Whether you have an existing ministry for couples, desire to start one or want to host a stand-alone event, this is the perfect season to focus on activities that strengthen the bonds of marriage.
Help couples in your congregation and community strengthen their relationships with these ideas.
1. Offer free child-care.
Quarterly or monthly, give couples and single parents the opportunity to go out. Host childcare at your church and offer to arrange carpooling for group outings. You also could host an intimate dinner at your church and take formal pictures. Or keep it low-key with a movie night accompanied by popcorn or appetizers. Mix up the activities to keep these events fun, fresh and inviting.
2. Set an example.
Honor couples and teach children and young adults about the sanctity of marriage by recognizing wedding anniversaries. Present couples with a blessing and flowers or a gift basket during your services. Publish the anniversaries in your bulletin, newsletter, website or social media page. The public recognition honors the couples and shows others examples of solid, faith-based marriages.
3. Offer family counseling.
If your church has a licensed family therapist on staff, publicize his or her services. Consider offering a seminar or workshop. If your church or community needs a licensed therapist, consider bringing in someone on a temporary or contract basis. Then evaluate whether a permanent position is feasible. You also can provide your congregation with information on where to find counseling in your area. Don't underestimate the importance of premarital counseling to lay the foundation for a healthy marriage.
4. Develop a mentoring program.
Do you have young couples or single parents struggling through difficult times? Mentoring ministries can provide excellent guidance and support. You can host events, such as workshops or social outings, for your entire mentoring group. Also encourage the mentors to meet or call each other for support and advice.
5. Publicize United Methodist marriage events.
Send interested couples to a marriage retreat – you might also include non-congregant couples from the community. Make it easier for the trip-takers by coordinating travel (carpooling or a bus if the location is close or an airline package, if not) and lodging. You often can get deals on both airfare and lodging if you book in advance and for multiple people. Arrange child care to allow young couples to participate.
The General Board of Discipleship has information on marriage events and programming. Encounter is a United Methodist program designed for married and engaged couples of all ages. The website allows you to search for events by month and state.
6. Host an in-house event. Host your own retreat, and open it to the community or nearby churches. Ask outside experts to speak or present. Ask a United Methodist pastor in a nearby community if he or she would lead a workshop or invite a social worker from your local hospital to lead a discussion. Ask your congregation to suggest topics – and make sure to include those topics in the schedule. Would they like to learn how to communicate more effectively or how to make more time for one another? Give yourself plenty of time to plan. If you have a technologically savvy audience, you might consider an online retreat, but think through the pros and cons of face-to-face sharing and conversations and those that are electronic.
If you don’t have an existing couples ministry, your first task will be to develop a mission statement, place someone in charge and plan programming. Adapt ideas from these articles on starting other ministries: launching a Christian singles ministry, 11 tips for starting a home-repair ministry and 8 ways to start a sports ministry.