'I want to find a partner'

Many single Christians hope to find love with someone who shares their faith. But it’s rare these days for people to meet their future husband or wife in church.

Other traditional ways of meeting partners, such as through work, college, family or neighbours have also declined sharply. In today's digital age, dating websites are booming and now nearly a third of new relationships start online.

Our research showed that church leaders are considered helpful if they support single adults in meeting others with a view to dating. While church leaders can’t be expected to act as matchmakers, there are practical steps they can take to help singles to widen their Christian social circle.  They include:

  • Joining up with other churches in the area for shared social events – for instance, a cheese and wine evening, barn dance or church picnic.
  • Encouraging members to set up local Christian social groups, such as a walking group or monthly pub meal, and supporting them by sharing information with other local church leaders.
  • Being positive and encouraging about singles exploring other means of meeting potential partners, such as Christian dating websites.

Single Christians say that their church leaders don't always understand online dating and are unable either to advise or encourage them. That's why we've written this guide for you. You can now with confidence discuss, advise, pray for and support those thinking about online dating.

Online dating - a church leader's guide

By Jackie Elton and Catherine Francis

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone... (Genesis 2 v 18)

The chances are, as a church leader, you’ve married couples who met online – even if you weren’t aware of it. However, most clergy have little personal experience of dating websites (although we do know some who’ve met their spouses online), so may struggle when a member of their congregation asks for advice. Is it acceptable for a Christian to search for a partner online? What’s the best way to go about it? Is it safe? These are all questions you may find yourself facing in a church in which singleness is on the rise.

Can online dating enable Christian marriage?

Much as we’d like to imagine people are able to meet their future spouses in church, for most people today, that just isn’t happening. Statistics are hard to come by in the UK, but in the US, the percentage of people who met their husband or wife in church has dropped from 15% in 1940 to less than 2% today.

In the UK, the church landscape is largely characterised by small churches that have little regular contact with other Christian communities, so people just aren’t getting the opportunities to meet potential partners. Added to that, many single Christians have given up on church altogether as they feel alienated from it.

A boom in internet dating

Interestingly, other traditional ways of meeting partners – work, college, family, school, neighbours – are also in deep decline. Meanwhile, online dating has boomed in the last 15 years, and now nearly a third of new relationships start online. Around 45% of single adults have tried dating sites, and it’s growing all the time. It’s not limited to younger people – those over the age of 55 are increasingly going online to meet people, while those aged 16-24 favour dating apps (on their phones). Online dating works – and it’s here to stay.

Christians finding love online?

So it’s no surprise that many Christians join dating websites in the hope of finding love. On Christian Connection alone, there are 31,000 active profiles at any one time, with 3,000 new members joining each month, and 11,000 log-ins a day. Many members have found love and are now married with children – and they believe God used the website to bring them together. You can read some of their stories here: https://www.christianconnection.com/reviews

There is, inevitably, some disagreement about whether online dating is ‘suitable’ for Christians – should people of faith actively search for love, or should they wait for God to send them a partner? However, most people view dating websites merely as a tool to widen their social circle and bring them into contact with those they wouldn’t normally cross paths with.

Keeping an open mind

When Christian Connection was launched over 15 years ago, letters were sent to thousands of vicars, pastors and ministers to alert them to this new service for believers. There were only two replies – and they weren’t positive! Most leaders at the time were male and married, and many would have met their wives at church or college. The gender imbalance being in their favour, they couldn’t see the need for Christian dating services.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have logged onto Christian Connection – yet even today, leaders aren’t always encouraging. Hurtful or shaming comments have discouraged many Christian singles from trying online dating. A fear of their church disapproving or not understanding will naturally put people off. Scare stories create a disproportionate fear of the dangers of internet dating and of meeting strange people. The suggestion that online dating is unbiblical, or may go against God’s purposes or interfere with His plan for their lives, has also discouraged many.

The value of encouragement

In contrast, other single Christians report how ministers who are more engaged in social media have encouraged them to give online dating a go. A sympathetic, encouraging and interested approach – while not dismissing concerns – can make all the difference to people taking a proactive and positive approach to meeting potential partners. Success stories also encourage people to be open to online dating as part of God’s purpose for their lives.

