Church Dating Culture

Church Dating Culture: Is Yours Helpful Or Hindering?

Church Dating Culture, Relationship Difficulties

Many single Christians want to date, do it well, and eventually get married. Many churches want to help and enable people to do it well too. Yet in the busyness, cultures can just spring up around us and start influencing us before we know it. So it’s always worth pausing to reflect on helpful and unhelpful dynamics, as we move forward together.    

I was talking to a friend the other day who recently got engaged. I was very happy and excited for him, and pleased they decided to take this step.

It’s such an important decision, and when I did it, I appreciated close friends asking some tough questions to make sure it was something I had thought about and was preparing for properly. So with close friends, I often ask some probing questions too, to help them think it all through.

I always say no one is perfect and no couple is perfect, but being intentional and thoughtful means we can enjoy more highs and experience fewer lows in our relationships.

‘My Church Culture Really Helped’ 

Now, this friend is very mature, but nevertheless fairly young. And I was asking him about why they wanted to get married, his expectations for marriage, if he and his fiancée have talked about X, Y, and Z.

They had clearly thought a lot of things through, and discussed the very hard questions and were very open and honest with each other. Then he said something that really stuck with me:

‘Even though I’m young, my church culture really helped me to approach relationships intentionally. The culture is making me ask “What are you doing and why?” and “What happens next?” It made me approach this relationship in the right way’.

He went on to explain that his church culture of ‘intentionality’ wasn’t just helping his relationship but in every area of his life. It was a culture that asked ‘How can we press into God more?’ and ‘How can we make sure we are heading in the right direction?’.

He developed a long-term and thoughtful mindset

Obviously, taken to the extreme, these questions can mean people forget to just enjoy the moment. Or feel like they need to reach the next step before they are worth something. And in regards to romantic relationships, people can feel like they need to be married soon.

However, it can help when it’s not taken to the extreme and kept in perspective. And my friend said this context help him a lot. It helped him to take God seriously and take his romantic relationship more seriously. He developed a long-term and thoughtful mindset, rather than a short-term and inward-looking one.

Am I Wrong?

I had this conversation the very same week I heard an upsetting story.

There was a woman who started dating someone in her church. She was in her mid-twenties, been a Christian for less than two years, so was still working out what her faith and new relationship should look like. She decided to join the same mid-week Bible study group as her boyfriend.

Some people in the group told her that was a bad idea, and they shouldn’t be in the same groups or be praying together while dating (Read Should We Be Praying Together?). Others said it was a great idea and they should be in the same group.

No matter what people think about this, for me, the problem is that people were telling this couple what to do, but not why. They were not discussing it with this couple and trying to enable them to think things through. They just set hard and fast rules with no explanation.

The culture we build around us matters

The way it was done was upsetting for this woman. She was hurt and confused. Whereas my friend felt enabled by the culture around him when it came to relationships.

The culture we build around us matters.

Creating Culture 

As I reflected on these stories, I was thinking about what lessons there were to learn for creating healthy church dating cultures. I want to highlight two key questions:

  • How are we demonstrating intentionality?
  • What are our guiding principles?

Demonstrating Intentionality 

I think it’s important to ask ourselves how we are building a culture of being intentional in all our relationships, and not just in romantic ones.

How are we spurring each other on to be better friends? Are we challenging each other and ourselves when we cancel last minute on a friend because a better offer came up? Are we making time to do things we don’t enjoy because it will really help someone out?

How are we helping each other to have better church relationships? Are we being flexible with our time or skill, or gracious with each other? Are we intentionally going out of our way to encourage each other?

We need to be demonstrating intentionality, thoughtfulness, and selflessness in all relationships. This will naturally begin to help and influence people in church as they build romantic relationships.

Guiding Principles

I think it’s so important to remember that no two people are the same, and no two couples are the same. Helping people to date well is more about enabling them to apply good principles to their context, because setting hard and fast rules often end up hurting people.

So we need to decide what our principles are for dating, what we think God is saying, and then help people/couples to apply them instead of just barking orders at them.

Take the above story about the couple in the same study group. The principles for their church may be that they don’t want dating couples to do all their ‘spiritual stuff’ together as they could become too dependent on each other in this area, rather than seeking God first.

Same principle, different application

The couple may then decide being in the same group isn’t a good idea because it’s getting too intense. Or they may decide to be in the same group, but have friends they meet up regularly to pray with so that they don’t depend on each other too much.

