Post Update: As of September 1, 2020 FOX news is reporting that divorces are now up 34%. This announcement makes Christian divorce support groups more important to churches and communities than ever. Please read the original post below for more information.
Take uncertainty, intense media reports, financial instability, and other stresses of a pandemic and layer them onto a troubled marriage. Pile on too much togetherness with a spouse you already don’t get along with and tensions build. It’s the perfect recipe for bringing simmering marital problems to a full boil and ultimately to divorce.
With all the added stain of COVID-19, it should come as no surprise that divorce seems to be on the rise. We hope couples use the increased time together to settle their differences. I imagine some do. Yet, for those who are already struggling, the stresses of the pandemic can drive their relationships to a breaking point. Incidences of domestic violence escalate as well.
Not Just Conjecture
Evidence of an increase in the divorce rate is building. According to Spectrum News, Internet searches for “divorce lawyer” saw a 27% increase March to May 2020 compared to an 11% decrease March to May the previous year. ABC News reports “Forecasts of a divorce spike are based on attorneys reporting a surge in inquiries plus a rise in filings where electronic submissions are permitted.”
The Role of the Church
As Christians, our first instinct is to act to preserve marriages, and rightfully so. After all, marriage is a sacred covenant. Couples who are working to save their marriages can benefit from Christian counseling and marriage groups offered by your church.
But, the truth is divorce still does happen. And, as the impact of COVID-19 washes over our land it is likely to happen with greater frequency. When divorce happens our churches can either represent places of judgement or places of grace and hope.
The choice is ours.
But, Doesn’t God Hate Divorce?
Yes, why wouldn’t he? Divorce has devastating effects on his children. That said, the church needs to make the distinction that God doesn’t hate divorced people.
Not every person dealing with divorce understands this. Consequently, shame, failure, guilt and darkness dwell in hearts where grace and hope need to flourish instead. People need to know that God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
This is where your church can make a truly meaningful difference.
Is Your Church Ready to Respond?
Have you considered divorce as a real mission field in your community? As the divorce numbers climb is your church prepared to offer support? If so, is the ministry you have grace-filled and life changing?
My observation with divorce is that people either draw closer to God or push Him away in anger and frustration. Some find healing. Some live bitter for a long time.
Bitter doesn’t have to happen.
5 Things Your Church Can Do
- Start by examining your own attitudes toward the divorced and divorcing. Be honest. Do you look at them as failures or as God’s hurting children? Only when you see them as God’s hurting children will your church be able to become a safe place of healing for those who are wounded by divorce.
- Realize that offering support to those who hurt from divorce does not encourage divorce. If you think offering a divorce support group means more people in your church will get divorced then you’re missing the point. It would be like assuming if you offer Financial Peace University at your church, more people will go in debt because your church recognizes that some people already are in debt.
- Offer compassion and nurturing not judgement and condemnation. One of the best things your church can do is to provide a safe place for people to spill out their pain and be listened to without judgement by people who understand. When a person is in pain, compassion and nurturing beat judgement and condemnation every time.
- Invite divorced people to serve. It’s far too easy for divorced people to feel like damaged goods when it comes to the church. Help them see how God can still use them in ministries throughout your church. Those who are divorced and have moved past the deep pain may be great candidates for serving on your divorce ministry team.
- Offer Christian divorce groups with life-changing substance. Divorce support groups give people a place to share their stories. That’s very important but not enough. Group discussions are much more profound when centered on healing concepts. Look for group materials that teach life-applicable strategies for coping and growing all the while affirming God’s love, mercy, and grace. Materials should also adapt well to both in-person and virtual groups.
Create Your Own Ripple
Divorce ripples throughout families causing division and strife. My challenge to you is to have your church respond with positive ripples. When you help adults who are hurting from divorce you help their children as well by giving them emotionally and spiritually healthier parents. Furthermore, your congregation is strengthened by people who can give living testimony to the healing power of God.
Do Something Now
Divorce was all too common in our society before the pandemic. In our new normal we can only guess how long the divorce rate might continue to climb. Affected congregants and communities need churches to be safe havens of healing and hope.
By providing an effective ministry for those who are hurting from divorce your church can provide another avenue for God to turn ashes into beauty.
Are you ready?
Renee Smith Ettline is founder of After Divorce Ministries, LLC and creator of the Peace after Divorce group study for churches.
Learn More about how your church can offer an in-person or virtual Peace after Divorce group.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn, August 17, 2020 and has been slightly modified from the original.