Grow your church by breaking the “cone of silence” and growing your marriages

Many couples feel like they are the only ones dealing with issues like communication, intimacy, and pride within their marriage. | by Ashlee and Clayton Hurst

Like most couples, we assumed that marriage was going to be easy. We believed this so much that we only went to one premarital class and only read one marriage book. Our biggest challenge was that we were spending so much time focusing on the details of our wedding day that we didn’t spend time preparing for the days to come.

We Stumbled into Marriage Ministry

(Ashlee) We married in the summer of 1996. Two years into our marriage we were done with the “honeymoon” stage for sure. We weren’t doing well, and we found ourselves heading down into a deep valley of hopelessness. To make matters worse, Clayton accepted a position as a children’s pastor at our local church and I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t want to be a “Pastor’s wife.”

For the next three years, we served faithfully on our church staff even though our marriage was getting worse. We had become experts at putting on masks to hide our pain and struggles. Not even our family members knew the dysfunction that had developed in our marriage.

(Clayton) As a pastor of a small church staff I had many duties beyond children’s ministry. I often counseled couples whose children were in the children’s ministry. (The irony was that couples were coming to me for marriage help even though our marriage was falling apart.) I could tell anyone how to have a great marriage. I just couldn’t do it for my own.

One afternoon as I was about to meet with a couple who needed marriage help, I heard something deep within my heart say, Are you willing to do whatever it takes to have the marriage you have always hoped and dreamed of? I thought, This is brilliant! I’ll ask this to the couple that is coming in for help.

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Later that day, as I walked to the car, I heard that voice again. Clayton, that question wasn’t for them. It was for you. Are you willing? I lost it. I went home and told Ashlee I was sorry for everything and I was willing to do whatever it took so our marriage could begin to heal. This was our turning point. Through humility, grace, knowledge, wisdom, and prayer our marriage began to heal.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2015, we were asked to lead the Marriage Ministry at Lakewood Church in Houston. We had spent the previous 10 years on staff serving in numerous positions within ministries including children’s, youth, media, and now marriage. We had worked so diligently on our marriage for years and were now enjoying the benefits of that, so we were excited for this new opportunity to share all that we had learned.

Not long after assuming this new role, we heard something from a senior staff member that rocked us to our core. She said, “Marriage is the #1 prayer request each week during our services.” We were shocked. To us this meant there was so much work that needed to be done to help strengthen and save marriages within our church. Based on the diversity of our church we wondered if there was marriage work to be done in every church.

We began to add marriage classes, premarital classes, small groups and retreats. There was such a hunger in couples to learn and grow in their marriages. Many couples mentioned how they had felt like they were the only ones dealing with issues like communication, intimacy, and pride within their marriage. They said how encouraged they were to hear that other couples were dealing with a lot of the same issues. They loved how vulnerable and real our teachers were when sharing their own struggles and triumphs. There was a healthy marriage culture beginning to evolve and it was contagious.

Every Church Can Have a Thriving Marriage Ministry

As we began to work on providing opportunities, tools, and resources for couples, we realized that in the church world there weren’t many ‘marriage pastors’ out there. However, the needs within every church for marital help were the same. Over the years of talking with pastors and other church staff we have realized that every church can have a thriving marriage ministry. You can begin one in your church with little to no resources. Here are 6 keys/steps we give churches to help them begin:

  1. Be vulnerable: As the pastor/leader, it makes an impact on your staff, volunteers, and congregation when you share challenges you’ve overcome in your own marriage because it gives hope and lets people know if God can help your marriage, He can help theirs.
  2. Heart check: Early in our marriage, we were on a church staff for over three years in tremendous marital hurt and pain, yet no one knew. Take time to dive deep with your staff/team and have a heart check concerning their marriage. Give them the opportunity to be open and vulnerable with you so that you can in turn give them hope and direction for their marriage.
  3. Small Beginnings: Begin looking for a few couples in your church that have embraced your vision and are in your corner, couples that are a part of your core and are having success in their marriage journey. They don’t need to have it all together, but they need to be willing to share their marriage journey. Empower them to begin a small marriage class either before or after one of your services.
  4. Invest: With this new class, we would encourage you to find a marriage DVD series that would help launch the class. There is one that we highly recommend that is called Marriage on the Rock by Jimmy Evans (www.marriagetoday.com). This teaching series is a constant for all of our marriage classes and it is filled with incredible wisdom. There are 13 sessions that are about 35-40 minutes each. There are other resources but we have found this is a great way to begin a marriage class and make it easy for your new lead couple.
  5. Marriage Event: We encourage church leaders to host a marriage event at their church. This will allow you to invest in the couples in your church and your community. Events like this will draw people from around your community that have never come to your church before. A great event that we have a few times a year is a comedy date night. We are always amazed that usually 30-40 percent of the couples who come have never come to the church before. This is an event that pays for itself since we charge a minimum amount. We bring in a great comedian or two, offer free childcare (limited by childcare space available), and offer appetizers from a local caterer. The night is fun and light, but it gives us an opportunity to let couples know what we have to offer that will help their marriage. We view it as an ‘onramp’ for couples that have never been to our church and a great date night for all. This event usually sells out.
  6. Data: We began early on gathering emails and mobile numbers of couples who attended our classes and events. Then we would use their contact information to let them know about upcoming events. From time to time we send out a short anonymous survey about marriage issues or events. We use this information to make our events better and find out possible topics for our classes to help with the pressing needs of couples.

Church leaders have so much on our plates, but we hope these easy keys/steps will help you establish a life-giving marriage ministry for couples within your church. We believe that having strong marriages will impact your church and community for generations to come.

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