Same principle, different application. And a couple has been empowered instead of just being told they’re doing something wrong. (Read Top Dating Tip For When Your Relationship Become Official)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we, as a community who want to support new couples, asked ‘How are we demonstrating intentionality?’ and ‘What are our guiding principles?’ as we helped and enabled people like my friend to build healthy relationship dynamics. (Read What On Earth Is Dating Anyway?)

What is the one thing we can do this week, to demonstrate intentionality more? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 14/5/2018

Why Believing In ‘The One’ Is Very Overrated

Church Dating Culture

People in and outside the church still believe in ‘the One’. Many Christians think that God will one day lead them to the person perfectly designed for them, and everything will then be easy and simple going forwards. But this idea robs us of so much. It can also leave us feeling hurt and let down by God. I think it’s a myth, and it needs replacing with a better vision.

(The following extract is taken from page 23-25 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

We often hear Christian couples talking about their relationships in super-spiritual ways: ‘Looking back, we just knew’; ‘God told me that the next person I saw would be my marriage partner’; ‘My previous relationship had been a disaster, but this time it felt so easy – no arguments. It just felt right, so we knew God was in it.’

This can convince us that we will know automatically who we need to marry.

I Found ‘The One’, Several Times

Soon after I became a Christian, I felt that God had chosen one of the girls at the church to be my future wife. I prayed really hard, and then, I thought, came the revelation that we would start dating in six months.

Naturally, I praised God! But as you may have guessed, not only did I not go out with her; she went out with someone else. But it was OK, because around the same time I thought God was telling me that I had heard wrong, and that there was in fact another girl he had chosen to be ‘the one’.

What was going on? God is a good God after all

But that relationship didn’t work out either. So what was going on? God is a good God after all, and wanting to find someone is natural, so why was he not making it happen? Wasn’t he supposed to make it easier for me?

One Story V. Thousands

Sometimes, God may like to intervene with details of who someone should marry. We heard the story of a woman whose grandma told her that she would meet her husband in the next two months. So she ditched her current boyfriend, and met and married this new man.

It has worked out well for her, but for every story like this there are hundreds, if not thousands, where deciding whether or not a hunch is God’s guidance has been more difficult or totally disastrous.

They wondered whether they really had heard from God

Martin and Amy both felt God had given them clear signs that they should be together, so they started dating, but it was all over in three months. Sally and Keith married after an intense whirlwind romance. It felt so good that it must have been from God. But years later, with very little in common and struggling even to sleep in the same bed, they wondered whether they really had heard from God.

Where does this leave ‘the one’ idea?

Rachel And Jason

[Rachel said:] Once I had talked to Jason about my concerns about how we would ever know if we were each ‘the one’ destined by God for the other, we began to see how exciting our relationship could be. (Read Why I chose to reject finding ‘The One’)

You see, if I thought Jason was mine by some cosmic design and then things went wrong, the only logical conclusion was that we were not destined for each other and we were missing out on God’s best for us. Once we both realised that we had married each other not just for our own sake, but for each other’s, we began to find ways to invest in each other and build our relationship.

It’s Overrated 

I came to understand that holding on to ‘the one’ belief robbed me of something. I was putting my faith in the plan, instead of the God who holds time and space in his hands.

I was sitting back and waiting for things to happen, rather than drawing close to God and discerning what he wanted me to do next. It wasn’t a girl that would make sense of my life, but a deepening relationship with God.

When it comes to God’s plan for your life, we believe that the idea of ‘the one’ isn’t good enough.

  • It doesn’t help you if you are heartbroken and think your mistakes have robbed you of God’s plan for your life.
  • It doesn’t help you if you are dating but waiting for a sign from God, instead of working on the relationship.
  • It doesn’t help you if you are married and struggling through difficult times.
  • It doesn’t help you if you are single and feel your life is on hold until you find your ‘destined’ someone.

