The Grinding Gears of Christian Dating Advice

You’ve seen the endless myriad of lists and columns shared on Facebook with “advice” for “20-Somethings,” and, especially from Christian blogs, it’s nearly all about dating.
As a Christian 20-Something, I think I can speak for a lot of us when I say that… we’re a little frustrated by it.

If you’re not a Christian (or just not interested in dating), then you probably won’t care about this. But if you want to learn about a subject which will get your Christian friends squawking like irritated hens… read on. thing there’s almost always a “Love Hands” picture involved. Kind of like a trigger warning.

This isn’t about Joshua Harris-style courtship (and the weird Duggar resurgence) or about the new wave of “anything-goes” love, as championed by people like Rob Bell.
This was spurred by an article in Relevant Magazine where a woman named Erica wrote to columnist Eddie Kaufholz wanting to know why single men in churches today seem to be afraid of dating single women in churches; wanting to know “where all the brave men” are. From what I’ve seen, the irritation Erica expresses is not only common, it’s perfectly valid.

Where HAVE all the good men gone? Or women, for that matter?

In “Why Don’t Guys in My Church Ask Women on Dates,” Kaufholz agrees that it’s a shame, and one probably to lay at the feet of the late 90’s, early 2000’s courtship movement. With the huge emphasis on marriage, an unnecessary amount of stress is loaded onto starting relationships, making it extremely difficult to just get to know someone without implying lasting commitment. He says a lot of men are afraid of dating at a church, because they just aren’t ready to shoulder the massive amount of commitment that comes bundled with a casual date.

And you know what? He’s right. Asking someone to lunch should not be the same as asking for their hand in marriage.“So I’m thinking “Charlize” as the name of our first child.”

But the problem is, he pretty much goes right to the “Christians need to be more bold and casual in their dating life” trope, and leaves it at that.
This is where things get supremely frustrating for us “Twenty-Somethings.”

When post-high school and post-college Christian singles express frustration with singleness and are given dating advice, they’re almost always told to either be more serious about their intent… or more casual.
Serious or casual?
Serious or casual?
The Christian blogger community honestly cannot seem to decide what the proper serious/casual ratio should be in a Christian relationship, but they are all very convinced that it should definitely be more heavily geared towards one over the other.

This leaves us “middle-ground” people stuck between a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, to the people who wear “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” like a suit of paginated armor, looking for someone to hang out with but still have the spark of romantic interest means we’re being selfish, shallow, and worldly. On the other hand, the equally fanatical, over-corrected, counter-courtship movement will quickly shout down anyone who says they’re dating with the intent to marry as being too preoccupied with relationships.
Some shun the dating scene altogether, because if you’re actively looking for a relationship, then you’re just being “thirsty.” You’re not defined by your relationships, dangit, and giving in to the dating/marriage scene just means you weren’t strong enough to define yourself!

This weird dichotomy is especially prevalent on Christian college campuses. I know. I went to a school like this.
The only thing more annoying than the constant, quiet, relentless pressure to be engaged before you graduated, was the constant, grating, and highly vocal opposition to it.
If you’re too casual, then you’re a flirt, and if you’re too serious, then you’re clingy. There really isn’t a winning combo in the church dating scene.

Basically, a lot of us “twenty-somethings” feel like we’re caught in the middle of a war, and we really don’t like either side. The idea of dating within the church is equated to walking a minefield of what is and isn’t an appropriate level of interest, and the constant, conflicting stream of Christian advice bloggers aren’t helping:

“Ok, not too serious…. not too serious… alright, come on guys, gotta be a little more serious than that, kick it up a notch and- GAH! What are you doing!? YOU’RE TOO COMMITTED! Reverse! Reverse! Back to casual!” don’t understand… how am I supposed to be in 1st and 5th gear at the same time? What even is this?

 We’re getting mental whiplash from all the sudden starts, stops, and changes of direction regarding “Christian” dating, and we’re busting up our romantic transmissions trying to keep up with all the “advice.” We WANT to learn manual, we really do, but the frantic, scattered, and conflicting directions we’re being given aren’t helping.

However, I think the constant argument over HOW to drive the car has missed a much bigger problem for “twenty-somethings” dating in the church: Mainly, that we don’t have a road to drive ON.

The Real Problem

The Kaufholz article is right. The dating culture in modern churches is deplorable. But not necessarily for the reasons given. If you spend more than five minutes in either the comments section of either the article itself, or on Relevant’s Facebook’s page, one of the most common complaints boils down to:

“WHAT single men? WHAT single women? Even if I WANTED to ask someone out, there’s no one there!”

thPictured: The Millennial Dating Pool in the Modern Church.

Writers and bloggers have spent so much of the last two decades fighting over HOW Christian young adults should be co-mingling, that they’ve missed the fact that those young adults have stopped going to church. They’re conspicuously absent from the pews, but no one seems to have noticed.

