Holidays Are Splendid…Except When You’re Blended

“If you think your life is hectic during the holidays, you ought to try coordinating schedules, dinner plans, and Christmas gifts with the parents of three households – most of whom don’t care for each other very much.” That’s how stepmother Sheree explained holiday stress to a family member.

As pastors and leaders of churches, whether small or large, it is very important that we take into account those in our church and community who are in blended families. It’s important in every season, but in particular during the holiday season. Author and speaker Ron Deal from FamilyLife Blended says that as many as 40% of those in our local churches are in blended families. Sometimes it is because a spouse has passed away, but more often it is the result of a divorce – in many cases, a divorce that one party didn’t ask for or want.

40%. Let that sink in for a moment. If you have 100 people in your church, as many as 40 of them could be part of blended families. If there are 10,000 people in the community that surrounds your local church, several thousand of those likely are in the same situation. While most of us don’t like divorce and we teach that God’s plan for marriage is “until death do us part”, the reality of our world today is that it is broken. The result is blended families.

Consider the ideal Christmastime in America. We have time off work, so we slow down and enjoy time with family. We celebrate family traditions, attend a special church service, and then open gifts around the tree. On Christmas Day, we have a big meal around the table with the whole family, perhaps including extended family members.

For most of us, the reality of Christmas is far from the ideal. Christmas is stressful and filled with too many obligations. And that’s without the complications of a blended family.

At Christmas and other holidays, children in blended families have to repeat the “family” process several times with different sets of parents, step-parents, grandparents, and step-grandparents. And divorced parents often celebrate a holiday, or at least part of it, at home alone because the other parent has the kids. Not so splendid, huh?

During the holidays, we should be sensitive to the needs and stress levels of those in our church and community who are parts of blended families. When planning holiday events and preparing and presenting holiday-related sermons, we should remember the added dynamics of these families.

In fact, we should do this not just around Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter, but year-round. The challenges that blended families face are 365 days a year. I hope that you will consider starting a blended family ministry in your church and/or community to offer support and hope to these families in the coming year. FamilyLife and Ron Deal have developed a great set of resources called “Smart Stepfamily” that, among other things, contains a small group video study that has eight sessions.

Feel free to connect with me (via the contact page) so we can talk more about how to provide help and encouragement to those in your church and community who are part of a blended family.

Hosting an Event that Improves Marriages…for $100

True or False?

  • I have people in my church who are married.
  • At least some of these people could work on making their marriages stronger.
  • At least some of these people are struggling in their marriages.
  • I am currently counseling or meeting with at least one couple who are having marital issues.

If you answered True to at least one of these questions, then you should consider hosting a marriage conference to help:

  • The people in your church who are married
  • The married friends and relatives of people in your church

Struggling couples will benefit greatly from this conference. But not all struggling couples want to admit that they are struggling. The good news is that you don’t have to position the event as something just for struggling couples, because all married couples will benefit from it. By calling the event a “marriage strengthening conference”, you’ll attract a wider audience, including folks who are struggling but don’t want to labelled as such.

In my last article, I mentioned that it is possible to host a first-class marriage event at your church for as little as $100. Here are the highlights of the event:

  • It runs on Friday evening and all day Saturday
  • It offers proven, world-class instruction and exercises that will strengthen the marriages of all who attend
  • No one at your church has to do any of the teaching

It’s an Art of Marriage event, with all of the instruction on video through FamilyLife. By purchasing the video leader kit for $99 – or even borrowing it if you know someone who already has it – your church can host a marriage conference that everyone who attends will love and will be talking about for months and years to come!

There are a total of six sessions, where dozens of top-notch speakers present the Biblical principles of marriage. It is engaging, comical, and challenging, all at the same time. During the course of the weekend, couples also complete three projects. No other marriage resource enables you to host such a high-quality marriage event so easily and for such a small cost.

But wait…there’s more! I am also one of 14 trained ministry advisors who works for FamilyLife, and I would love to come alongside of you to offer free coaching, encouragement, and prayer, as you plan and facilitate this event at your church.

Please feel free to reach out (via the contact page) so we can connect and talk more. I would love to help you to be the next small church that makes a big impact on marriages in your church and community.

Promoting a Life-Changing Marriage Event

Is it possible for a small church to host a quality marriage event?

The answer is yes! I know what you probably are thinking because I’ve heard it all before and, as a pastor of small churches for almost two decades, I probably thought the same thing.

The reality is that, for an investment of less than $100, your church can host a first-class marriage event. How? I’ll provide all the details in my next article. If you can’t wait, then use the Contact page to indicate that you want to get in touch with me, and the Small Church Central staff will connect us via email. (I would hate to keep you awake at night wondering about this great opportunity!)