God’s plan for your life isn’t dependent on your dating status, which means that your capacity to live life to the full isn’t limited by it either. God can do anything in and through us, at any time and in any way! (Read Why I Chose To Think Differently About My Relationship)

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we stopped putting our faith in a myth that leads to so much confusion, hurt and disappointment. Imagine if we learned to be intentional in our search for love, in our romantic relationships, and in our relationship with God. And learned how to be involved in building something worth having, and finding fulfillment in this better vision. (Read Who Else Wants Great Relationships? Why Dating Well Still Matters)

Do you think ‘the One’ idea is overrated? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 30/4/2018

Who Else Wants Great Relationships? Why Dating Well Still Matters

Church Dating Culture, What The Bible Says

‘Dating can be better than it is’. This idea and belief has driven me, my thinking and what I do for nearly 10 years. I still think that dating is meant to be enjoyable, but we also need to be intentional and think about our attitudes and approaches. Not to take the fun out of it, but so we can work through the hard times and make the good times more frequent and long-lasting. 

I’ve been researching, writing, teaching, and preaching about dating in one way or another since 2009. I delivered a talk recently to a group of young adults about relationships. Because I’ve done it so many times, and do it so often, I can forget that many people are hearing teaching on dating for the first time.

I was talking about how God wants to bless our relationships and be involved as we date. He wants it to be fun, respectful, fulfilling, and if it goes wrong he is still involved and interested. It was great to see them getting excited and knowing God is relevant and cares about dating.

God wants to transform the way we see and approach dating

Someone the other day asked me why I do this stuff. Why I deliver these talks and do the work I do. My mind was taken back to what I wrote in one of the introductory pages of the book I co-wrote, The Dating Dilemma.

Back then I thought, and still do think, that God wants to transform the way we see and approach dating. So we can do it in a way that can bring real and authentic connections with others. The book I wrote, and the work I do, is all about that.

I still think it’s amazing that I get to be part of what God is doing in this area.

(The following extract is taken from page 32-33 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Dating Differently 

Throughout history, Christians have always stood out in the way they treat other people: whether it was Jesus treating women with respect, or the early church treating slaves with dignity, God has always asked his people to live lives radically different from the society around them.

His desire for us to be selfless in our love and committed in our relationships is unchanging. No shift in culture will ever change it.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:3–5)

It’s because we seek to be Christ-like in our relationships that the church teaches how to be a selfless parent, husband, wife, neighbour, son, daughter, boss, employee, friend. It’s time to add ‘Christ-like boy/girlfriend’ to that list too.


What concerns us with the ‘Christian dating’ we’re seeing is the lack of guidelines. Do you feel this too?

Well, we’re seeking to change that! At the heart of this book is our desire to see you approach dating from a God-perspective that will change everything: how you feel about dating, how you date and even where your dating leads.

This is a biblical approach to dating that we can celebrate

It’s a bold claim, but did you notice that we didn’t promise that you’ll get married or be dating within the month? No-one can promise anyone that their special someone is just around the corner. It’s an empty promise. It might already ring hollow for you.

So we’re not promising that.

What we are promising is to help you be credible, intentional and selfless in your attitude and actions. We believe this is a biblical approach to dating that we can celebrate and practice in the twenty-first century. (Read How To Tell If Our Relationships Are Thriving.)

New Perspective

As we said, this is a book about dating, not marriage. We want to help you value dating in and of itself. It is linked to marriage, but we can glorify God and grow as people through our dating experiences. We’re going to explore together what dating God’s way could look like for you.

Often when we go through hard times in life (at home, work or university), we are quick to see how God can use it to bring us closer to him and to grow us as a person. So why would this not be the same with challenges we face in dating relationships?

Imagine if we all reminded each other that dating differently is better

Why would God not want to help us learn more about ourselves and him through these key relationships in our lives? Should we just say, ‘Next time will be different’, and never reflect on what went wrong? (Read 2 Strategies for Surviving The Changing World Of Dating.)

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

I learnt a long time ago that God is doing a lot of amazing things to transform our society’s dating culture. I’m not the only one doing it, but I’m grateful to be part of it.

Imagine if we all reminded each other that dating differently is better and encouraged each other to date well, and this doesn’t take the fun out of it. Rather, it can create relationships we all crave. God’s love, grace, and purposes can have a real impact. I still believe that. (Read Why I Told Joshua Harris To Redeem Rather Than Reject Dating)

Have you ever thought about how God could transform our dating culture? Comments welcomed below 

Originally posted 23/4/2018

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Dating

Church Dating Culture, Healthy Relationship Rhythms

The principles we learn from the romantic stories we see in films, on TV, or in the media, promises us everything, but often deliver lots of hurt and confusion. Finding someone and falling in love is meant to be fun and enjoyable, but we need to know what good principles look like, and call out the lies we often get told. 

Looking back, I made so many mistakes when I was dating.

