Hooking Up, Marriage, The Meaning of Life – That Kind of Thing

pink-and-white-wedding-bouquet-28Sex and commitment are on my mind because of two stories I heard yesterday:

  1. My neighbor recently attended the funeral of a friend who’d died of ALS after three years of abject misery for him and his family.  The neighbor mentioned that his friend’s wife has been a rock.  “She exemplifies the kind of commitment that most of us don’t consider when we promise to share our lives with another person.”    (Note:  I also have a friend who could be described as a rock in that she “lost” her husband years ago to a brain disease.  He is still alive but is in no way is he the person she married.  I marvel at her sanity.)
  2. Did you read this article about college hook-ups in Monday’s New York Times?  Both men and women – but increasingly women – have no time to commit emotionally what with all the resume-building, etc.  As one striving young woman at Penn explained, “We are very aware of cost-benefit issues and trading up and trading down, so no one wants to be too tied to someone that, you know, may not be the person they want to be with in a couple of months.

Two very different perspectives on relationships.  Or are they?  It is really all about timing?  Some want to “settle down” later than others?

As churches wonder where the 20-30 somethings are, I’m wondering:

If people are going to connect with a spiritual community, are they most likely to do it after they’ve “settled down”?  So what happens if they don’t settle down, at least in the traditional way?

Over the past hundred years or so, both men and women have found gratification in partnering up in their early twenties.  Now the average age for marriage in the United States is 27 for women and 29 for men, according to this article by Stephanie Coontz.  But here’s a kicker:  “The average age for childbearing is now younger than the average age for marriage” Check this out. 

It’s not that nobody is getting married anymore.  It’s just that people are:

  • delaying marriage (but not childbirth)
  • cohabitating more than ever
  • marrying after establishing themselves in their careers rather than marrying to launch their adult lives.

All this impacts spiritual communities too.  I wonder if 20-30 somethings who have spiritual longings – which would be most of them – stay away from institutional church because their very lifestyles (cohabitation, having children before marriage, etc.) has been frowned upon – if not condemned – by church people.

How many cohabitating-but-not-married people are part of your church?  

How many single parents or coupled but unwed parents?

Do they stay away from spiritual communities because they expect that we will basically condemn them, much less fail to welcome them?  Or are we flinging open the doors of our churches to welcome the ones we once accused (and perhaps still do) of “living in sin”?  Thoughts?

This post is written in thanksgiving for my friends A & J who got married last weekend.  They’ve been living together for 5+ years and have three daughters.

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4 responses to “Hooking Up, Marriage, The Meaning of Life – That Kind of Thing

  1. I think 20-30 somethings are staying away from institutional churches because, as the woman you quoted said, of cost-benefit analysis. After a long week of working and commuting, it seems nicer to sleep in and go to brunch on weekends instead of church. There are many things I love and respect about the institutional church but let’s face it, it can be stuffy and unwelcoming and not the ideal place for meeting spiritual needs because it requires attendees to conform to a set culture instead of the other way around. I think 20-30 somethings would be more amenable to participating in worship if it were more closely woven into our culture and into times that work for us, like afternoons or evenings, and at yoga class or over coffee in a less stuffy building.

  2. I’m facing these questions even though I’m outside some of the demographics. 40+, fairly recently divorced, with a youngish son and higher-than-typical custody time. Add in my involvement with a semi-urban mainline church plant (“targeting” those 20/30 year olds), plus my own interest in dating again, and the puzzle gets fuzzier still. Thanks for the links to other articles, as even the stats about changing norms help dispel myths about both cultural AND so-called “godly” viewpoints on this question. I’m still confused, still longing, still praying… but I’m okay with that tension for now.

  3. I also suspect it’s detrimental that the prevailing metaphor of joining a church is marriage. Aside from the fact that the metaphor is strained at best, it also communicates that we’re not that interested in the realities of life for young adults. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that marriage is happening later and that church membership is on the decline.

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