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Smart Churches, Smart Stepfamilies

If churches are going to remain strong, they must intentionally work to build smart stepfamilies.
By Ron L. Deal

I think churches are getting smarter.

After serving and consulting with local congregations for nearly 20 years in the areas of youth and family ministry, it seems to me that churches are finally getting a full picture of American family life.  Church leaders are learning more about the families that comprise their congregations and communities.  Even more importantly, smart churches are doing a better job of helping families to get smart as well. 

A healthy church is comprised of healthy families—of all types.  Today stepfamilies, sometimes called blended families, are filling our churches. One recent study found that 27.5 percent of US households consist of a first marriage couple raising their biological children while 18.6 percent of households include a stepchild.

Furthermore, 100 million Americans currently have a steprelationship in their family, and one of two Americans alive today will have a steprelationship of some kind during their lifetime (e.g., stepparent, stepsibling, stepchild, etc.).   It makes sense, then, that churches are finding that a greater and greater percentage of their members and guests have stepfamily relationships.

However, prevalence in society and the church doesn’t mean that stepfamilies know how to live successfully.  The truth is that most stepfamilies struggle with family life.  Their divorce rate is between 60-70 percent.  If churches are going to remain strong, they must intentionally work to build smart stepfamilies. 

Keeping it real

"But stepfamilies aren’t God’s ideal for the Christian home,” someone might object.  “Doesn’t stepfamily ministry lessen what God intended?”  What this person is really asking is can the church be a spiritual hospital without giving blessing to the “ill” that brought them there.  I sure hope so!  After all, the church is in the redemption business. 

Please remember, the first-marriage nuclear family is God’s design for the home—it’s Plan A—and it truly is the most optimum environment for intimate marriage and child-rearing.  But the reality of God’s people from the beginning has been plenty of Plan B homes.  Abraham’s home did not meet God’s ideal.  He had multiple wives who stepparented his children by other women (with resentment and jealousy, I should add), as did Jacob, David, and many other heroes of the faith. 

God has always extended grace to less-than-ideal people and families; he even used them for his purposes.  When Jesus met the woman at the well in John 4, she was a cohabiting, five-time divorcee.  In a matter of minutes, He not only affirmed her acceptability to God and importance (something no one else offered her unless it was accompanied by a marriage proposal). He turned her into an evangelist when she went back to town, telling everyone that grace was available no matter what your family composition, even to her! 

Grace has the audacity of grabbing you where you are and then nurtures you back to faithful living.  First it redeems, then it transforms.  But then, smart churches have known this for years and have designed ministries to facilitate and communicate God’s redemptive power to people from a variety of backgrounds.  They offer divorce recovery programs knowing that it doesn’t condone divorce; they offer post-abortion and ex-gay ministries and walk people out of darkness into light and hope. 

Not all stepfamilies are formed by personal transgression (e.g., those formed after the death of a spouse).  But for those born from sinful choices, stepfamily ministry offers healing, grace, hope for the future, and practical tools for faithful living. 

© 2007 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author: Ron L. Deal

Ron Deal

Ron Deal is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is founder and president of Smart Stepfamilies™ and director of FamilyLife Blended™, the ministry initiative of FamilyLife® to stepfamilies (for more visit and 

Ron is author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (and DVD series), The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family (with Dr. David Olson). A highly sought-after, recognized expert in marriage and blended families, Ron is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center, and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years experience in local church ministry and family ministry consulting. He is a featured expert on the video curriculum Single and Parenting (2011, Church Initiative) and his material is widely distributed by a variety of family education initiatives

Ron served as a member of the Couple Checkup Research Team (headed by Dr. David Olson, PREPARE-ENRICH) which conducted the two largest studies of marital strength ever accomplished. They surveyed over 100,000 marriages and remarriages (over 200,000 people) and examined the qualitative differences between highly satisfied marriages and low-quality marriages. The results of their groundbreaking research for couples are published in the books The Couple Checkup (Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2008) and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (Deal & Olson, 2015), and are featured in Ron’s newest seminar for dating, engaged, married, and remarried couples, the Couple Checkup Conference.

Ron is a popular conference speaker and has appeared in dozens of national radio and TV broadcasts both in the U.S. and Canada. His daily 60-second radio feature, FamilyLife Blended, is heard by thousands each week around the country and online. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, ABC’s Nightline, WGN-News, The Mike Huckabee Show, FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, HomeWord with Jim Burns, Celebration, and The 700 Club, and his work has been referenced online (e.g.,,, in magazines (e.g., Essence), and in newspapers throughout the world (e.g., USA Today, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and Minnesota Star Tribune). The May 2012 issue of Ladies' Home Journal featured Ron's therapy work with a blended family couple in their popular feature column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Ron has written feature family articles addressing a variety of family matters for a variety of publications and online magazines including Focus on the Family magazine, ParentLife, The Family Room, Gospel Today, Christianity Today, and HomeLife magazine. On a regular basis Ron trains therapists, marriage educators, and ministry professionals at conferences around the country and has spoken at the National Stepfamily Conference, and the Utah and Arkansas Governors' conferences on the family.

Ron and his wife, Nan, have three boys. Their middle son, Connor, died unexpectedly in February 2009 at the age of 12. In his memory, the Deal's have partnered with Touch a Life Foundation to rescue and rehabilitate children in Ghana, West Africa, from trafficking. They would be honored if you would help them sing Connor's song. Visit Connor's Song to learn more about this ministry and to hear Connor sing.

In addition to FamilyLife sponsored events Ron is available to present his Couple Checkup Conference or Building A Successful Stepfamily conference in your church or community. Learn more here.



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