Earlier this month, 24 couples from Concord Church in Dallas got married. On the same day. At the same time. And on the same altar.
September 8 marked the fourth “Grand Wedding” at the Texas megachurch, the conclusion of Pastor Bryan Carter’s Cohabitation Challenge. For the past decade, Carter has stressed God-honoring relationships among his 9,000-member congregation and sought to resist the cultural forces making living together an acceptable substitute for walking down the aisle.
When couples join the 90-day program, Concord offers them 11 weeks of intensive marriage counseling, a married couple to mentor them for the next year, and an all-expenses-paid wedding ceremony at the end of the journey—thanks to artists, musicians, hair stylists, and financial benefactors within the congregation.
The church has married 81 couples through the challenge, and also offers to cover rent for cohabitating members who opt to live apart rather than making it official. Seven people have came to faith as a result of the most recent 90-day program.
“It helps us to model the gospel, because the gospel is redemptive,” Carter said. “It’s not just about us calling out a struggle that people may have, but let’s talk about how I can move from where I was to the place where God is honored.”
As cohabitation continues to rise and more research details the instability of the arrangement for families, churches that champion marriage inevitably have to grapple with the issue. In a 2011 survey, more than half of Protestant pastors said they would marry couples who had been living together. Leaders at churches like Concord want to make that process as easy as possible while also ensuring couples take the commitment seriously.
Carter, who has been married for 21 years and lived with his wife for a stint beforehand, spoke with CT about how the Cohabitation Challenge has brought people in his church into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
How did this program first come about?
I was in a series on singleness, and I planned to preach on [cohabitation]. But I didn’t want to preach about it without giving people a pathway forward. And so we just began tossing around ideas, and somehow we landed with: What would happen if we married them?
How do you people qualify for the program?
The initial challenge has three concepts to it. One is, we encourage people to move away from the idea [of cohabitation]. If I’m a believer and I’m trying to do relationships in a way that honors God, I want to take this off as one of my options.
The second idea is we offer for them to move out. Studies show that most people that cohabitate don’t decide to cohabitate; they slide into cohabitation. We offer to pay your first month’s rent should you decide to move out.
The last option is to get married now, and we’ll have you married in the next 90 days. If you feel like the person you’re living with is the person God wants you to be with, but you guys have never taken those next steps, then we’ll put you through 11 weeks worth of counseling and relationship classes, and then once you complete that, you would be eligible to be married.
When I watched the Grand Wedding video, it didn’t feel like you guys were saying, “We just want you married so that it doesn’t look bad.” What’s the ultimate goal?
Ultimately we are trying to help people honor God in their lives. So many of the couples that we talk to, when you ask them why they chose to do [the challenge], many will end up saying, “I just wanted to honor God in my relationship. I want to provide a better example for my son or for my daughter.”
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Source: Christianity Today