We’re always told that we need to be more serious or more casual, but when we point out that there’s really not many people to try being serious or casual WITH, we’re told that our standards are too unreasonable.

Except that… they’re not. There really IS an absence of young adults in the modern church.
In fact… they’re leaving in droves.“Sorry, Church. It’s just not working. It’s not you. It’s me.”

Research indicates that TWO-THIRDS of young adults who attended church regularly in high-school, stop going in their early twenties, and by their early thirties, only one third has come back.
“Young Adult” ministry isn’t really a thing right now, and that’s a big problem. I go to one of the only churches in my entire COUNTY that has one, and we’re still very small, mostly because a lot of young adults have already given up on the church.

To make things worse, “dating culture” in general is in wide decline, even by secular standards. It’s not just alarmist articles declaring that people are rage-quitting because of a poor risk/reward ratio, but serious concerns as to how impersonal, digital communication and the pervasive “hook-up culture” are slowly killing the standards for meaningful relationships.

Pop culture has hammered home the idea that casual sex is a healthy part of human activity with such wild abandon that society is slowly forgetting that committed, intimate, interpersonal relationships are a healthy part of human activity too.

If dating culture is suffering in the regular world, you can bet your sweet bippy that Christian dating is too. And us “twenty-somethings” are tired of advice that’s not helping to fix the problem.

Young men and women aren’t dating in the Church because there’s not many of us there to begin with.

The modern church makes it very hard to even meet people our age, let alone date them. We come back from college to find a vacuum. In a church world where most  ministry jumps straight from a High School Youth Group to small groups dominated by married couples… young, single Christians are honestly feeling pretty left out.

Everyone either seems like a little kid, or basically our parents’ age, and we can’t relate to either group. So a lot of our peers just… leave.

Kaufholz is actually advocating one of the best mediums between “committed” and “casual,” telling Christians they need to be honest and casual, but not afraid of committment. I just don’t think that’s addressing the real problem right now.

Why aren’t “Twenty-Somethings” in the Church aren’t asking each other out on dates anymore? Lots of reasons; some Kaufholz even touched on:
Because we’re afraid of not measuring up to that person we’ve been crushing on; not just physically, but spiritually.
Because we don’t want the awkwardness of a break-up… while still going back to the same Church.
Because half of us honestly don’t know HOW anymore.

But most of all, we’re not dating because the dating field at our churches is usually SO narrow that it consists of only a few people.
People just feel more comfortable casually dating when there’s a larger group to interact with. If there’s only a handful of people in that group, you can preach “casual dating” until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t dissipate the stress single Christians feel. Tiny groups mean a big fear of “make or break,” and so men and women just… avoid dating.

The church needs to forget the courtship v. casual debate and fix the bigger problem first. They need to focus less on micro-managing the interactions between young adults, and more on providing them with a chance to interact to begin with.

And you know what, “Twenty-Somethings?” If they do, we need to respond.  It rests with us as much as it does the Church. We complained churches were boring and their doctrine constraining, so they built bigger churches with rock-concert stages, cafes, and sermons full of nothing but good vibes… and young adults STILL left.“Come on! The church is  a freaking stadium and Joel preaches nothing but personal gain and happiness. What more do you people want???”

In the digital age, where you can order your “perfect” date from OkCupid right after you’ve built the perfect pizza on the Domino’s website, we’ve gotten really impatient and really hard to please. And that is OUR fault.

But that doesn’t mean we should be ignored.

Instead of lobbing re-used dating advice at us, help us solve the bigger problem.

It isn’t about being too judgmental of dating, or how serious/casual we need to be. The real problem is that there aren’t many young adults in the Church right now, period.
Both sides have a vested interested in fixing this problem, and we need to start working together.

The Church at large needs step up to fill that ministry gap between high-school and small groups for middle-aged married couples.
Twenty-Somethings? We actually need to respond if/when they do this. We’re quick to gripe about a lack of opportunity, but when it’s presented to us, we’re too lazy to do anything.

In short, young, single Christians are tired of being the rope in the weird tug-o-war between the “Courtship” and “Casual” camps, and we’re starting to miss our friends.

The ministry for young, single Christians is extremely important and widely neglected. You need to have bricks before you can build a house, and you need to have Christian “Twenty-Somethings” actually in church before you can give them advice on how to “church-date.”

You know what? Eddie Kaufholz is completely right. Young, single Christians DO need to be more bold, more casual, and less afraid of dating. But that openness isn’t going to fix the dating scene by itself.

It’s time for both parties to stop dancing around meet each other half way. We need to get Young Adults involved in Church again.

Or maybe we should just forget the whole thing, throw up our hands, and surrender to our new ChristianMingle overlords. Because if this trend continues, that’s probably where we’re headed.

And nobody wants that.

Louis Petolicchio lives and writes in Central Pennsylvania. He absolutely despises the term “Twenty-somethings,” and doesn’t drink coffee, making all the coffee-date examples in Kaufholz’s article super hard to relate to. Follow him on Twitter!


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