There actually is something even easier that your church can do at no cost to your church whatsoever. That is to promote the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway that FamilyLife hosts in approximately 75 cities around the U.S. every year. This event can have a life-changing impact on couples in your church and in your community.

By agreeing to promote a Weekend to Remember event, your church gets some benefits and perks:

  • When your church creates a group name, any couple that registers using that group name will save at least $100 off their registration.
  • As you promote and get couples signed up, it’s easy to earn free registrations that you can give to those in your church (or community) who can’t afford to pay for the marriage event themselves.
  • Your senior pastor and his or her spouse get a free event registration.

Who said that small churches can’t have a big impact? Please reach out (via the Contact page) so we can connect and talk more. I would love to help you as you desire to help others!

Resources to Help Your Church Reach Couples and Families

This article is excerpts from a fall 2014 interview with David Derry. For the complete interview, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Bolinger: Please describe what happens at a Weekend to Remember conference.

Derry: The Weekend to Remember conference is the flagship of FamilyLife. The conference is held around the country in roughly 100 different locations, and those locations can vary from year to year. In northeast Ohio, the conference typically is held in Akron and in Cleveland. The event is a full weekend event at a hotel, and it’s better termed a marriage getaway than a conference.

You check into the hotel on Friday night, you have dinner, and you begin this time together, which will end on Sunday around lunchtime. You’re completely away from the distractions of home, work, and children. You’re spending almost 48 hours totally focused on your spouse and your marital relationship.

Over that time, you’re going to receive a lot of Biblical principles and encouragement in your marriage. There is a lot of humor mixed in the weekend, so it’s a very enjoyable time. You get timeless principles that come from God’s Word as far as what is God’s plan for your marriage and how you can do this successfully with His help. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take some time away, be at the hotel for two nights and two days, and invest in, focus on, and concentrate on each other….

Bolinger: Tell us some of the resources that churches can use and programs that churches can do to reach people, both inside and outside the church, who are going through tough times in their marriages.

Derry: If it happens to be at a time when Weekend to Remember is approaching, then we encourage churches to promote the Weekends in their local church and encourage families to attend who can get to that. Not only can a church make information on the Weekends available, such as showing a video and making brochures available on Sunday mornings, but a church (or an individual, for that matter) also can set up what we call a group name and promote that group name to the folks in their church, promote it to friends and family, post it on Facebook, etc. Any couple that uses that group name to register will automatically get $100 off that registration for the Weekend. Beyond that, once five couples have registered using a group name, the group coordinator automatically gets a free Weekend registration that they can use themselves or offer as a scholarship to another couple that can’t afford to go. That’s how my wife and I use it – we offer it as a scholarship to a couple to allow them to go. The couple who gets the scholarship still has to pay for the hotel room, but the Weekend registration is free.

Of course, the Weekend to Remember typically comes to your area only once a year. And if a couple is struggling, and the Weekend to Remember is not for another six or eight months, you don’t want to tell that couple to wait. We need other options. And we have them.

One of the most popular options is what FamilyLife calls the Art of Marriage. It is a set of resources that were designed specifically to minister with people. These are video resources that FamilyLife has produced and makes available for purchase to individuals or churches. The church or the individual couple, the homebuilder, sponsors and does an Art of Marriage event. It’s not a FamilyLife event. The homebuilder purchases the kit and plays host to and facilitates the event.

There are different resources under the Art of Marriage label. One is a weekend event that in some ways is similar to a Weekend to Remember, but instead of being hosted at a hotel it usually is hosted in a church fellowship hall, family life center, or sanctuary. It could be hosted in somebody’s living room. It’s a Friday night and Saturday event where attendees go through a number of sessions.

The teaching is on video, but it’s very engaging. There are multiple teachers in each session. There is a lot of humor intermixed with it, so it’s not what I would call a “talking head” kind of presentation. It’s a very engaging presentation where numerous different Biblical scholars are teaching on the subjects. If a couple or church is looking for a weekend event similar to a Weekend to Remember, then that is a good choice.

Hosting an Art of Marriage Event

Bolinger: If I sponsor that event, then I don’t have to teach the classes, right? I’m basically just pressing “Play”, and we get to hear from an engaging speaker on the topic. What happens when the speaker is done? Is there activity for the group? What do I have to do as a coordinator?

