When I was in college, Dr. Earl Edwards shared statistics with us concerning young people from the church in Wynne, Arkansas. These statistics covered a 20 year time span. Because of this class I had under Dr. Edwards, I decided that I too would keep some statistics similar to what Dr. Edwards had shared with us. So when I began working with the South Green Street Church of Christ in 1989, I began keeping statistics.
Now, fast forward 22 years. This past year, Brother Edwards and I were able to have lunch together in Denver, Colorado. At that time, I reminded him of the statistics he shared with us back in school, and told him that because of his comments, I too had kept similar statistics where I had preached for 21 years. Brother Edwards then informed me that since the college class he had taught years ago, he had also gathered another set of statistics from another congregation that spanned a 20 year time period. So we shared our information with each other in hopes that we can help people see that what is happening is not an isolated anomaly, but rather a pattern which needs to be broken. Here is what we found:
The first study was done by Bobby Key and the church in Miami, Oklahoma. His survey covered twenty years (1958-1977). Here are his results:
- 79 youth married non-Christians and 57 of them had left the faith (72%).
- 20 of the 57 who had married non-Christians had divorced (35%).
- 14 of the 79 who had married non-Christians had helped to convert their mates (17%).
- 64 youth married Christians, and only 5 of them had left the faith (7%).
- 2 of the 64 who had married Christians had divorced (3%).
The second study was done by Gene Catterton, an elder of the Bridges Street congregation in Wynne, Arkansas, where brother Edwards preached. This survey also covered twenty years from (1962-1981). Here are his results:
- 76 youth married non-Christians and 61 of them had left the faith (80%).
- 23 of the 67 who married non-Christians were divorced (34%).
- 11 of the 76 who married non-Christians have helped to convert their mates (14%).
- 28 youth married Christians and only 4 had left the faith (14%).
- 4 of the 28 who married Christians had divorced (14%).
The third study was done by myself [Steve Higginbotham] at the South Green Street congregation in Glasgow, Kentucky, covering twenty one years from (1989-2010). Here are my results:
- 76 youth married non-Christians and 57 of them had left the faith (75%).
- 24 of the 76 who married non-Christians have divorced (32%).
- 4 of the 76 who married non-Christians have helped to convert their mates (5%).
- 13 youth married Christians and only 3 have left the faith (23%).
- 3 of the 13 who married Christians have divorced (23%).
These statistics come from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kentucky and span from 1958-2010. These statistics haven’t undergone any statistical rigors, so you can argue with their representative results if you want, however I don’t think they are atypical of what is happening across our brotherhood. You can dismiss them as anecdotal if you wish, but I think it’s more than that. Notice how similar the results were from each congregation! So what do we learn?
- We learn that (at least from these three studies) our youth are increasingly marrying non-Christians (55%, 73%, 85% respectively).
- We also see that the vast majority of our youth who marry non-Christians leave the faith (72%, 80%, 75% respectively).
- Furthermore, we find that very few who marry non-Christians are ever able to convert their spouses (17%, 14%, 5%).
- And finally, we learn that these statistics bear out exactly what one would expect them to bear out (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Mothers, fathers, preachers, elders, Bible class teachers…the time to speak up is now! Far too many have been and are being destroyed by their choice of a spouse! What would seem to be the case [a Christian marrying a non-Christian would have a difficult time remaining faithful] is the case! But are we teaching our young people this truth? Are we afraid to preach on the dangers of religiously mixed marriages for fear of reprisals, especially since so many are doing this? Personally, after seeing the above statistics, I’m afraid not to warn of this danger! Are we more interested in our children being viewed as “normal” by their peers that we have allowed them to date whomever they wish, rather than teaching them to date only those who have a common faith in God and love for His kingdom? Have we failed to teach our children one of the most important facets of marriage? Do our young people understand that marriage is more than a partnership that keeps one from being alone at night, but it is a relationship that is intended to help one reach his home in Heaven?
Friends, I’m not saying it’s a sin to marry a non-Christian. I’m not even saying that we need to teach our children to marry Christians. (I know of some who wear the name “Christian” that I wouldn’t want my children to marry). I’m saying that the marriage relationship has an undeniable influence on one’s relationship with God. Apart from one’s decision to become a Christian, one will not make a more important decision than that of choosing a spouse. Question: Are we equipping our young people to make that decision?
(p.s. – if you have any statistics or anecdotal comments of your own, please share them in the comments section).