Unacceptable Statistics

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).

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Comments 15

  • Thank you Steve. Very interesting post and certainly statistics I will be sharing with others.

  • Thanks for sharing Steve. I remember Dr. Edwards sharing those figures and it is interesting to see the same trend held true in Glasgow. We teach our boys that the #1 quality in a prospective wife is whether or not she will be able to help them go to Heaven. My prayer is that three special young ladies are being reared in Christian homes somewhere to look for the same quality in a husband and that God will guide them together in His time!

  • As one of those successfully converted spouses, I often wonder if I would want my daughters to go down the same path. I don’t know. But I am happy my wonderful wife didn’t listen to the stats! All marriages have their challenges, but we should also encourage those who decided to marry outside the faith that there is hope. I have seen a great zeal among those converts – sometimes they even give their lives to preaching the gospel ;-). We owe so much to those who never gave up on us!

  • Greg, I am thrilled that you are one of the exceptions, but I want people to understand just that…that you are the exception rather than the rule. I thank God for you and your wife and all other Christian men and women who have successfully brought their spouses to Christ. But from my personal experience, and it seems a general experience, not only are most not able to accomplish this challenge, but they are often pulled away themselves. Furthermore, there is typically another level of hurt that isn’t thought out well prior to the marriage when one considers the impact that has upon children who are brought into these unions.

  • Steve,
    I, too, am one of those exceptions. But I have never done anything to encourage young people to take the path my wife took, nor has she. I generally say it this way; “Yes, I can tell you of a few exceptions, and I am one. But I can tell you many, many more for whom the rule held true.” I am so glad my son did not choose that route but married a Christian, and now having grandkids I am so very thankful to God for my faithful Christian daughter-in-law who is helping to raise our two precious grand kids in the faith. And I tell folks, if you want your grandchildren to be faithful, make sure your children are faithful.

  • […] did or did not marry Christians, and how faithful they are now. Here is that post, entitled “Unacceptable Statistics.” Then, to drive the point home further, he followed up with a shorter, but just as powerful […]

  • Steve,

    I appreciate this insightful article with such good statistics. I also posted this on our church website on the church blog as well. I hope that is fine. I did not change it any and of course gave you credit and linked the original blog address. I am encouraging our people to read it too.

    Josh Ketchum – Mayfield KY

  • Oh, how these statistics break my heart! My mother told me for years (hammered away at me, actually) to always date Christians, look for a Christian to marry. She was so wise! I have to agree with your last paragraph – you can marry a so-called “Christian” that isn’t necessarily the best spouse for you. Unfortunately this is what I did. My husband fell away shortly after we married (whether or not he was actually ever a true believer, I can’t say). I wish I had known his heart! This is why I make it my mission to share with the teenagers and college students of my congregation to marry Christians, and make sure they really know their future spouse has the same passion for ministry, and same commitment to church and God that they have. I struggle daily with our relationship, knowing we do not share THE most important part of my life – it makes me pretty sad!
    I am pleased to say that after 10 years I still haven’t fallen away. If anything, I think my circumstances have pushed me closer to God, more willing to rely on Him and His leading. I spend an awful lot of time on my knees in prayer – not only for my husband’s conversion, but for my boys. I have 3, and I know the statistics are not in their favor without a Christian father leading their way.
    Thank you for sharing these statistics – get the word out how important it is to find a devoted Christian for your lifelong mate!

  • Thank you for the statistics.

    What came to my mind was the fact that more of us
    need to be preaching, teaching, sharing the gospel
    of Jesus Christ with others.

    We must share the gospel of Jesus Christ especially
    with those who may have never heard the gospel.

    Thanks again brother; please keep me in your prayers.

    Alan C Rohner
    Pt. Pleasant church of Christ

  • A good track for a Christian who is contemplating marrying a non-Christian to read is “I married a Catholic” published some years ago by 20th Century Christian. It is actually a letter written by a Christian lady who married a Catholic to a Christian girl about to marry a Catholic. She tells of some of the obstacles she has had to face.

  • My Wife and I grew up in the Lord’s Church we have raised two wonderful children who now have families of their own, both married within the church and all are involved in sharing THE faith.
    This didn’t just happen!! We taught our children do not believe what we believe just because we believe it, you do not need our faith you need your faith. You set down with the scripture and you build a case for what you believe is truth. We will guide you into how to study the text but we will not give you the answers, that must come from God.
    By doing this they were able to build a covenant relationship with God. They know who he is and they understand what it means to have a covenant relationship. By them knowing and understanding this relationship they knew how to look for a covenant relationship with a mate.

    We never allowed the local body to dictate what our children believed they learned to take what was taught and take it back to scripture to see if wheather it could stand the test of the text.
    This cause many questions about why we do what we do and it help them understand while we are the Church we still have a lot of work left to do and undo.

