On April 27, Faithlife is partnering with Dr.’s Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of the much-praised premarital resource Saving Your Marriage before It Starts, for a free webinar on premarital counseling especially for pastors and ministry leaders. Faithlife spoke with the Parrotts about marriage and divorce in the church and what ministry leaders can do to strengthen Christian marriages.
You need only open a newspaper, scroll through Twitter, or log into Facebook to see them: shocking statistics on the state of marriage. Although oft-repeated claims of a 50% divorce rate in the church are misleading, the outlook isn’t exactly rosy. According to sociologist Bradley Wright, 38% of Christians who regularly attend church have been divorced. That number may seem shocking, but New York Times bestselling authors and marriage experts Les and Leslie Parrott offer what they see as an even more surprising statistic.
“Here’s what we know for sure: 87% of young adults plan on being married eventually,” Les asserts, citing a white paper by the National Marriage Project. Although young people have witnessed many unhealthy marriages, they maintain unflagging matrimonial ambitions. Leslie cites the same paper, stating, “In the face of a staggering divorce rate, 82% of young people still believe when they marry, it will be for life.”
In an era of no-fault divorces and shifting views on marriage, pastors and other ministry leaders are in a unique position to influence the health of Christian marriages. “Can you imagine what would happen in our churches if we could reduce the divorce rate by a third?” Leslie speculates. “It would be one of the greatest revolutions the modern church has ever experienced—and it would impact generations.”
The proven power of premarital counseling
Les and Leslie Parrott are on a mission to make that vision a reality. “Our passion comes from the heart. It’s a lifelong mission for us. We want to revolutionize the way the church helps couples launch lifelong love,” declares Les. The Parrotts are convinced that solid premarital counseling can mean the difference between healthy marriages that last and unhealthy ones that crumble. The Parrotts cites research by David Olson from the University of Minnesota that proves the effectiveness of premarital counseling. “Research conclusively shows that couples are 31% less likely to get divorced if they get several sessions of pre-marriage education before they marry.” “Not only that,” Leslie adds, “Couples who participate in pre-marriage programs experience a 30% increase in marital success and fulfillment over those who do not participate.”
What’s more, according to the Parrotts, couples on the way to the altar are longing for help. As Leslie says, “More couples want pre-marriage education than ever—and with good reason. It is associated with higher levels of marital satisfaction, lower levels of destructive conflicts and higher levels of commitment.”
The Parrotts have been equipping couples for healthy marriages for decades. Their hugely influential New York Times bestselling book Saving Your Marriage before It Starts was a runaway success, selling over a million copies. Media outlets as diverse as CNN, The O’Reiley Factor, and Oprah have called on them for their marriage expertise. Churches across the country continue to rely on Saving Your Marriage before It Starts for premarital counseling more than 20 years after the book’s initial publication.
A new tool for premarital counseling
Recently the Parrotts updated Saving Your Marriage before It Starts to help churches develop full-blown pre-marriage ministries; they’ve taken the time to listen to the problems real churches face. “Over the past two years we have conducted a listening tour with more than 200 churches, asking two questions: 1) What do you do for engaged couples; and 2) What can help you do it better?” Les explains.
That listening tour led Les and Leslie to develop the SYMBIS assessment, a new tool they believe can revolutionize the way churches approach premarital counseling. “I’ve never been more excited about a project,” Les says. “It’s truly a game-changer. The SYMBIS assessment generates a robust, highly relevant, and personal 15-page couple’s report that a facilitator unpacks with the couple. It makes pre-marriage easier and more effective than ever.”
The Parrotts designed the SYMBIS assessment with real-life pastors, ministry leaders, and churches in mind. At SYMBISassessment.com, the Parrotts offer an online certification program for those who want to implement premarital counseling programs in their churches. “Once you complete the course, you can begin using the SYMBIS Assessment immediately,” Leslie adds. The website includes an intuitive dashboard for managing couples under a pastor or facilitator’s care; one pastor who uses the SYMBIS Assessment says, “If Steve Jobs designed a pre-marriage assessment, it would look and feel like this.”
The Parrotts strove to make the assessment adaptable to as many contexts as possible. “You can use it in classes, small groups, or in counseling sessions. And you determine the number of sessions you want to have,” Leslie explains. “And more and more churches have ‘marriage mentors’ in the congregation becoming trained as certified SYMBIS facilitators. That alleviates the pastor’s load and empowers laypeople in ministry,” Les adds.