Derry: It literally is about as easy as pushing “Play”. There are some projects that the couples will complete during the weekend. Those are all in the manuals; each of the participants has a manual for the weekend. The projects and directions for completing them are in there. What the facilitator does really is up to the facilitator. You can just announce the next session and press “Play”. If you want to share more information, you can; it depends on your comfort level and ability.

The beauty of an Art of Marriage event is that participants get a very similar experience, whether there are five couples or five hundred couples. Everybody is getting the same quality of teaching, the same content in the videos. A big church may be able to afford to bring in a special speaker to host an event, but a smaller church may not have the budget for that. This resource levels the playing field for all churches. Any church can purchase the video kit or even borrow the video kit from another church that has used it.

Bolinger: This sounds like a really nice option for many families, especially families with kids. We may live too far away from Cleveland or Akron or another city that has a Weekend to Remember event. Even if we are close enough, we may not be able to afford to attend or to pay for babysitters for an entire weekend. If the host church or couple provides babysitting, then people may be able to attend entirely for free. The church benefits by demonstrating to the couples that they love them and their kids enough to offer the event for free to help the couples strengthen their marriages.

Derry: What we coach churches to do is to consider offering some childcare on site. That’s the most popular option because it enables couples to bring their kids and know that they will be taken care of the entire time. As far as the cost, that is up to each church because it’s their event. Because there is a cost for the manuals, most churches charge some type of admission, but it’s a much lower cost than a Weekend to Remember. If the church wants to charge for childcare or for snacks during breaks, that’s owned and organized by the local church. FamilyLife doesn’t say what you should charge for the event. Some churches do provide the manuals and take that out of their budget and do not charge the people who come. Again, it’s up to the church.

It is a great event. Another thing that is great about it is that it can be offered any time of the year. Unlike Weekend to Remember, which comes once a year, the Art of Marriage is offered by various churches in the Akron/Canton area a dozen or more times each year. You can go on to the Art of Marriage website or the FamilyLife website and locate an event near you. Usually you can find something [that is happening] within a matter of weeks with a very reasonable driving distance.

Bolinger: You said that the Friday evening and Saturday Art of Marriage event is one of the Art of Marriage options. What other Art of Marriage offerings are there?

Derry: Our second most popular Art of Marriage option is our small group offering. It’s a six-week video kit for small groups. The content on the videos is similar to the weekend videos, but each video is about half the time. Instead of being between 45 minutes and an hour, each video is about 25 to 30 minutes.

The reason for that is the small-group workbook has a lot of discussion questions, and you’re going to spend about half the time talking through them as a group. In the weekend event, you don’t discuss questions as a group. You watch the videos, you answer some questions individually, and you complete three projects with your spouse, but you’re not asked to share or discuss things with other couples who are there. The very nature of a small group is that you are going to have discussions. So the small-group resource is designed for small groups with discussions.

The other resource that we have in the Art of Marriage family is called Art of Marriage Connect Groups. They are also small groups, but they are not video-based. You have a workbook that you use, but the whole thing is basically discussion-oriented. There’s not a lot of teaching.

You need a facilitator whose role is to keep the conversation on track for the topics of that week. The Art of Marriage Connect Groups are topical. During the six weeks, you’ll talk about communication as a couple, how to resolve conflict, how to manage finances as a couple. You’re spending a longer period of time going deeper on one particular topic. With the Art of Marriage small group or weekend event, you do an overview and some nuts and bolts of Biblical principles of marriage on a general level.

Engaging with Couples through Art of Marriage

Bolinger: What has your experience been with how churches are using these various Art of Marriage resources?

Derry: Marriage is something that you have to work on 365 days a year. Rather than just promoting the Weekend to Remember when it comes to the area or offering an Art of Marriage event once a year, we encourage churches to provide multiple opportunities throughout different seasons of the year. A couple might be doing fine today, but then multiple different things could happen. They can have a loss of a job. They can have a loss of a child. They may find themselves in a different phase of life or a different situation where, if they are struggling financially, that may create conflict. Just because a couple is doing fine now doesn’t mean they will be doing fine the rest of the year.

Let’s say that Weekend to Remember comes to your area in March. Go ahead and promote that event in January and February. Consider offering an Art of Marriage weekend or small group in other parts of the year – definitely in the fall, but at other times, too. Try to make numerous options available throughout the year.

Think about how you can have an ongoing marriage emphasis that occurs in your church that’s not just a once-a-year or once-every-few-years type of thing. That way, when people find themselves in a place where they’re struggling, there are options available, and they can get some help right away.

Bolinger: Obviously, David, when there’s a struggle or a crisis, you want to engage a couple quickly and stay with them for as long as it takes to get them out of that situation. But all of us need some fine-tuning. We need a lot of help, a lot of the time. (Laughs.) 