    They have watched my wife and I live out the faith we have as we have taught Bible classes at the assembly, in the county jails, state max. prison systems and in three different countries on month long mission trips. Some were simple to reach the lost, taking them nothing but the Gospel, some were to trian bible class teachers,preachers and shepherds. Some were to help the church learn how to reach the lost with the message of Jesus and some were to trian up coming preachers on how to start bible studies with non Christian in cross culture settings.
    And all of this was done just as a simple member in the body living out the great commision in everyday life.

    Our children have watch as we would teach the lost while working on their swimming pool in the backyard, in resturants, in stores, in post offices, in any place where there were people as we went through our daily lives.

    We are not special people with special abilities, we are just Christains who know what it is to have that special covenant relationship with God and we want others to have it to.

    The stats that have been given above should tell us we have done a horable job in the past and should move us to want to do better. But for the most part we want! But for those who do, my suggestion would be 2 Tim 2:2 and pay close attention to Hosea 4:6.
    Practice Matthew 6:33 and Philemom 6
    I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
    Notice what Paul said ; “so that” until you learn to share your faith you will not understand what you have! And above all fall in love with God.

    Children leave the faith because they do not have their own faith they have their parents faith which inturn means they can not defend THE faith. They do not know why they believe what they believe. So when it comes into question they can not defend what they believe.
    We all end up in the same rut, the preacher said it the shepherds approve of it so it has to be right. The question is will it stand up to the test of the text. Many times the answer is yes and sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes things are taught just because that is what has always been taught but that does not always make it right.

    A student will not grow beyond his or her teacher. The above stats teach us that. So parents if you want Godly children who will grow up maturing in their faith a faith that can not be shacken you to will need to continue on to maturity.
    You need to set down right now, young or old and learn how to study Gods word, for, even as adults of grown children we never stop mentoring our childern.

    Here are suggestions on how to study, always remember that our bible is a collection of writings written mostly to a Jewish people therefore you need to learn how to first hear it from their ears in their culture in their time frame. They were not Western culture thinkers! Know their idoms and their phrases how they heard them before you even try to bring it over into our culture, in our time.
    Know who is writing, who is he writing to, what is going on at the time of the writing with the audance and with socity. Know the date of the writing.

    Your struggle will be filtering it through what you already have been taught. Sometimes it is best to try to be like your computer, hit delete and start anew. As adults that is very hard to accomplish but needs to be done sometimes. With children it is much easier they do not have that filter so much yet so they can see the text for what it says, sometimes where we adults struggle with it.

    This is not a new problem Jesus dealt with it as he taught. Much of what he had to say the Jews do not get because they were filtering it through what they had always be taught. But for those that where not full of tradition they could catch it somewhat.

    Ever wondered why Jesus walked on the water! Same reason! Mark 6:52

    May our God bless each of you as you work at getting to know him better!

    huperetes of Jesus
    Because the tomb is still empty!!!

  • I try to tell the young people I work with at a Christian university that to make sure they marry a “faithful” Christian……not just a Christian…..as they may not always be faithful and help you to get to heaven.

  • Great job Diane, I work at Abilene Christian University and teach as many as I can come in contact with that if they will spend time understanding their covenant relationship with God then they will be able to chose a mate more wisely.

    One of the things that can be confusing for them is how we in the church define faithfulness. Most of the time it is defined by how many times a person is at the assembly. Old Joe is a very faithful memeber he is here everytime the doors are open and he helps in who knows how many programs!
    Old Joe has never taught anyone about Jesus, he has never lead anyone to Christ, he can not back up what he believes with scripture all he knows is it is in the bible. But I want you to know he is as faithful to the Lord as anyone I know.

    This is what our young people see as faithfulness!

    A person can set in a chicken house all day long everyday but that will never make them chicken. So what is faithfulness? How does the text define faithfulness?

    Moses was a faithful servant IN God’s house, Jesus is a faithful servant over God’s house and we are that house Hebrews 3:5-6 want to understand what faithfulness is, study the shadow of Jesus -Moses and Jesus himself.
    Just food for thought.

  • Statistics are informative but sometimes deceptive. For example: “75% of all automobile accidents happen
    within 25 miles of home. Why? Mostly because 75% of our driving is within 25 miles of our home.”
    The statistics given of a believer marrying a non-believer were also informative but only go to show
    the Holy Spirit was right on target when He inspired the writer to pen, “Be ye not unequally yoked
    together with unbelievers…” Why do we need statistics to prove or disprove otherwise?

  • Hello friend,
    I agree wholeheartedly with the first part of your post. I think we all know how statistics can be manipulated. However, that is not to say there is no use at all for statistics. The second part of your comment I have some issues with. First let me say that I would never advice a Christian to marry a non-Christian for obvious reasons. However, I do not believe that the passage to which you refer is speaking of marriage (2 Cor. 6:14). If the “unequal yoke” of 2 Cor. 6:14 is religiously mixed marriages, then what is the solution he offers in verse 17 – “come out from among them and be separate.” However, this is exactly the opposite of the advice that Paul gave to Christians married to non Christians in 1 Cor. 7:12. Paul said if you are in a mixed marriage, stay together. So by applying 2 Cor. 6 to a religiously mixed marriage situation, you have Paul contradicting Paul. Give it some reflection.

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