“We can’t do that,” Carol said.  “Yes, you can!” I insisted.

Carol had worked with youth for years and her husband, Dan, had helped couples with financial planning. In years of working with youth, Carol realized that many of the struggles youth faced resulted from tension in their homes; in helping couples with their finances, Dan observed that couples who struggled financially often needed someone to step in to help them resolve conflict far beyond their finances.

They both agreed something needed to be done to help couples strengthen their marriages. They were hoping that I, as a ministry advisor with FamilyLife, would help them find leaders to start a marriage ministry. As we talked I realized they were the leaders … so I challenged them to champion an ongoing ministry to marriages in their church.

Five years later, they have a strong team of lay leaders with a year-round ministry to marriages that has helped over 1,000 people with their marriages in their community of 20,000.

How did they do it? They had a plan and God gave them favor.

If you want a stronger, healthier church, then help couples grow in their relationship with Christ and with each other. Don’t underestimate how God might use you to minister to other couples in your church. Many churches minister to marriages successfully through the leadership of lay couples with oversight by a pastor or other staff member.

These steps can guide you in developing a sustainable plan for your own marriage ministry.

7 steps to start a marriage ministry

1. Begin with prayer.

Ask the Lord to give you a vision for ministry to marriages that aligns with your church’s vision. Ask the Lord to reveal other lay couples who could join you in providing leadership. Ask the Lord to stir a desire in the hearts of married couples in your church to build into their own marriages.

2. Develop your vision for a marriage ministry.

Your vision should answer the question, “Why is it important for our church to minister more effectively to married couples?”

Your marriage ministry vision should support the vision of the church. That opens the door for more support for the ministry. A simple, clear vision will help you communicate your “why” and inspire people to participate as leaders of the ministry. A clear vision also encourages couples to build into their marriages.

Invest the time needed to write a vision statement.   You will not regret time spent getting on paper why you are ministering to marriages.

3. Identify and recruit leaders.

Ask God to lead you to people with a heart for marriages. Share your vision for the ministry and ask them to pray about providing leadership. Get them involved in developing a plan for the marriage ministry (see step #5), and look for ways to give more responsibility to those who show ability and commitment.

Once your leaders are in place, consider how you can equip them with training like FamilyLife’s Certificate in Blended Family Ministry or Prepare-Enrich Facilitator Certification. Training for your team will boost their confidence and strengthen their own marriages.

4. Ask questions to gather some information about your church body and the needs of the marriages in your church.

One of the best ways to gather information about your church’s needs is through a survey. The survey can be as simple as asking participants about their marital status and what their biggest challenges are—spiritual growth, finances, parenting, communication, conflict resolution, roles and responsibilities, in-laws, sex, addiction, anger, etc. But you could add as many questions as necessary.

Most church marriage ministries focus on all or a combination of the following four categories:

  • Preparing for marriage: Couples need to learn key principles about God’s purposes for marriage and about how to maintain a solid relationship. Preparing people for marriage will focus not only on the engaged couples in your church, but also young singles and single parents as most of them will marry. Widows, widowers and previously married people will need to be prepared for the blended family that will result if they remarry.
  • Newlywed marriages: Those who have been married less than five years need to understand God’s design for marriage and how that will require them to make adjustments in their daily lives. Couples who are creating a blended family through marriage will especially need help as they face issues that other couples do not.
  • Enriching all marriages: If you lead couples to intentionally and consistently build into their marriages, they tend to be more equipped to serve in the church. Couples who have a spouse in the military and blended families need additional support.
  • Restoring marriages in crisis: As any marriage ministry becomes established, it quickly becomes apparent that many relationships are in distress—often more than you realize. This can sometimes feel overwhelming, but our experience in working with couples the past 22 years has demonstrated that, as you point them individually to Christ, He will often restore their marriage.

5. Develop a plan.

Your church may not have a significant number of couples in all four of the categories.  Depending on the size of your team, you may only be able to focus on offering one or two of these support options in your church. My suggestion is to focus on the largest audience at your church which generally is enriching all marriages.

As you begin a marriage ministry, you may find you cannot yet support marriages in crisis. Consider referring couples to local biblical counselors. Don’t feel like you have to do it all.

Set a goal for how often you can offer content to help strengthen marriages.  Consider your church’s calendar when planning and offer content that aligns with the natural flow of your church’s year.

Then it’s time to answer the question, “What is the best way to deliver the content?” Most churches do this in three ways—large groups, small groups, or one-to-one.

Looking at two critical things about your church will help you determine the best way to deliver content:

First, look at how your church is organized. Is your church’s structure designed to support large groups, small groups, or one-to-one ministry? If your church has a strong mentoring support system in place, for example, then strongly consider delivering marriage content through one-to-one mentoring.

Second, look at how people who attend your church regularly like to receive content. If small groups at your church are generally well attended, then consider having small groups on marriage topics. If you desire to do one-to-one mentoring, but those who attend your church don’t gravitate toward mentoring, then shy away from it.

A critical step in planning involves evaluating your capacity.  Don’t overreach—make sure your plan is sustainable. The size of the team will determine the breadth of the plans. A team of one couple may be able to lead two small groups a year and/or host one weekend event a year. A team of two or more couples may be able to offer ongoing small groups, a weekend event in spring and fall, and possibly even one-to-one mentoring.

With my church’s team of four couples, we have trained mentor couples for one-to-one mentoring, we coordinate marriage-related small groups multiple times a year, we sponsor date nights once a quarter, we host one large marriage event a year, and the pastor presents a sermon series on marriage once a year.

Plan what makes sense for your church and what your lay leadership team can keep up with. After you get your plans on paper, ask yourself, “Can we keep all this going?” To avoid burnout for your team of leaders, don’t attempt anything you cannot sustain.

6. Schedule events on the church calendar and execute.

Once you know what you will offer and how you will offer it, it is time to get your events or small groups on the church calendar. Work with the church staff to determine the best timing. If you have more than one couple on the team, divide responsibilities among them.

Develop deadlines for preparation, promotion, and execution of activities. Develop a simple prayer calendar for your team to use. If possible, involve your church’s prayer team in praying for the activities and the couples who will attend.

7. Put a follow-up plan in place.

Couples will often ask, “What’s next for our marriage?” Be prepared to answer that question. We have seen that couples who build into their marriages find they enjoy it and will ask you to continue to help them. Always offer them a next step to help couples further grow in their marriages.

Great follow-ups can include marriage-focused small groups, weekend retreats, Bible reading plans for couples, daily devotions for couples, or date nights for couples.

FamilyLife can assist you with each of these steps. Our ministry advisors are passionate about helping churches have effective marriage ministries. They provide training to volunteer couples, assist in assessing needs, offer ideas for events and curriculum suggestions for small groups, and generally guide your church in developing and sustaining a marriage ministry. And this service is free. Call us at 800-358-6329 or email us at MinistryAdvisor@FamilyLife.com.

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