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Student Ministry and Divorce: The Numbers You’ve Heard Wrong

 ” ‘Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world!’

It’s one of the most quoted stats by Christian leaders today. And it’s perhaps one of the most inaccurate.”

– Glenn Stanton

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a pastor, youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, or any Christian for that matter, say that the divorce rate for Christians is the same as the divorce rate for non-Christians?

You look a little silly raising your hand while reading a book. Put that thing down.

But yes, more than likely everyone has heard that stat quoted at some point or another. And sometimes it feels like it’s true. But statistics and feelings aren’t friends. They don’t go fishing on weekends.

The truth of the matter is that there is much more going on than that quote allows for. In fact, to say that point blank can do a lot of damage to other’s perception of the Gospel.

More on that in a moment.

Divorce Rate in America

So lets get some things settled on this topic pretty quickly. First, the divorce rate in America is not 50%. That’s an urban myth. Most people come by that stat by looking at the numbers and misreading what they mean. For example: in 1990 there were 2,443,000 marriages and 1,182,000 divorces[i]. A little math on my smart phone tells me that there were almost half as many divorces in 1990 as there were marriages.


Hold your horses.

What this table does NOT show is how many marriages existed before 1990. The only we see in this table is how many new marriages were performed. In fact, there were 54 million preexisting marriages in 1990[ii].

Yes, 1 million divorces are bad. But 1 million is not half of 54 million. That’s bad math.

And, current statistics show that divorces are slowing in recent years, not gaining speed[iii].

Divorce Rate Among Believers

For another fact that’ll make your day a little brighter is that those who are active in their faith are much less likely to divorce than those who are “nominal” Christ followers.

Just because charts are cool, check this one out[iv]:

Faith Affiliation, % Divorce Likelihood Reduction

Protestant – Nominal, 20%

Protestant – Conservative, -10%

Protestant – Active Conservative, -35%

Catholic, -18%

Catholic (nominal), -5%

Catholic – Active, -31%

Jewish, 39%

Jewish (nominal), 53%

Jewish – Active, -97%

This is from W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project. What the numbers mean is this: A nominal protestant is 20 % MORE likely to divorce than the average American who claims no religion. However, the Conservative Protestant is 10 % less likely to get a divorce than Average Joe American. An Active Conservative is a whopping 35 % less likely to get a divorce!

So, by this data, we can actually see that being a Christian, an active one who attends church, is much less likely to get a divorce than someone who is only nominally involved or not involved at all!

So on one end, the data we’ve been told by many teachers who mean well is wrong and damaging to the cause of Christ. If it’s really true that Christians are divorcing at the same rate as the world, then Jesus doesn’t actually change many lives like He claims.

Mini rant over.

But even if the general population’s divorce rate is going down AND being active in your faith highly increases your chance of avoiding divorce, there’s still one issue that needs your thoughts:

Your students whose parents are divorced don’t care.

*This is an excerpt from Ronald’s book: Divorce and Student Ministry: 4 Ways to Help Hurting Families.

[i] Table 133, Marriages and Divorces – Number and Rate by State: 1990 – 2009.

[ii]“Fifty Percent of American Marriages and Ending in Divorce”

One thought on “Student Ministry and Divorce: The Numbers You’ve Heard Wrong

  1. Wow, thank you for shattering that urban myth. I’ve been hearing it all my life and I’m glad folks are disproving it!

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Student Ministry and Divorce: The Num...

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