by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When it comes to marriage and the family, Christians talk a good game. The problem, according to two authors, is that they do not back up that good talk with enough resources and action.
J.P. DeGance, a Catholic, and John Van Epp, a Protestant, have co-written a book that starkly lays out how the failure of churches to support marriage and families has led to institutional decline.
There is good news, however.
In their book “Endgame: The Church’s Strategic Move to Save Faith and Family in America,” DeGance and Van Epp provide a plan to turn things around.
DeGance, president and founder of the nonprofit Communio, will speak about the problems facing marriage and family — and solutions as well as a hope-filled vision for the future — from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Savior Pastoral Center, 12601 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, Kansas.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has invited all priests and deacons to this presentation and asked them to bring two married couples along to receive this vision and consider how they might assist their pastors in bringing DeGance and Van Epp’s game plan to their parish. (See below for information and registration.)
The book came about, in part because of DeGance’s work over the past few years in strengthening marriages, as well as personal experiences.
Those personal experiences included helping a relative with a failed marriage and watching four couples he knew from his parish, faithfully practicing Catholics, go through a divorce.
DeGance moved from public policy work in politics to the Philanthrophy Roundtable, an ecumenical group that develops strategies to strengthen marriage and families. The organization launched a church-based program in Duval County, Florida, that from 2015-18 lowered the divorce rate by 24%.
“It became the basis of the book and my organization Communio,” said DeGance. “Our vision is to equip every church to be a hub of relationship health for their community and their own people.”
In the Catholic context, the church is facing a two-prong crisis: a vocations crisis and a “backdoor” crisis. Fewer men are seeking the priesthood, and too many people are walking out the backdoor of the church — never to return.
Both these crises, DeGance believes, come completely from the collapse of marriage and the family. Fewer couples are getting married, and many couples are getting divorced.
The church has a lot of beautiful teachings and theology about marriage, he said, but they haven’t been implemented in the parishes in practical ways.
“There’s a paradox that is active in the minds of our pastors,” said DeGance. “If you asked every pastor about the importance of marriage, almost all of them would say it’s the most important thing — the building block of the church and the world.
“But if you go into how that plays out and informs their pastoral decisions, you’ll see that 82 percent of parishes spend no money on marriage ministry. In our survey of priests through the Barna Group, I believe 87 percent of Catholic pastors said they do counseling for couples in crisis, but 63 percent feel either unqualified or underqualified to do it.”
The church has plenty of great programs, but only the highly motivated are using them. Clearly, something else is needed, and the key to that something else is this: relationship.
DeGance is proposing that pastors and parishes offer marriage and family support through the entire life cycle of a relationship. Fidelity in a relationship requires investing in that relationship at all stages, along with one’s relationship with the Lord.
“We want to equip the church to create a ‘ministry engagement ladder’ — a process of invitation and encounter around a fun event,” said DeGance. “And then, we’re investing them in ongoing engagement.”
DeGance hopes his presentation will be attended by pastors who have zeal for the Gospel and enthusiasm for saving marriage and families.
For information and to register for DeGance’s presentation, contact Deacon Tony Zimmerman in the archdiocesan office of marriage and family life at (913) 647-0329 or by email at: email@example.com, or Brad DuPont at (913) 647-0301 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.