Derry: When people look at one of our Art of Marriage resources, or even Weekend to Remember, they often ask, “Now, is this for people who are really struggling, for people who find themselves in crisis, or are these resources or events for people who are doing fairly well and just want to do a check-up or a tune-up?” My answer to these questions is always, “Yes.” It is for all those different groups of people. That’s because the events and the resources are based on Biblical principles of marriage, so they work in any situation with any couple at any season of life. They are adaptable to wherever a couple might be.

When you walk into a ballroom for a Weekend to Remember, you don’t realize it, but there are people there who are in every situation that you can possibly imagine, and then some. You have people there who are engaged. You have people who are married and very, very happy, doing well. You have people who are struggling. You have people who are there as a last-ditch effort; if something doesn’t happen that weekend, they are calling the attorney on Monday to file papers. You have people who are in the process of divorce. And you actually have people in that room who are divorced but who are second-guessing if that was the right decision. I know one couple who jokingly says that their divorce just didn’t work out; they remarried after they attended a Weekend to Remember.

Because these are Biblical principles, they will work no matter where you are along that paradigm. Deciding which resource to choose really isn’t the issue. You have to decide if you are willing to listen to the Biblical principles that are shared and, if you listen to them and you apply them to your life and your marriage, they will help you, whether they just give you a shot in the arm or help you get back to where you need to be.

If a couple who comes to any event or small group is really in crisis, what they need to realize is that it’s not a magical fix. You don’t come in completely broken and leave completely fixed. Only on TV does it work out that nicely. What the event or small group does is give you some help and some hope that this is something that, with God’s help, you can do. You have to realize that it’s going to take a while to work through some of these things. It might take counseling. But if you are committed to make it work, the Biblical principles will give you the foundation on which to build.

It will take a lot of effort, as does any marriage. You know as well as I do that, if you’re going to have a healthy marriage, it takes a whole lot of work just continually moving forward. When you’re in crisis and your marriage is falling apart, it’s going to take even more effort to get things back to what you really want it to look like long-term.

Bolinger: That’s where the church can play a vital role. You’re enabling churches not just to invite people to Weekend to Remember events but to stay engaged with them.

Derry: The Art of Marriage enables churches to establish relationships with couples more naturally than Weekend to Remember. Instead of people attending an event in a hotel ballroom, they are attending an event at a local church. Follow-up is much more natural and happens more easily, because the church is connected with them right off the bat.

Of the people who walk into a ballroom at a Weekend to Remember, about 40% of them are not connected to any church. They might have found out through a friend. They might have Googled just to find some help with their marriage because they knew they are in trouble. We have to work very intensely to try to connect them back to local churches that can continue to walk with them after the event. Art of Marriage enables churches to engage in their lives much more easily and in a shorter time period to be able to help them post-event

More Art of Marriage Options

Bolinger: David, you mentioned that some of the Art of Marriage resources that are designed for small groups are topic-oriented. What are some of the topics that are covered?

Derry: Some are general; some are much more specific. One that I encourage churches to start with is called Building Your Marriage to Last. It gives a general overview of the Biblical principles of marriage. More specific ones include one on communication, one on conflict, one on finances, one on growing together spiritually as a couple. There also are different parenting studies such as disciplining a toddler and parenting a teenager.

We have a newer Art of Marriage Connect Group that’s called Marriage in the Second Half, for couples around 25 years who are facing things – such as empty nest, retirement in the relatively near future – that are good in some ways, even things to celebrate, but which also bring into a marriage some unique challenges. A lot of times, a couple has focused on their children for most of their marriage, and when those kids move out, suddenly it’s just the husband and wife, and sometimes they look at each other and say, “We don’t know each other quite as well as we thought we did, because we have spent so long focusing more on the kids than on our marriage.”

There are over 15 different topics – parenting and marriage – from which a church can choose depending on the needs that are there among the couples who want to go through something.

Bolinger: And these tend to be six-week series, six weeks if you do one session per week?

Derry: For the most part, yes. Some may be five, some may be seven, but six weeks is what we were shooting for when designing these. It’s a long enough time that couples can begin to get to know each other and trust each other, but short enough that you don’t lose people who can’t commit to every week for 10 weeks or 12 weeks.

