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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 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. Stepfamilies, sometimes called blended families, are quickly becoming the new traditional family in America. According to 2002 data only 23% of U.S. households consist of a first marriage couple with their biological children, what we used to call the “traditional family”. By contrast stepfamilies, whether formed after the death of a spouse, divorce, or an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, make-up close to 30% of married couple households. A full 40% of women are projected to live in a stepfamily household at some point and one of two Americans will have a steprelationship of some kind (e.g., stepgrandchild, stepparent, adult stepsibling, etc.) during their lifetime[1]. 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%. 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 and told 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.

Strengthening Families

Stepfamilies can be strong, break the generational cycle of divorce, and create environments where children can be raised to know and love the Lord. We’re here to help.

Ron L. Deal is Founder & President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, and therapist specializing in marriage enrichment and blended family education. Learn more here.