There can sometimes be so much pressure in church culture to be perfect in the area of romance. To not even go out on a date unless you hear ‘wedding bells’. To just ‘know’ if you are a good match, and to never break up with anyone because that implies you made the biggest mistake.

But when I dated, I liked people and went out with people that it just didn’t work out with. And it was really messy sometimes.

The way I dated was really messy sometimes

When I talk to people about dating now, they are often aware that it’s confusing and people can get hurt, they aren’t fools. What they want to know is how to do it well, and how to bring God into it, instead of just going with the flow and making lots of mistakes. And for someone to tell them it isn’t always perfect and easy.

Love Is All Consuming

I remember being single and desperately wanting to find someone. I remember praying about it, thinking constantly about it, being distracted by it.

Most of the time, when I asked my friends about it and my church leaders, they would just say clichés that were just not helpful (Read 5 Clichés Said To Singles, Have You Heard Them All? ).

So I would go along with principles culture fed me, like: do whatever you think will make you happy. It will be so easy and natural. Just follow your feelings. You can use people, as long as it makes you happy. Just sit back and God will sort it all out when he brings ‘The One’.

I now know better, and I’ve been researching, writing, and teaching in the whole area of dating and faith for all most 10 years now (that makes me feel old). I wish someone had just told me some good principles back then. Something I could have put into practice, to reduce the confusion and be more God honouring.

So here is a snippet of what I wish someone had said to me, which may be able to help you:

(The following extract is taken from page 204-206 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Do It Differently 

First, remember it may be hard to put into practice the changes you’re inspired to make. (Read Why I Chose To Think Differently About My Relationship.)

This doesn’t absolve us from making plans and setting goals though. Good ideas that aren’t implemented help no-one.

Relationships are hard work; there’s no getting away from that. And you don’t need to be in a relationship to get to work on areas of your character or expectations of a relationship.

Perfect Doesn’t Exist 

Secondly, we give you permission to fail! No-one is perfect. We all need to be kind to ourselves and each other as we work on our inclination to be selfish.

We give you permission to fail! No-one is perfect

In fact, accepting that about ourselves and the people we will date is a key point. There is no way we will change overnight, and there’s no way we will ever be perfect. Our goal is to grow in maturity in our love for God and others.

Someone who can truly say after every date or interaction with someone that they are not what they should be, but they are better than they were, is surely moving in the right direction.

God Can Help

Thirdly, ask God’s Spirit for guidance. He is given to us to lead us into all truth, and this includes our relationships. He has the power to transform us:

‘And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:1).


Where our culture seeks to build relationships on the power of romantic feelings alone, we will build on the rock of faithfulness and commitment.

Where our culture encourages selfishness, we will practise selflessness.

Where our culture says ‘the one’ will come to you, we will exercise our God-given intellect and take responsibility for our hopes and choices, and be open to his guidance

Where our culture says feelings can justify anything, we will draw on God’s Word before rushing in.

Where our culture says, put yourself first, and if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen, we will choose to date stronger, deeper, clearer and wider. We will protect our hearts, intent on dating as a way of finding someone we can commit to for life.

Where our culture says that dating their way is great, we say they haven’t seen anything yet!

Good foundations that lead to fulfilled singleness or fulfilled marriages

So go for it. Invite that guy out. Drop that girl a text saying you’d like to get to know her better. (Read What should we do on a first date? Part 1) Ask the God of all love to pour into your hearts and minds the courage and wisdom you need to build your pre-marriage relationships on good foundations that lead to fulfilled singleness or fulfilled marriages.

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we questioned some of the principles our culture fed us, and remembered that dating and falling in love is meant to be a blessing, but God has a way that can help us avoid confusion and hurt as much as possible.

What would you say to your younger self about dating? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 26/3/2018

Quick Guide: When Saying ‘Being Content With Singleness’ Is & Isn’t Okay

Church Dating Culture, Singleness

This phrase is said a lot in Christian circles. It does reveal an important Biblical teaching, but for some single people it can sound like a harsh rebuke. Knowing what this phrase is meant to communicate, and the correct context for it can help us to know when saying it will help or hurt someone we’re trying to support. 

‘If you’re single, going to church and finding it a bit hard, you’re not the only one. It can be difficult in an often family orientated context and culture. It’s okay to say it’s a struggle sometimes.’