Bolinger: A church has a couple of options here. If you know who will be coming and you have a good feel for where they are in life, then you might pick a couple of them that seem the most applicable to those who are likely to attend. But if you are casting a wide net and inviting a wide range of people, and you’re not sure who is going to come, then you may get people in all different stages of marriage and situations. If your church has enough facilitators and enough rooms, then you could run two or three different series at the same time and appeal to different audiences. A financial one has broad appeal, but it may attract a lot of younger couples who don’t have kids yet. A lot of folks may attend a parenting series. Older couples whose kids are in college or beyond, or maybe nearing that stage, may go to the Second Half series.

If a church keeps varying the series, couples who attended one series will come back for another that is a good fit.

Derry: Exactly, Chris. What we know from working with a lot of churches is that it is not a cookie-cutter process. We don’t come in and say, “You should do A, B, and C, because every church does A, B, and C, and this always works well.” When we sit down with a church or a couple that is a Home Builder, we ask what they are doing now and where they sense that God is leading them and calling them to help. “What does that look like as you begin to dream about what you could do?” Then we suggest tools and resources that they can use. But every church and every situation is different.

Some churches offer a couple of different series at the same time. A church could do a marriage small group study and a parenting small group study at the same time. They could move from one to the next. A church may repeat Building Your Marriage to Last every six or eight weeks and take six groups through it in a year, or they might take one group and run it through different studies, and it could take that group years to get through all the different topics. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. You can make a variety of topics available, and people can jump in and get on board whenever they need to and want to, so that help is always available.

Bolinger: Let’s say that my wife and I are impacted greatly by a particular study. We may say that next time we want to be the facilitators for this study and invite our friends and neighbors. It made a positive difference in our marriage, and we want to see other couples benefit from it. It doesn’t have to be at a church; I could purchase the materials and do it in my home, and maybe attract people who don’t go to my church and don’t want to go to my church.

Derry: What happens when you have a group of six couples go through a study is that some number, maybe five, of them go on to do another study of a different topic, but one of those couples says, “We really want to take some other people through this on our own.” That couple pulls away and starts another group on the same topic. You can’t predict how it is going to work. It really is about how God is calling and using people to do it. We don’t want to get in the way and tell them to do it a different way.

Helping Blended Families

One other resource that we haven’t talked about yet is Smart Stepfamily. There is a book and a video study by Ron Deal, who has been one of the leading experts in stepfamily, or blended family, ministry for a long time. He actually joined the staff of FamilyLife a few years ago, and that brings a whole new paradigm to FamilyLife where we’re much better able to help blended families or stepfamilies. That’s an area that churches typically are not really comfortable or educated enough on what to do.

We all know that there are some unique challenges that come with that. If we know people who are in a second or third marriage, then we realize that, for example, during holiday seasons, they go through some unique challenges that we don’t necessarily have in a family where all the kids are ours biologically. You’re dealing with stepparents and step-grandparents and other things that make it more complicated.

FamilyLife has resources that individuals can use in their living rooms for just their families or for other families that they invite to be a part of that study. Some churches are beginning to launch stepfamily ministries, or blended family ministries, to help these families succeed. We know that statistically a second or third marriage is even more likely to end in divorce than a first marriage. It’s so much harder, and people get discouraged and give up because they don’t see any way to make it work. If you base it on Biblical principles then, yes , it’s still hard, and you’ll have to put in extra effort, but that marriage can work because God tells you how you can build that marriage on Biblical principles. It has been exciting to see churches and people beginning to use those blended family resources.

Marriage Ministry: Where Do I Begin?

Chances are that you are aware of one or more couples in your church who could use some help with their marriages. Chances are that you unaware of more couples who also need help. And, of course, you have more things to do than you can handle and more people asking for your help than you feel like you can help.

How do I know? Before I went on staff at FamilyLife, I was the pastor of three different small churches in Ohio for a total of 17 years, and that was my story at each of those churches.

So where do you begin? Let me give you three options:

  1. Connect with me. While I primarily serve churches in northeast Ohio, I can work with churches anywhere. You can use the contact form on this website to get in touch with me. Once we connect, we can set up a time to talk about some high-impact marriage resources that will take very little time for you to implement in your church and potentially help dozens of couples.
  1. Have someone in your church connect with me. I know that you are busy. Overloaded, most likely. I also know that you probably have at least one church member who has a strong interest in doing something to help others in their marriages but doesn’t know where to begin. Using the contact form on this site, provide contact information for that person, and I’ll get in touch with him or her.
  1. Have me come to your church. If you are in northeast Ohio, then you can schedule me to come and speak at your church on a Sunday morning to share about marriage ministry and some of the resources that we use to help small churches succeed in this area. If you are outside northeast Ohio, then there may be someone else on the FamilyLife team who can come to your church. It doesn’t hurt to ask!