• When Hollywood Presbyterian Church did a “needs analysis” of the membership, leaders found couples wanted help in coping with marital pressures. In response, they launched an array of classes targeted to married couples at different ages and with varied needs.

• One pastor of a small church became so convinced of the value of premarital psychological testing that he began sending couples to a professional counselor. The counselor identifies high-risk relationships, gives the pastor advice on problem areas, and suggests how to support the couple before—and after—the wedding. If money is an issue, the counselor donates his services.

• One independent church in Southern California conducts regular retreats for couples married less than five years. Held at a nearby retreat center, the weekend includes presentations, discussion times, and a closing service of prayer and marriage rededication.

What role should churches play in strengthening marriage and preventing divorce? As these examples suggest, the potential and opportunities are great. But I have a growing conviction that, for the most part, churches are failing couples in crisis. They generally avoid taking an active role in helping couples headed for divorce. We need a kind of shock therapy to become alert to the missed opportunities.

How Marriage Has Changed

Before we can change this picture, we need to understand why increasing numbers of Christians seek divorce. Marital failure stems from three separate but interrelated factors.

First, for many in America, the nature of marriage has changed. Research confirms that most now marry primarily for companionship rather than economic security. However, the recency of the shift leaves contemporary couples without the role ...

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