which is missing both from our societies and our churches.

    Lastly, any Pastor, Priest, etc and any congregation which struggles to identify frivolous vs non frivolous divorce needs to immediately get out of the marriage business and (sorry) shut up about it!

    In any case, “frivolous” is best defined at the group level, not the individual. Given the same situation, someone else’s divorce will seem far more frivolous than your own because in your own situation it is you who is hurting and angry

    I totally agree. I think the driving reason churches want to avoid the issue of measuring divorce is the fear they might have to make a moral judgment. I should add the following to the possible replies from the pastor: “What, am I my brother’s keeper now?” and “Hey, I’m too busy officiating at weddings to start playing shepherd to a bunch of sheep.”

  8. dalrock says:

    Perhaps it was the marriage itself that was frivilous.

    Wow. Great insight.

  9. hambydammit says:

    I have to be snarky. I just have to. Sorry.

    So… um… one thing churches could do would be to study the atheists and follow their lead. Statistically speaking, atheists married to atheists are the least likely to get a divorce. IIRC, Protestant/Protestant is the highest likelihood.

    Anyway, just discovered your blog. Wish I had more time to peruse, but I’ve got a giant plate of sushi calling my name…. Mmmmmm… uni…. I’m looking forward to checking out more of your posts, though.

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  11. dalrock says:

    I suspect that if you controlled for IQ much if not all of the difference would go away. But even then not being worse than atheists isn’t much of an endorsement for the church’s efforts to honor marriage…

  12. Gorbachev says:

    I don’t think, as an idealizing institution, the church would want to track its own failures. Regardless of what these were.

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  15. Diane says:

    Speaking as a single mom…. I think this is an absolutely fantastic idea. I really do. Sure it’s incredibly intrusive to the couples involved, and certainly it would be a tremendous amount of work for the churches involved, but worth it? Oh yeah. When my husband left our home ten years ago (it was ten years on this past August 17th as a matter of fact) I pleaded with our pastor to keep up contact with him. I asked him to maybe have breakfast with my husband and call him once in a while… not to convince him to return to our family, but just to keep him from falling further away from God than he already had. The pastor said he would, that he’d be happy to keep in touch with him, but then he ended up being “too busy.” He “forgot.” And now my husband hasn’t set foot inside a church for years. The children said that he uses his Bible to prop up a broken corner of his dresser.

    My husband’s fall is no one’s fault but his own. I don’t hold that pastor responsible in the slightest… but I do wonder what would have happened if he had cared enough to act like he cared. Yanno?

  16. dalrock says:

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for sharing your very powerful story. I guess on the bright side you know he has a bible handy should something prompt him to change course.

    Sure it’s incredibly intrusive to the couples involved, and certainly it would be a tremendous amount of work for the churches involved, but worth it? Oh yeah.

    On another blog that discussed this someone pointed out that the reason we marry in the church and bring so many witnesses is to ensure that others are invested in the marriage as well. So I don’t think it really is intrusive to contact a married couple periodically to ensure they have the support they need to be successful in the marriage. But it would probably help to clarify the question if during pre marriage counseling the pastor had the couple specifically authorize the congregation to contact them in the future and include their results in the church’s metrics.

  17. nebby3 says:

    It’s an intriguing thought. I love the sign :) I do think measuring divorces could be a sign your church is in trouble. I don’t think I’d actually want to be in a church that does it though. I think when you start focusing on those things, they will come to dominate people’s thoughts. I know you mean this to try and cut down on divorces. But really a lot of divorces in a church to me is a symptom that the church has problem. It is not the root problem itself. I would worry it would lead to a stigmatizing of the people who are divorced when they may or may not have even been the problem. I think if there is divorce there is sin somewhere. That doesn’t always mean both parties were at fault. And I do think there are legitimate reasons to get divorced.

    To me a bigger issue would be why do you need statistics on this? Now our church is new and fairly tiny. There are maybe 10 couples in it. If someone were getting divorced, we would know. Not all churches are so tiny (and we are hoping to grow!) but I think if a church gets so big that the elders (or deacons or whatever they call the spiritual leaders in the church) don’t know the congregation well enough to know if someone is getting divorced, then the church is too big. Rather than come up with complicated schemes to track members’ marriages, why not plant more, new smaller churches where people can actually know each other and be involved in one another’s lives?

  18. Bike Bubba says:

    As a quality engineer, I should love this idea, except for the fact that I’ve tried it with other things to measure in church. More or less, everything is a (Deming warning here!) special event in churches…new pastor, new members, new deacons’ board, new programs, etc.. In so many churches, the turnover is so fast, moreover, that it’s impossible to track any variables. Was it the pastor? Their old church? Small groups? New pastor? Their new church?

    I would tend to think that–along the same lines of the fact that most of my quality work is more or less insisting on basic standards of craftsmanship–we ought rather to concentrate on the craftsmanship of our disciples. Do we slop a believer together with the four spiritual laws or the bridge and then see how he works, or do we make sure that members and consistent attenders develop deep friendships and discipling relationships?

