The Myth of the Church Divorce Rate
By Seth Evans
Have you heard the oft quoted Barna study that reportedly says, “Just like the overall population, half of all marriages in the church end in divorce”?
If you have heard and believed that “stat”, then like most of us you have bought into a myth.
Shaunti Feldhaun (a master of studying statistics and studies of statistics) beautifully debunks the myth – as well as many other depressing marriage myths – in her easy to read and thoroughly researched book (with lots of notes on the stats, endnotes directing you to the original studies, and statistical explanations): The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths About Marriage and Divorce.
Ready for some mythbusting? Here’s the truth that has been lost about marriage and the church (quotes are from The Good News About Marriage):
- In the infamous 2001 Barna study, it was stated that “professing Christians have the same divorce rate as non-Christians – roughly 33 to 34 percent“; not 50 percent as is so often stated in the myth (p 66).
- “Barna specifically excluded church attendance from the analysis” (p 67), focusing on beliefs rather than practices. Though attending church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than being in a garage makes you a car; it is equally true that saying you are a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that you have actually accepted Jesus Christ as your unique Savior through faith (there are many who say they are “Christian” due to their family or origin, political beliefs, church attendance, etc).
- The truth is that “numerous well-known sociologists, demographers, psychologists, and other researchers have found that when someone is active in their faith, it lowers their chance of divorce – usually significantly” (p 69).
I won’t go into the details of these studies (for that you will need to buy the book which expounds on these studies and many more), but I will give you some highlights:
- In a 2008 Barna study that looked at both profession of Christian faithand church attendance in the “last seven days, the divorce rate dropped 27 percent compared to those who hadn’t…[and among] Catholics and evangelicals, the numbers were even more positive” (p 70).
- The massive National Survey of Families and Households study “found that regular [church] attendance (several times a month) had a major impact on reducing divorce rates…[with] an average drop of roughly 50 percent” (p 72).
- The aforementioned NSFH study did further analysis and “discovered that even after controlling for many other factors, such as income, age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and geographic region, the matter of church attendance trumped them all.” It found that “church attendance alone dropped the divorce rate 35 percent” by those who attended church several times a month (p 72).
- The Religious Influences on the Risk of Marital Dissolution study showed that “couples who go to church or other religious services together on a regular basis have the lowest divorce rate of any group studied, regardless of other factors” (p 74).
These studies, and many more presented in the book, thoroughly bust the myth that “the rate of divorce in the church is 50 percent, just like the rest of the world.”
The Good News About Marriage chapter on faith and marriage goes onto describe the benefits of not only going to church together on a regular basis but also describes the major benefits of a couple praying together and mutually aiming to put Christ at the center of their lives and their marriage. But for a look at those stats, you will have to buy the book yourself.
In case the above good news isn’t enough to help encourage a couple to start attending church regularly and incorporating healthy biblical practices in their daily home life, here is a little something from Les & Leslie Parrott’s Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before – And After – You Marry:
As strange as it may sound, there is a strong link in marriage between prayer and sex. For one thing, frequency of prayer is a more powerful predictor of marital satisfaction than frequency of sexual intimacy. But get this: Married couples who pray together are 90 percent more likely to report higher satisfaction with their sex life than couples who do not pray together” (pp 150-151).