Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Another Consequence of Delayed Marriage or Prolonged Singleness
In days gone by, sexual maturity occurred fairly close to the average age of marriage (removed by no more than 5-6 years) and so the rebellion of youth was soon restrained by the responsibility of adulthood. The time in which teens and early twenty-somethings left to pursue the objects of their curious and insatiable hearts was not only reigned in by marriage but also by the prospect of and the arrival of parenthood. It was as if God provided these as natural doors through which the young were called back to Church for a wedding, baptism, and child-rearing.
Now we find that the average age of first marriage for men is nearly 28 in the US (32 in France, 30 in Canada, and higher than the US in most of Europe as well). The low recorded over the last hundred years was 22 in the US. For women the gap is even more pronounced. The average age today is about 26 (it was as low as barely 20). In Europe and Canada the age gap between men and women at their first marriage is barely noticeable.
So we have gone from a few years of youthful rebellion out of the Church to a decade or more (for those from religious households and even longer for those who grew up in nominally religious homes or distinctly non-religious households). What was a distant but not forgotten habit to a 22 and 20 year old, has become an ancient memory to those who marry almost at the end of the 20s and, if they have children, start a family years after that.
The statistics for singles in Church is particularly dismal. Those of all ages who are intentionally single or non-married are nearly absent from the Church and, without a wedding or baptism to call them back, they tend to remain distant from the Church and hard to win over.
Nearly all the statistics show that this trend of increasing age for first marriage and the growing number of those who choose not to be married will continue unabated over the near future (and probably long term). All of this creates a circumstance in which the Church is more and more on the fringes of life and thought for those in the 20s and 30s in America (as well as the rest of the West).
I do not have any magic carpet to reaching these people -- just a presumption that the home in which our children dwell is the most important place for establishing their faith and creating the good habit of worship. Speaking as a parent of three in their 20s, none yet married and yet all actively in Church, I would like to say that the most important responsibility of Christian parents is to bring up your children in the faith. I would like to say this, but I fear that a host of other areas compete with this responsibility and even good, solid Christian parents feel the pressure to focus on other things before faith development. So, if you are a parent out there, let me encourage you to be faithful in deed as well as in word. Let your children see the importance of weekly worship by your own habit (and therefore the family's routine). Let your children see you pray and take advantage of the many doors provided in ordinary conversation to bring faith into those conversations. Pray not only for your children, but with them -- from early on. Let them know that faith is not a veneer on an otherwise rich and full life but the foundation on which any good life must be built if that life is to endure. Don't give up because of any lack of concrete evidence that such practices are making a difference. Do not be discouraged. Give them a foundation, and they have something to return to... leave them to dig their own footings and they may just build a house on the sand instead of the rock which is Jesus Christ. Just do it...