When Conner and his wife Renee chose to move from Vancouver to Ottawa, they were faced with a lot of unknowns. Where would they live? What would they bring with them? Which church would they attend?
The latter was the first to be answered after hearing about their friends’ church involvement in San Diego, Calif. “We were so incredibly inspired by what they were involved in, so we started looking for something similar in Ottawa,” Conner says.
After a few Internet searches, the couple discovered an Ottawa church that caught their attention. They contacted the pastor and connected with other church members over Skype while still in Vancouver. Before they knew it, they were already part of a new faith community – and they hadn’t even moved yet.
“One of the things we long for most in this transition to a new city is being able to find a new community of believers,” Conner says. “Community is essential for marriage because it provides us with people who support us, give us guidance and provide an outsider’s perspective.”
Whether you’re moving to a new city or staying local, being part of a faith community strengthens your marriage in more ways than one. We chatted with pastors, counsellors and relationship experts to bring you the best advice possible on finding the right church as a couple and making the most of your involvement.
Become “one flesh”
Dr. Don Nations, a professional consultant and ordained minister, says one of the benefits of attending church as a couple is the chance to grow closer together. “Participating in the same church can provide opportunities for dialogue and conversation around shared experiences,” he says.
Research affirms the role of shared experiences in marriage. A study published by the Australian government’s Institute of Family Studies found that the longest-married couples attributed their shared experiences as a key factor in relationship quality. Being part of a faith community is an effective way to build these experiences.
Although you and your spouse are unique individuals with separate identities, marriage is about becoming one flesh – similar to how the church body is one large entity made up of many members.
“Many couples continue to take the individuality approach into marriage, which often ends up in divorce,” says relationship expert Roland Hinds, author of Are You Right For Me? Whose Choice Is It Anyway? “Although sharing a common faith does not guarantee a successful marriage or relationship, it does help establish a spiritual foundation.”
Neglecting this spiritual foundation can be problematic for making future decisions as a couple – decisions that require spouses to have an understanding of what’s important to each other.
“We have counselled with couples who did not know what church they were going to attend once they got married,” say Rev. Daniel and Penny Loosenort, authors of We Promise: 18 Foundational Stones for an Unshakeable Marriage, “nor did they know how they were going to raise their children in the future in regard to belief.”
Aim to strengthen more than just your marriage
While finding the right church is an opportunity to strengthen your marriage, keep in mind that your church involvement should be driven primarily by a desire to grow in your relationships with the Lord rather than just boosting your marital relationship.
“Being more intimate isn’t the main reason you should team up in ministry,” writes David Clark in his book A Marriage after God’s Own Heart, but “a wonderful by-product is a new depth and closeness in your marriage.”
Conner and Renee hope their future church involvement will be a catalyst for growing as a couple, as believers and as individuals.
“I expect this to benefit our marriage because I truly believe that living out what God has put on your heart is essentially fully ‘being’ who you were meant to be,” Conner says. “As we fully ‘be’ and ‘live’ as we have been created to by God, we will also get to see this happen in our partner.”
Five things to help your search
Consider these tips from the experts:
- Look at a church’s statement of faith and identify any differences of opinion between you and your spouse regarding doctrine. “If a couple is seeking to find a church, they must first determine between one another what they believe and why they believe it,” the Loosenorts advise.
- Talk to each other about what you personally look for in church atmosphere. “Ask yourselves questions such as: What style of music helps us worship? What style of preaching is most helpful for us?” suggests Dr. Nations.
- Check out what the church has to offer beyond Sunday morning services as far as ministry opportunities. “Examine what you are passionate about individually and as a couple when it comes to serving,” the Loosenorts add.
- Make sure you’re not depending on a church to make you an emotionally healthy individual. “[Church involvement] does not replace the need for individuals to take the necessary steps to find help and wholeness for their individual and personal emotional and mental traumas and problems,” says counsellor Dr. Minnie Claiborne, host of Let’s Talk About It and author of Prayer Therapy: Stop Hurting. “Emotionally unhealthy individuals cannot create a healthy marriage.”
- Exercise humility and have an open mind if you’re struggling to decide which church to attend. “Try to compromise in a way that both of you can live with,” writes Phillip J. Swihart in The First Five Years of Marriage. “Expect that if you’re both seeking what God wants, have a spirit of unselfishness, and genuinely wish to serve the needs of your spouse rather than your own needs first, God will lead you to a good solution.”
Todd Foley is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.
Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.