Christian Home Builder - Lesson 5

The Family In The Twenty First Century

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student will be able to explain the significance of I Chronicles 12:32.
  2. The student will describe the current trends in family life in the United States.
  3. The student will discuss the current issues of young adults regarding family life, especially mate selection and marriage.
  4. The student will be able to generate ideas to help young people and couples in churches build strong marriages and families.


  1. The teacher may want to order the full report, "The State of our Unions: 2000, The Social Health Of Marriage In America, The National Marriage Project.” Project web site at
  2. The teacher may want to review the chapters in Glenn Stanton's book, Why Marriage Matters, which gives a full discussion of the impact of divorce, single parenting and cohabitation on American young people.


This lesson is designed to help the student understand the current condition of families in the United States. The current shift from a "culture of marriage” to a "culture of divorce” has left a generation of young people doubting the veracity of marriage. This lesson will help the student understand the current state of affairs and offer suggestions for recovering the faith in marriage.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Prayer and announcements.

  2. Review of last week's lesson.

Learning Experiences:

  1. I Chronicles 12:32
    1. At this point in the text, David is joined by warriors from Israel who have been faithful to Saul.
    2. These men shifted their allegiance because they understood that David was the anointed one of God. They understood that he represented true faithfulness in Israel.
    3. Many joined David at Hebron, including men of Issachar who, "understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”
    4. Christians today are encouraged to be, "as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves.” This means that it is incumbent upon us to understand the culture and times in which we live in so we can respond appropriately.
    5. "Today in America, we are facing a culture of divorce rather than a culture of marriage.” In other words, many do not believe the institution of marriage will last or even matters. School children speak of their classrooms as being filled with friends, who do not come from intact families.
    6. Can we recover our "culture of marriage?” Can we understand the times and know what God's people should do? When Jesus faced a culture that had much diverse, he taught to return to God's original plan of permanent marriage. (Matt 19:3-9)
  2. The State Of Our Unions 2000: The Social Health Of Marriage In America
    1. David Penelope has recorded in his annual National Marriage Project the current state of health in marriages today.
    2. He reports about six trends regarding family life: marriage, divorce, unmarried cohabitation, loss of child centeredness, fragile families with children, and teen attitudes about marriage and family.
    3. Marriage:
      1. "Marriage trends in the United States in recent decades indicate that Americans have become less likely to marry and fewer of those who do marry have marriages that they consider to be very happy. "
      2. "This is reflected in the decline of more than one-third of Americans who chose to marry from 1970-1976.” The decline maybe due to delaying of the first marriage, the growth in unmarried cohabitation, the choice of being single, and a slight decrease in the number of divorce persons choosing to remarry.
    4. Divorce:
      1. "The American divorce rate today is more than twice that of 1960, but has declined slightly since hitting the highest point in our history in the early 1980's.”
      2. "Although the long term trend in divorce has been upward since Colonial times, the divorce rate was level for about two decades after World War II. By the middle of the 1960's, the incidence of divorce started to increase and it more than doubled over the next 15 years. It reached a high point in the early 1980's.” The divorce rate has modestly declined, a trend described by many experts as, "leveling off at a high level.”
      3. The majority of divorced persons eventually remarry.
      4. Over all, the chances remain very high - between 40 and 50% - that a marriage started today will end in either divorce or permanent separation.
    5. Unmarried Cohabitation:
      1. The number of unmarried couples has increased dramatically over the past four decades. Most younger Americans now spend some time living together outside of marriage.
      2. Between 1960 and 1998, the number of unmarried couples in America increased by close to one thousand percent.
      3. Unmarried cohabitation is particularly common among the young.
      4. It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women age 25 - 39 are currently living with a partner, and an additional quarter have lived with a partner at some time in the past.
      5. Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none earlier in the century.
      6. Cohabitation may be used as a prelude to marriage, an alternative to marriage and an alternative to living alone.
      7. Research indicates that cohabitation is more common among those that are less religious.
      8. Cohabitation is used as a, "trial run” to discover if the partner is a suitable spouse. Data indicates that couples who live together before marriage, break up, and marry another actually double their likelihood of divorcing, state of Oklahoma, Governors Conference on Marriage, 1999.
    6. Loss Of Child Centeredness:
      1. "The presence of children in America has declined significantly since 1960, as measured by fertility rates and the percentage of households with children.” Other indicators suggest this decline has reduced the child centeredness of our nation and has contributed to the weakening of marriage.
      2. In recent times, bearing children and raising children has been pushed from center stage as a purpose for marriage.
      3. Americans have been having fewer children and fertility has been gradually declining.
      4. In 1998, the American "total fertility rate” stood at 2.058 or about 2 children per woman, and has been at that level for several decades.
      5. Only 34% of households include children.
      6. This obviously means that adults are less likely to be living with children, that neighborhoods are less likely to contain children, and that children are less likely to be considered into the daily schedule of life.
      7. The needs and concerns of children, especially young children, gradually may be receding from our consciousness.
      8. A careful analysis of divorce statistics shows that, beginning around 1975, the presence of children in a marriage has become only a very minor inhibitor to divorce.
    7. Fragile Families With Children:
      1. The percentage of children that grow up in a fragile-typically fatherless-family, has grown enormously over the past four decades. This is mainly due to increases in divorce, out of wedlock births, and unmarried cohabitation.