    I’m thinking that if we made sure we really discipled our converts, we would do a LOT more good (and get far less confused) than by tracking marriages.

    Another difficulty with a “marriage control chart”; it’s a hands off tool that’s looked at once a month by management. This is exactly the wrong image of servant leadership for the church; real, Godly leadership is very close and intimate.

    (If we want to use stats, I’d bet that isolation would predict divorce pretty reliably)

  19. dalrock says:

    Hi Bike Bubba. I’m not a Quality Engineer, but have worked with many (I’m more on the Project Management side). I’m not even saying set a goal, just measure where you are. Churches measure all sorts of things, from buts in chairs to the weekly offering, to the number of countries they have performed missionary work in. I’m not saying blame it on the pastor if the number is high. I’m saying show that it is important, just like the workplace accident sign. When something awful happens it isn’t always about pointing fingers, but making sure everyone stops and thinks about what did and could go wrong.

    From a background perspective, my blog is part of a group which is about as down on marriage as you can imagine. In this group I’m pretty much a lone male voice in favor of marriage. But even I have to admit that legally marriage is an awful setup for men. If there is no moral force keeping your wife from just waking up one day and taking your home, kids, most of your income, etc, why would I suggest any man enter into such an agreement? Fortunately for me my wife has that moral force within herself, and this is what I suggest men considering marriage look for first and foremost. It would be helpful if I could point to a church that wanted to strengthen marriage and tell men; marry a Christian woman from X congregation. But churches find moral issues a bit too unpleasant today I’m afraid. And this in my opinion is the real reason no church will do this.

    I also know from my wife who has taught at multiple Christian schools that a large percentage of the kids in her classes were from broken homes. Probably something between 25% and 50%. These kids suffer greatly, but most folks seem to only worry about the husband or wife who one day spoke the magic words “I’m not happy!” and decided to dynamite the poor kid’s family.

  20. BettySue says:

    Hmm, our small, 9yo church has had two first-time-for-both weddings, no divorces and two re-marriages! Never thought of measuring us that way!

  21. dalrock says:

    Great to hear BettySue! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  22. Bike Bubba says:

    Agreed on the problem; I’m going to comment a little more in detail on my own blog, with of course a link to you. More or less, I have some serious reservations about using statistical methods in church for various reasons. Big thing if you want to use them is simple; it must be done in close association with the people involved, and you’ve got to measure inputs, not outputs, if you want to understand what’s going on.

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  25. Dalrock, I know you just commented on my blog post, but I’ve lost the comment. It has disappeared in thin air, and I wanted to respond because you asked some great questions! Can you come back and comment again? Thanks!

    And for the rest of you, today I wrote about what to say to a couple that had decided to split up. I think we confuse prevention with crisis management sometimes, and we need completely different arsenals for both. Read it here.

  26. dalrock says:

    Hi Sheila,

    I just saw this was pending approval. I received an error the first time I submitted my response, but luckily I had saved a copy in a text editor ahead of time. I resubmitted it again and it looks like it is working now.

    I really do like your approach and will comment some more tomorrow when I have time. I would highly recommend your post to anyone reading this comment.

  27. Lily says:

    I was talking to a female friend today about her life. Whilst she is happily remarried with a child, she said that she wished she had tried more on her first marriage. And that they had more support from people they asked for help, they had one session with her vicar and he said ‘well some people just aren’t meant to be together’ lol!

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  30. BikerDad says:

    I think that the idea, with or without “frivolous” is wonderful. There is, however, another metric that has to be tracked, one that will make your pastors, ministers, reverends, and priests run in terror.

    How many unbiblical (i.e. adulterous by the standard set by Christ Himself in Luke) marriages have they performed, and how many have they welcomed into their congregations? As long as the Church continues to endorse adulterous relationships, it will continue to be ineffective in witnessing about God’s faithfulness.

    Needless to say, not a lot of pastors are going to be enthusiastic about putting their heads on the top of the list for their congretations’ plates, probably not even the Baptists….

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  37. Jason Rennie says:

    Only just saw this post but forwarded the idea onto my pastor. I’ll follow up with him and see waht he has to say.

    [D: Fantastic! If he takes real action I would be delighted to tell the world about it.]

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  41. Drew says:

    I suggested tracking the divorce rate for our church to one of the elders. He encouraged me to gather the data and share it…

    The problem I am running into is that each local church is autonomous. The result is that finances and attendance rates are all local, with no central database. Marriages are not recorded at all, because the church doesn’t technically marry anyone (not considered the job or authority of the church). For my current local church, I am not aware of any divorce (maybe the sample size is too small?).

    Any suggestions on how to deal with this roadblock?