‘And wanting to get married isn’t wrong. You’re allowed to want a husband or wife. You can be single, love God, be seeking him, and want to get married. One doesn’t automatically cancel out the other.’

You’re allowed to want to get married

These were some of the words I said at a recent talk. I could see on people’s faces a sense of relief. To hear someone say on stage that if you’re single, you’re allowed to want to get married and you may struggle a bit in church, clearly meant a lot.

And I believe all of this is true and not said enough, but it isn’t the full picture either.


I said these words after an earlier talk, in which someone said you need to ‘be content with singleness’ and find peace in God.

And I couldn’t agree more.

If we’re single, (or married, or dating,) we’re told to trust God and depend on him. Our relationship status doesn’t change the fact we should be rooted and ultimately fulfilled in God.

But does this mean there’s a contradiction? Does that make me or the other speaker wrong? Or is it a bit more complicated?

Context is Key

The thing is, I’ve spoken to single people in church who fully love God. They do find peace in him and are pursuing him with a passion. But they still want to find someone, date, and get married. They are content in God, but that doesn’t take away the struggles of life.

When they hear the phrase, ‘be content with singleness’, it’s like a slap in the face. They are truly seeking God and loving him,  and just need help and support in this important area of life from others. Maybe a bit of guidance when it comes to dating, or a bit of help overcoming some of the fears that surround it.

It doesn’t automatically mean they are taking their eyes off God

It’s like saying to a dedicated worship leader who is wanting singing lessons to improve some habits, that they should just focus on God and not learn new skills. Just because they need help and support to affect a situation, it doesn’t automatically mean they are taking their eyes off God.

Having said that, I’ve also chatted to single people who admit that they’ve focused so much on finding someone that they’ve stopped finding peace in God. They forget to rely on him and find peace in him.

They also say being reminded about ‘being content with singleness’ is helpful. Remembering that even if they’re not in the position they want to be in, God is still good and still using them to build his kingdom and is with them through it all.

Quick Guide

We may relate to one of these situations, or know someone who does. Or we may have said something to someone at the wrong time in the past and caused a bit of hurt.

I do think there are some things to think about, which can remind ourselves and each other that we need to ‘be content with singleness’, but that doesn’t mean our desire for marriage and seeking support in our romantic search is wrong. Namely:

  • There’s Not A Single ‘Singles’ Category
  • Actively Give Good Dating Advice
  • What’s The 5 Year Plan?

There’s Not A Single Category

Firstly, not all single people can be put into a ‘single’ category. Some people have never married, some are widowed, some are divorced.  Some are old and some are young. All these situations bring different challenges, opportunities, and experiences.

Whether we’re single, dating or married, we cannot just assume one ‘magic phrase’ can be applicable to every single person and their context. (Read What The Bible Actually Says About Singleness and 4 Trends That Characterises Singleness In Our 20s, 30s, and 40s)

Good Dating Advice

Equipping single people/ourselves with good advice is important. Helping each other to think through healthy God-centred dating doesn’t mean our fulfilment will stop coming from God. It just means we can do it with God instead of feeling frustrated with our situation. Single people in church often feel overwhelmed by dating. So getting some practical tips can help bring God into this area. (Read 4 Strategies For Overcoming Our Biggest Dating Fears).

What’s The 5 Year Plan?

Another good thing to do would be to ask each other the question: ‘How do you want your life to change in 5 years?’

If we’re only focused on finding someone and settling down, we’ve missed something. God’s plan for us is bigger than our relationship status. What business ideas, hobbies, ministry, friendships do we want to grow and improve? What is God calling us to do?

Being content in singleness can still mean pursuing someone to fall in love with

Being content in singleness can still mean pursuing someone to fall in love with, but it should involve pursuing many other things besides just one person.

Imagine If…

Imagine if we remembered that God is ultimately where we find peace and fulfilment. He’s the one we should be seeking no matter our situation. But this doesn’t mean we can’t be honest about the struggles and seek support and help.

I hope we can remind ourselves, and each other, that ‘being content with singleness’ is an important principle, but it doesn’t discount pursuing marriage or romance. When we give this advice, we need to be aware of the context, and remember that: There’s Not A Single ‘Singles’ Category, Actively Give Good Dating Advice, What’s The 5 Year Plan? (Read Being Cautious Vs Jumping In: Which Dating Habit Is Best?)

Are there any other good phrases, that are unintentionally said in the wrong context? Comments welcome below. 

Originally posted 12/3/2018