      2. A central purpose of marriage is to ensure that responsible adults have a long term involvement in the difficult and time consuming task of raising the next generation. Single parenting has impacted the United States in dramatic ways. While in 1960, only 9% of all children lived in single parent families, by 1998 the percentage had jumped to 28%. The majority of single parent families are mother-only.
      3. It is estimated that today, some 12-13% of American children live with a step-parent.
    8. Teen Attitudes Regarding Marriage and Family:
      1. "Surveys of teens attitudes over the past few decades point up a growing disparity. The desire of teenagers for a long-term marriage has increased especially for boys, but girls have become more pessimistic about ever being able to have such a marriage. Both boys and girls have become much more excepting of alternatives to marriage.”
      2. The research project that began in 1997, Monitoring the Future, by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, revealed a high percentage of teenagers who said that having a good marriage and family life was "extremely important.” The percentage has increased slightly over the past few decades, especially for boys.
      3. Teenagers indicate a growing pessimism, especially among girls, about the chances of actually fulfilling their desires and preferences for family life.
      4. Most teenagers still seem to prefer a rather traditional family life for themselves, and the importance they place on a good marriage has actually increased slightly in recent years. But girls are becoming more pessimistic about their marital futures.
  3. Understanding The Twenty-Something's As They Look At Marriage:
    1. Penelope's study reports that young men and women are likely to:
      1. Favor living together before marriage or as an alternative to marriage.
      2. Identify the fear of divorce as a key reason for living together and for postponing marriage.
      3. Idealize marriage but also see the experience of being married as hard and often difficult work.
      4. See marriage as a potential economic liability, due to the high rate of divorce, rather than as a way to get ahead economically.
      5. Support marriage preparation and relationship education as an effective way to prevent divorce and unhappy marriages.
    2. Some of the highlights of the research on Twenty-Something's includes:
      1. "The young men and women in this study expect their future marriages to last a lifetime and to fulfill their deepest emotional and spiritual needs. Yet they are involved in a mating culture that may make it more difficult to achieve this lofty goal. Today's singles mating culture is not oriented to marriage, as the mating culture was in the past.” Instead, based on the reports of these singles, it is best described as a low commitment culture of "sex without strings, relationship without rings.”
      2. The men and women in Penelope's study differentiated between "falling in love” and "sex and relationships.” Sex is for fun. It does not include any commitment to a relationship itself. A relationship requires a greater investment of time and effort.
      3. This generation is haunted by fears of divorce. They have been deeply influenced by the experience of growing up in high divorce society. Their fear of divorce is a blow to their confidence. They are afraid that the other will, "take you for all you've got.”
      4. "Since today's young adults are putting off entry into marriage until later ages, it is obviously too soon to tell. As our study of non-college twenty-something's suggested, some evidence indicates a deepening of the current marriage-weakening trends. A longer period of singlehood before marriage, combined with a youthful mating culture oriented to sex and low-commitment relationships, may make it more difficult for young men and women to find suitable married mates. Women's growing pessimism about men and marriage, combined with their increasing willingness to contemplate single motherhood as an acceptable option to marriage, may lead more young women to chose single motherhood if they cannot find a suitable husband. High levels of cohabitation and acceptance of cohabitation among young adults are also likely to contribute to the further weakening and de-institutionalization of marriage. And many young women and men, including those in this study, exhibit a more individualistic orientation to future marriage, with an emphasis on self-investment and protecting oneself against relationship failure. This, "hedge-your-bet,” thinking may weaken the sense of mutual dedication and commitment that is an important component of a successful marriage.”
  4. How Can We Respond?
    1. Option One: Speak well of marriage. Let young people and twenty-something hear us speaking well of the permanence and fulfillment of marriage. Let them hear about success stories.
    2. Option Two: Provide real life models of couples who have navigated the difficulties of marriage and been successful.
    3. Option Three: Provide diverse models for young people. Let them see couples and families in a variety of family forms that are doing well. Dual career couples, step families and re-nested families can all be presented through the church to provide role models for young people.
    4. Option Four: Provide marriage and family life education beginning in middle school and continuing through the college years. Teaching early and well about God's plan for marriage lays an important foundation. These are days when young people are making some of the most important decisions of their life. College, career, choice of mate and many other decisions are setting their direction for decades to come. Let's provide the education that they are saying through this study that they are open to receiving.
    5. Option Five: Covenant Marriage Policies - Churches should pass Covenant Marriage Policies where anyone presenting themselves to the minister to be married will go through an established premarital counseling program. These are available, inexpensive and highly practical. No church should be without this option in place.
    6. Option Six: Support statewide initiatives to help marriage and the family. Many states, including Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma have begun statewide initiatives to support the family. The churches can and should be highly involved and active in these initiatives.


  1. In your journal, make a list of the kind(s) of family structures you grew up in. Were they nuclear, dual-career, single-parent?
  2. Then note how many family forms there are in your extended family today. How are they alike and different?

Further Resources:

  1. The State Of Our Unions-2000: The Social Health In America, from the National Marriage Project.
  2. National Marriage Project, Rutgers University, New Jersey.
  4. Glenn T. Stanton, Why Marriage Matters, Pinon Press, Colorado Springs, Co, 1997.

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