“A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.” The older I get, the more I understand the wisdom in that Chinese proverb.

The life of Pastor Nate Gibbons of Sarahsville, Ohio, is an illustration of what can happen when someone simply takes the next step. More than a decade ago, he and his wife, Stephanie, were struggling in their marriage. A new pastor, he was placing the demands of ministry before his responsibilities at home.

He hoped that he and Stephanie would find some answers when they decided to take one step: They attended a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.

Pastor Gibbons says the weekend changed their lives and restored their relationship. In the years since then, he’s lost count of how many FamilyLife marriage getaways he and Stephanie have attended—he thinks it’s 10 or 11. And they’ve brought other couples from their church, Center Free Methodist.

The next step occurred several years ago when some of these couples returned from a Weekend to Remember and asked Pastor Gibbons if they could do a Bible study together at Center Free Methodist. Remembering his earlier marriage struggles, he answered that he and Stephanie would participate, “but somebody besides me has to start it.”

Putting others first

In the fall of 2009, five couples began discussing Building Teamwork in Your Marriage, a small-group study in FamilyLife’s HomeBuilders Couples Series®. “Loving relationships between couples seem to naturally develop in a HomeBuilders group,” Pastor Gibbons says. And he noticed something else: When couples start learning together, they begin to say, “It’s not about me. It’s about somebody else.”

The couples in the group started putting others first not only in their own marriages, but also in other areas of their lives. When a man named Greg Forshey started attending the church, they reached out to him. They took notice when he said, “I’m just trying to find God. I need to change my life.”

In October 2009 Greg received Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. Two months later his ex-wife and their two children began attending Center Free Methodist. When some of the couples in the HomeBuilders study invited Greg and Kim to come with them to a Weekend to Remember, they agreed. Then Greg and Kim took their next step: They were remarried in April 2010.

“We totally lost our marriage,” the Forsheys said, “and God has given it back to us.”

Close friendships

Obeying God one step at a time has made a huge difference in not only Pastor Gibbons’ life, but also in his congregation. “It’s kind of crazy what the HomeBuilders Couples Series is doing for our church,” he says. “It has transformed it!”

Couples going through the HomeBuilders studies babysit for one another, share prayer requests, and just hang out together. They’ve formed some really close friendships. And often those involved in a HomeBuilders study go to a Weekend to Remember as a group because, as Pastor Gibbons says, “It’s a terrific marriage checkup.”

The first HomeBuilders Couples Series group now has eight couples. They’ve gone through three studies together: Building Teamwork, Building Up Your Spouse, and Improving Communication in Your Marriage. “Everyone has become so close that we don’t want to separate,” Pastor Gibbons says. And because of the success of the Bible study group, this fall Center Free Methodist will launch a second HomeBuilders group.

Pastor Gibbons has prayed that Center Free Methodist would be a loving church that encourages members to deepen their love for Jesus Christ and for one another. He believes that the HomeBuilders Couples Series is helping it become just that. “Our church has just a little over 100 members. The impact of the HomeBuilders Couples Series has been huge.”

And to think, it all began with just one step.

NOTE: FamilyLife’s HomeBuilders Couples Series® is now the The Art of Marriage® Connect Series.

Copyright © 2011 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.