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May 30, 2012

Column #1,605

Churches: Offer a Free Wedding Day!

By Mike McManus

            Two years ago two couples who were living together met with Pastor Craig Gorc of Cedar Park Assembly of God in suburban Seattle, and said they wanted to get married, but could not afford a wedding. So he married one in a home, and the other in a park.

            But that prompted him to think, “Why not have the church offer a Free Wedding Day, with all the trimmings? It is a way to reach into the culture.” 

            In a paper he wrote for a doctoral course, Pastor Gorc (pronounced like quartz, but with a G), wrote, “The goal was to influence cohabiting Christians and reach into the non-Christian community.”

            “Often the costs of getting married have been a real barrier. On average, couples that live in or travel to Seattle for their wedding, will spend between $21,101 and $35,169.” 

            Gorc also noted that “Many may feel the guilt associated with living with someone they are not married to. `Living in sin’ and other catch phrases are all too common to those in this living arrangement.”  However he found that if given the chance, most people want to do the right thing – marry.

            Many pastors disapprove of cohabitation, and these convictions “are presented in a disapproving and condemning fashion.  Attitudes of this sort have driven people away from the church, who are the very people the church needs to be reaching out to.”

            This may indeed be the reason fewer are getting married, but I don’t think so.  First, a recent federal report indicated that from 1997-2001 that 68% of those who married were cohabiting.  Since churches perform three-quarters of all weddings, it appears most pastors have closed their eyes to the cohabitation issue.  

            Secondly, what few realize is that most cohabitation results in non-marriage.  Last year 7.6 million couples were cohabiting.  That’s more than three times the 2.2 million who married.  If two-thirds were cohabiting, that is only 1.5 million couples.

            What happened to the other 6.1 million couples who were living together – four out of five? They experienced what my wife and I call “premarital divorce,” in our book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. This experience is so painful that the number of never-married Americans tripled from 21 million in 1970 to 63 million in 2010. 

            That’s the major reason marriages have plunged 54% since 1970, not the disapproval of pastors.

            However, Cedar Park has pioneered a very important answer: a Free Wedding Day once a year.  The Christian Broadcasting Network put a spotlight on this remarkable story this week. Here is a link to it:

                On the day it was broadcast, a dozen couples had asked for a Free Wedding Day.  Undoubtedly, that number will grow.  But no other churches have followed Cedar Park’s example.

                Why not?

                As Pastor Groc puts it, “It is appropriate for a church to provide a service such as a Free Wedding Day to the larger community.  It not only remedies a real problem for couples; it establishes a vital link for the importance of marriage back to the church where it belongs.”

                He also created an experience that “would honor the Lord, bring joy to the participants, and be highly memorable to all.”  The church provided the facility, a minister, photographer, live music, multimedia, flowers, a wedding coordinator, and snacks for the wedding party before the ceremony.  They could choose from 75 songs to be performed live. The costs could be as much as $8,000. 

                Yet the church only asked two things of the couples.  First they had to provide a valid marriage license and attend four weeks of biblically-based counseling conducted by one of the pastoral staff in a group setting.   One part of preparation included taking a premarital inventory.

                One couple in their thirties had been living together for five years.  Another was James and Shelly who cohabiting for four years.  The couple in their 50s were headed toward marriage three years ago when she found she had breast cancer.  She had a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemo which drained their wallets and energy.  “We cannot believe what they gave us.  It is amazing,” she told CBN. “We want to give something back.”

                A third couple, Greg and Michelle, wanted the wedding before she gave birth a few weeks later. Soon the whole family was in church and heard a sermon, “Let God write your story.”

                They went home to “to write in their Bible that it was on this day that they were going to let God write their life story.”   They are now active members.

                Free weddings are a way to evangelize.

Copyright © 2012 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers.

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