It’s not for everyone

However, church leaders should be aware that dating websites aren’t for everyone. Those in an emotionally vulnerable place aren’t best suited to internet dating, as it requires persistence, a positive attitude and often a thick skin (a measure of rejection is part and parcel of the process). People who’ve recently experienced a divorce or major break-up should take time to heal emotionally and come to terms with their new situation before rushing into the dating scene. Anyone who is emotionally or mentally vulnerable is more likely to be exploited or to exploit others (knowingly or unknowingly).

How to choose a website

There are literally hundreds of dating websites to choose from – but not all dating sites are equal. Mainstream (secular) websites may give members the option to identify their faith, and to search for others who label themselves Christian. However, the term is often used simply to identify nominal religion or national identity. People keen to meet others with a strong faith tend to find specifically Christian websites a better option.

However, not all ‘Christian’ dating websites are what they seem. A few are run by and for Christians, but many that look and sound Christian are in fact ‘white label’ sites. These are generic dating platforms that are adapted to target different interests (such as faith or hobbies), but cross-match people across sites. For instance, someone from a ‘Christian’ site may unknowingly be matched with someone from a lads’ mag website. In addition, these websites are unlikely to offer the same quality and safety as a dedicated Christian one.

Finding a genuine Christian sites

Genuine Christian websites like Christian Connection have a membership that’s generally serious about their faith, and are looking for marriage. Staff put a lot of effort into supporting members, vetting new joiners and ensuring high levels of safety. So advise your parishioner to research a site before joining. What is the parent company? Where is it based? Is it a member of the Online Dating Association? Reputation, reviews and personal recommendations are also helpful for identifying a well-run website with integrity.

What about free websites?

Many people are tempted by free dating websites. However, always be aware that if you’re not paying with money, you’re paying with something else, such as the harvesting of personal data and targeted advertising. Paid-for sites are usually better staffed and managed. Paying for a service also means members are serious enough about finding a partner to invest their hard-earned cash. It’s no guarantee, but it’s a good way to weed out time-wasters!

Understanding the dangers

The vast majority of people on Christian dating websites are genuine, and the risks of internet dating have been exaggerated. However, it’s important for people to be aware of the risks and to practise safety precautions.

The main danger is scammers, who form relationships with people online in order to part them from their money. While it may be hard to imagine anyone being duped into sending vast amounts of cash to someone they’ve never met, it does happen – especially when someone is emotionally vulnerable and desperate to find love.

Foiling the fraudsters

Tell-tale signs of fraudsters include: they claim to live or work abroad; their English is poor with strange turns of phrase; they ‘fall in love’ quickly and make promises of marriage; they try to quickly move the victim off the website and onto private messaging; and their pictures are ‘too good to be true’. Once a bond is established, they report a personal crisis or tragedy and ask for financial help. If suspicions are aroused, a potential victim should cut off contact immediately and alert the website. They should never, ever send money to someone they don’t know well – phone or online communication doesn’t count!

Staying safe

In terms of assaults, this is rare – but people should always be mindful of personal safety. Advise your church member to meet new people in a public place, let someone know where they’re going and when they’ll be back, and stay in contact during the date. If travelling to meet someone, they should arrange safe transport and accommodation in advance – no getting in a car or staying with someone they don’t know well. It’s also wise not to reveal personal information (such as address or workplace) until the person is known to be genuine.

For further help on choosing a website and dating safely, you can refer people to http://blog.christianconnection.com/willing-wary-and-wise/ andhttps://www.christianconnection.com/help/safety

Encourage, commiserate and celebrate

Online dating can be a fun and exciting journey, with inevitable twists and turns. If a member of your church wants to give it a go, it helps to have someone to share in their joys and successes, and encourage them if they become disheartened.

The key to success for most online daters is persistence, contacting and meeting up with lots of people, and not expecting to meet Mr or Ms Right on a first date. Encourage them to maintain an open mind and a light-hearted approach, and not invest too much in the process – instead viewing it as a fun way to get out and meet new people. One of those new people might just become someone special!

An answer to prayer

Many Christians find love and an answer to prayer through online dating. The church of tomorrow will be populated by families that started through online dating websites! So offer support to single church members interested in trying it, and you may soon be called upon to officiate at another happy Christian wedding.

Note:

This article is based on a presentation that Jackie Elton gave to the Engage-MCMP Symposium on 9th March 2016. You can find a video recording of her presentation on YouTube.

Related information

To learn more about successful online dating, read Online Dating: Top Tips For Success by David Pullinger (Deedot Press).