    This is the work I have done so far…
    Based on my personal contact with 3 churches in 3 different cities combined together:
    I recall ~35 married couples (70 men and women) over a period of 15yrs (limit of my memory)
    2 divorces (4 men and women) over the same period
    10 weddings over the same period (including my own)

    If I recall correctly, I remember both divorces being a result of adultery.

  42. Dalrock says:

    @Drew (emphasis mine)

    The problem I am running into is that each local church is autonomous. The result is that finances and attendance rates are all local, with no central database. Marriages are not recorded at all, because the church doesn’t technically marry anyone (not considered the job or authority of the church). For my current local church, I am not aware of any divorce (maybe the sample size is too small?).

    Any suggestions on how to deal with this roadblock?

    There are two issues I was getting at with this post. The first was how churches could make a difference if they chose to measure divorce. The second had to do with the near universal corruption in churches regarding marriage and sexual morality. You have run smack into the middle of the second. The churches you are working with see marriage as first and foremost a legal arrangement, and have washed their hands of biblical marriage. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if they didn’t still pretend to be all about biblical marriage.

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  44. Drew says:

    So I present real numbers of real churches, with leadership encouraging me to gather the data. And you change the subject to a theological debate on scriptural authority.

    At first I wanted to think the best, that your experiences bias you to the worst assumption of people, i.e. they are corrupt. And now I can’t help but think you are changing the subject on purpose. Moving the goal posts and changing the frame so that you become the final arbiter of the “right way”.

    But going back to the original post, it seems following your prescription shows the church I work and worship with to be serious about divorce. I was asking for suggestions on data collection techniques because the divorce rate is so low that it is hard to find an appropriate sample size (current congregation has no divorcees I am aware of). The leadership encouraged me to gather and present the data.

  45. Dalrock says:

    @Drew

    I was asking for suggestions on data collection techniques because the divorce rate is so low that it is hard to find an appropriate sample size (current congregation has no divorcees I am aware of). The leadership encouraged me to gather and present the data.

    You don’t have data which shows the divorce rate is low. You are speculating that this must be the case since you can’t find the data you are looking for. You have found that the data isn’t tracked, and were told this was the case because the church didn’t see marriage the job or authority of the church. As you shared, weddings aren’t considered worth recording even when the church performs the ceremony. I’m not moving the goal posts. Nearly every church claims divorce is extremely rare there, yet the most devout Christians divorce at 38%. Your church might be truly different, but claiming so doesn’t make it so, and odds are extremely high that it isn’t so. I’d love for it to truly be so. But as I said in the OP, measuring it is the only way to show for sure, and the process of attempting to measure it is likely to expose the true attitude of the church on the issue.

  46. Drew says:

    Ahhh, now I understand a little better where you are coming from. Maybe my original post wasn’t clear; even though I don’t have marriage records, I have membership records from which I can reconstruct most of the history. I will concede that the error bars are probably significant since I don’t have well kept records. But work with me here. This isn’t speculation, but my reconstruction of the record.

    I am refering to this:
    “This is the work I have done so far…
    Based on my personal contact with 3 churches in 3 different cities combined together:
    I recall ~35 married couples (70 men and women) over a period of 15yrs (limit of my memory)
    2 divorces (4 men and women) over the same period
    10 weddings over the same period (including my own)

    If I recall correctly, I remember both divorces being a result of adultery.”

  47. myth buster says:

    It makes no sense to speak of “frivolous” divorces. Every divorce is someone’s fault, and therefore every divorce is someone’s sin. Whether the guilt is shared by both spouses or borne by only one depends on the circumstances. Furthermore, even if one is the victim of an unwanted divorce or initiates a divorce for a just reason (to separate from unrepentant adultery and/or to protect oneself and/or the children from bodily harm and/or scandal), that does not alter the validity of the marriage. If you and your spouse are baptized Christians, you are forbidden to take another spouse as long as the first spouse lives, regardless of your justification for divorcing. Only in the case of the marriage between two unbelievers or an unbeliever and a Christian can a valid marriage be dissolved other than by death.

    If you became a Christian after marriage, and your spouse remains an unbeliever, you are still to remain married as long as it is possible to do so without danger. If you are abandoned by an unbelieving spouse, or forced to flee for fear that the unbeliever is a danger to your life and/or soul or the lives and/or souls of your children, then you are free to remarry, but only to a fellow Christian.

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  51. Christina says:

    Our church is REALLY young – 2006 was when it opened its doors? In 7 years, they’ve performed 3 marriages. One just celebrated their 5th anniversary over Christmas, the other two their 1st Anniversary during the summer. No divorces in 7 years.

    Great way to start gathering statistics, but seriously I’d cry if any of those 3 couples got a divorce. Suppose its nice we are in a small church where the young couples are incredibly close.

    Our elder crowd has a spattering of divorced couples, which makes getting marriage advice from the older/wiser tricky, but luckily the young marrieds have solid families to draw wisdom from.

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