- Deseret News - Saturday, October 31, 2015

How Christian churches respond to divorce in their congregations has been top-of-mind among religious leaders and believers as the Roman Catholic Church decides whether to change its practice of banning divorced and remarried members from participating in Communion.

But divorced Catholics aren’t the only ones who may feel unwelcome at church.

An Oct. 29 survey sponsored by Focus on the Family and conducted by Lifeway Research, shows 20 percent of church-goers surveyed no longer attend church after a divorce — “and the loss among their children is even higher.”

“Among those with children who attended church before the separation, 35 percent say at least one child no longer attends,” Lifeway reported.

Earlier surveys of youth have found divorce shifts their religiosity based on several factors, from discomfort attending church because of the stigma of divorce to abandoning belief because of the trauma of family breakup, according the Deseret News National.



While children of divorce who leave the faith can have long-term repercussions for a church, Lifeway also found congregations experience short-term impacts as well.

“A third of those who divorce (32 percent) say they give less to their local church than they gave before their separation. More than a quarter of this group stops giving at all,” Lifeway reported.

“Pastors say the repercussions of divorce affect others as well. Thirty-one percent say divorce has fractured other relationships in the church, and 16 percent say it created leadership voids. About 1 in 10 say divorce has hurt the church’s reputation (11 percent), halted its momentum (10 percent), or disbanded an adult small group or Sunday school class (9 percent).”

But researchers found preventing divorce within the church is a challenge because it is often difficult to identify couples who need help.

While nearly 8 in 10 churchgoers — and 94 percent of pastors — said church is a safe place to talk about marital difficulties, only 48 percent of divorced respondents said they discussed their marriage problems with the lead pastor.

More than a third didn’t talk to anyone at church about it.

Those findings speak to a problem with church culture, said Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research vice president.

“If churches are dogmatic and not realistic about relationships, then those who have trouble in their marriage are never going to tell anybody,” he said. “That’s a wake-up call to the church.”

The survey found roughly 75 percent of pastors claim they offer support services to couples, but only about one-third of divorced and married respondents were aware of those resources.

Churches can be more effective by being more proactive, Mr. McConnell said. He pointed out that two-thirds of pastors say their church has no lay leader responsible for marriage ministry, and 43 percent have no written plan.

“As much as churches already do things to help with marriage, there is still a huge opportunity to do more and to do it better,” he said. “I think the typical pastor would check the box and say, ‘We’re already doing this.’ And yet when we look deeper, there’s so much more that could be done.”

Following a three-week synod on the family in Rome, Catholic bishops left the door open for Pope Francis to find a way to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to participate fully in worship, according to Religion News Service.

A Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Catholics earlier this year found 62 percent of those surveyed said the church should allow members who have divorced and remarried without an annulment to receive Communion.

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