Evangelical Christians are divorcing at the same rate as the general population, according to a new study.
While a higher proportion of evangelical Christians are married (67 per cent) compared to other practising Christians (59 per cent) and the general public (52 per cent), the number who are divorced is the same – 25 per cent – across all three categories, the Barna group found.
Meanwhile, a significant proportion of practising Christians believe in cohabitation, according to the poll.
Some 41 per cent said that 'it's a good idea to live with one's significant other before getting married' while 88 per cent of those with no faith said the same, along with 35 per cent of 'born-again' Christians and six per cent of evangelical Christians.
Among those who disagreed with the idea, 'religious reasons' was the most prominent reason for not supporting cohabitation (34 per cent). Other reasons included, 'I don't believe people should have sex before getting married' (28 per cent), 'It isn't practical or doesn't make sense' (16 per cent), and family or traditions (12 per cent).
The study also found that evangelicals are the least likely group to use online dating, with 75 per cent saying they would never experiment with it.
A large majority (72 per cent) of the wider adult population have not tried online dating at all, and 52 per cent said they would never try it.
Roxanne Stone, the editor in chief of the Barna Group, emphasised that the trend is away from traditional marriage habits. 'While once viewed as the primary end goal for romantic relationships, the institution of marriage now seems to be under great scrutiny,' she said. 'The "trials and errors" of dating now include living together as an assumed, final hurdle before marriage. In 2014, we found that while 82 per cent of Millennials want to get married some day, they want to wait until they feel more fully developed as a person (70 per cent), are financially established (69 per cent), and have lived together (60 per cent). A full 30 per cent of Milliennials aren't so sure about marriage at all – they express doubt as to whether or not they even believe in the conventional form of marriage.'
Stone encouraged church leaders to take these changes into account. 'Are your ministries set up to meet the fundamental needs of that age group: career building, personal formation, social activities, friendship and the complexities of singleness and dating? Do you talk about the benefits and risks of online dating? Are you having frank conversations about sex? Are you able to offer a believable reason for why people shouldn't live together before marriage?
'Churches are often afraid to address these questions outside of youth group – but increasingly, young adults need this kind of guidance. They are sceptical that the Church is relevant to their lives – or that faith has answers for them,' said Stone.
The data came from four separate studies, mostly from Barna Trends with 1000 interviews each, conducted online with a random, representative sample of US adults, aged over 18.