A few friends recently listed for me their current dating apps: Tinder, which asks you to swipe photos to indicate who you’re interested in; Hinge, which makes connections from extended circles of friends; and Coffee Meets Bagel, which sends a match daily at noon. (Note to those who are long past the dating stage: yes, now there are a lot more online dating options than just eHarmony and Match.com.)
I can barely navigate a few real-life dating prospects, let alone imagine constructing pithy profiles and smartly angled selfies to snag myself a guy. While others check out their options online—the percentage of American adults using dating apps and websites has tripled in the past three years—I’m tempted to go the other direction, deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts to make my online self less accessible (or perhaps more mysterious?) to the male mass.
Every year, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, online dating registrations soar. There are a myriad of reasons for this: the difficulty of holidays spent single; New Year resolutions; desire to not be by themselves in dark, winter nights; pressure from family; and more. One thing is clear, it is written on the heart of every man and woman that it is not good for them to be alone.
Our generation is staying single longer and delaying children more than any other generation in history, yet desperately discontent with solitude. A friend asked me recently, “If God said it is not good for man to be alone, but all he does is good, is my singleness actually good?” Sometimes the best answer to difficult questions is to just say, “I don’t know but he is good,” and so I did.
In the Old Testament the norm for marriages was in the way of Isaac and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz, even Adam and Eve—we read about a variety of methods employed, but in each, family was the gateway to union. All through the New Testament, though, Paul used inclusive familial language in regard to the church. He was saying, “Your spiritual family is your family now: mother one another, father one another, brother and sister one another. This is now the unit out of which you are birthed and raised and sent out.” Being fruitful and multiplying is no longer relegated to bearing natural children, but building disciples.
This new conception of family informs our approach to dating—and the surge in online dating among single people across the world.
Local churches are intended to be the incubator for future marriages, not online dating sites and hookup apps. Can God use the common grace of online matchmaking? Absolutely. Is it best? I would argue no. No matter how perfectly crafted our online dating profiles, how strategic our selfies, or how appealing we can make ourselves sound, these sites cannot replace the efforts of those who know and love us in helping us find a spouse. Pew research tells us, “Even today, the vast majority of Americans who are in a marriage, partnership, or other serious relationship say that they met their partner through offline—rather than online—means."
My church family, the people with whom I live in covenant relationship, know the sound of my laughter and my joys, they know my personality and proclivities, they see me serve and sulk, they know my sins and fears. I cannot hide from them. If the Lord gives me the gift of marriage I want to walk into it as a known person, and who knows us better than our family?
This is not a call for singles, but for the church. Surely if there is anything we can understand as a body, it is the angst of a bride whose groom has not yet come to take her away. We understand more clearly and dearly what it is like to long for the not-yet.
We know not all are called to marriage, but often times the awkwardness of approaching the subject with someone keeps us from finding out what exactly our single friends desire. We know marriage is a good desire, but some of us feel hopeless and thwarted; we’re embarrassed by unrealized dreams. We need you to ask us about those hopes—and help us not only by pointing our eyes back to the gospel, but by helping us see that God is a good father who does desire to give good gifts.
Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by helping them get married. Keep your eyes and ears open for godly singles who might make good partners for your friends and then provide space for those meetings to happen. Encourage them to value more than a “smokin’ hot body” and to stop making decisions based on split second glances at images on social media and dating sites. Be their mirror, show them their flaws and pointing them to the hope of the gospel, not a girl or guy.
Be prayerful about setting up potential couples; don’t base the setup on what you assume they’d be attracted to, but on the godliness and maturity of the individuals. Attraction is a god of the unmarried these days and social media can be the temple of its worship, but it is a fleeting mistress and cannot sustain any marriage. Help the unmarried reframe what they’re mastered by in their search for a spouse.
In the lack of help we often feel from wiser and more mature Christians, we are tempted to go outside the church to find spouses, settling for someone who is not godly or who would not be a good partner in ministry. We cannot blame our sin in that on the church, but we can plead that you care for our hearts in this way. If local churches spent more times investing in dating and engaged couples, I wonder if we would have as many train-wrecked marriages in the counseling offices.
It is not good for a man to be alone and he who finds a wife finds goodness, but it takes the beauty of a family to see the goodness far below the surface and in the crevices of these clay jars. Church, be that family, be the mothers and father, the sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honorable in marriage, and then, please, help them get there.