Why Our Church Should Minister to Children of Divorce – Part 1

Wayne Stocks —  In Call to Action, Starting A Ministry May 30, 2012

In this series, we present a hypothetical speech to a pastor or congregation about the need to start a divorce ministry for kids program at your church.  In this church, we are pitching the Divorce Care 4 Kids [DC4K] ministry as it is a ministry whose purpose and values coincide almost precisely with those of Divorce Ministry 4 Kids.  Please enjoy the entire series by checking out all four installments:

  • Part 1 – Some of the shocking statistics about children of divorce and some of the impacts that divorce has on kids.
  • Part 2 – Is there a need for the church to get involved and, more importantly, does the Bible supports getting involved?
  • Part 3 – Localized statistics demonstrating the need for a program in my particular area and what the church can do.
  • Part 4 – What the Church as a whole can do and how members of the congregation can help individually.

Click on the pdf link to the right for a complete pdf copy of the entire speech.

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At Divorce Ministry 4 Kids, one of our basic beliefs is that the church should be a place of support and healing for children of divorce. As I was driving home last week praying and pondering the idea of starting a support group for children of divorce at my local church (I currently volunteer in a program sponsored by another church), I started to think about what I might say to the members of our church in an effort to get them behind a new ministry, and possibly even volunteer for a ministry, aimed at helping children of divorce to heal. The program we are thinking of starting is Divorce Care 4 Kids (DC4K), but I believe the principles presented below can apply to any church pondering any sort of divorce support group for kids.

I have localized some of the statistics and information presented below for my church in Gahanna, Ohio, but I have tried to include references to the appropriate sources so that you can customize the information if necessary for your church and geographic area. I have also included extensive footnotes regarding the statistics presented in this report as I find there is a significant amount of misinformation when it comes to this issue. Here is the text of the speech that came to my mind.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you today about an issue which has been heavy on my heart for the last couple of years and should be of urgent importance to us as the people of God and His ambassadors to this community and the world around us. It is an issue which has, in many respects, gone largely unnoticed and untended to by so many churches. The issue is one of ministering to children of divorce.

What Is the Issue With Children of Divorce?

Recent government statistics tell us that roughly 60% of children live with their married biological (or adoptive) parents. That means that 2 in every 5 children live in a family comprised of something other than married biological parents. Of this 40% (nearly 30 million children), 14% live in stepfamilies and 67% live with a single or cohabiting parent[i].

Each year in this country, more than one million couples divorce[ii]. The church is not immune to this divorce wave. Recent studies indicate that the divorce rate among born again Christians is almost identical to that of non-Christians[iii].

Many times, children become the unwitting victims of these divorces. Since 1972, nearly 1,000,000 children each year have suffered through the divorce of their parents[iv]. Statistics tell us that nearly half of children who live through the divorce of their biological parents will also suffer through the dissolution of a parent’s second marriage[v], and ten percent will live through three or more divorces involving their parents[vi]. In fact, divorce has become so commonplace in our society that statistics show that the presence of children in a marriage no longer inhibits parents from getting a divorce[vii]. These divorces leave kids with emotionally detached parents at best and oftentimes with no contact at all with at least one parent. Ten to twenty-five percent of children of divorce have no contact with their non-custodial parent within 2-3 years of the divorce[viii].

How Does Divorce Impact Children?

The impacts of divorce on children are significant and long lasting. Children of divorce routinely experience:

  • Anger
  • Fear and Anxiety
  • Chaos
  • Confusion
  • Denial
  • Depression
  • Embarrassment
  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Hostility
  • Insecurity
  • Loneliness
  • Powerlessness
  • Rejection
  • Sadness
  • Stress
  • A sense of being split between two worlds
  • Loss of childhood
  • Loss of friends
  • Loss of parents

The impacts are more than just emotional though. Studies show that children of divorce are:

  • Less likely to attend church[ix].
  • Viewed by their peers as less pleasant to be around[x].
  • More likely to struggle at school[xi].
  • More likely to be aggressive[xii].
  • More likely to find themselves in a state of poverty following the divorce[xiii].
  • More likely to drop out of high school[xiv].
  • More likely to have children out of wedlock[xv].
  • More likely to engage in criminal behavior[xvi].
  • Less likely to match their parents educational and economic achievements[xvii].
  • More likely to need professional psychological help in any given year[xviii].
  • More likely to exhibit health problems and suffer injuries, asthma, headaches, and speech defects[xix].
  • Likely to reject the faith of their parents[xx].
  • More likely to engage in alcohol and drug abuse[xxi].
  • At an increased risk of committing suicide[xxii].

Studies have shown that there is a “sleeper effect” in many children of divorce. In those children who appear to adjust well at the time of the divorce, many will suffer impacts of the divorce 5, 10 or 15 years following the divorce. There are several documented long lasting impacts of divorce on children including:

  • Adult children of divorce are more likely to be lonely, unhappy, anxious and insecure[xxiii].
  • Adult children of divorce are less likely to get married when they become adults (only 60% get married)[xxiv].
  • Adult children of divorce are more likely to get divorced if they do get married[xxv].
  • Adult children of divorce are less likely to have children than adults from intact families[xxvi].
  • Numerous studies have documented lasting effects of divorce up to ten or more years following the divorce of parents[xxvii].
  • Children of Divorce are more likely to develop worse relationship with parents and seek out psychological help later in life[xxviii].
  • Some studies show that, on average, children of divorce live shorter life spans than children from intact families[xxix].

[i] FAM1.B Family structure and children’s living arrangements: Detailed living arrangements of children by gender, race and Hispanic origin, age, parent’s education, and poverty status, 2010, from U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement. http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/fam1b.asp

[ii] Based on ration of marriage rates to divorce rates and actual number of marriage from The Statistical Abstract of the United States.

[iii] Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians, Barna Research, September 8, 2004 (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/194-born-again-christians-just-as-likely-to-divorce-as-are-non-christians)

[iv] The Statistical Abstract of the United States shows that over 1,000,000 children were involved in divorce from 1974 through 1990. Those numbers were no longer reported subsequent to 1990. Calculated estimates based on information from the Statistical abstract of the United States regarding divorce rates and divorces and the Current Population Survey regarding number of children under 18 per family show that the number of children involved in divorce each year is likely around the same as it was pre 1990.

[v] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing The Abolition of Marriage, Gallagher

[vi] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing Wade, Horn and Busy, “Fathers, Marriage and Welfare Reform” Hudson Institute Executive Briefing, 1997

[vii] The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America in 2010 – When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America, W. Bradford Wilcox, editor, Institute for American Values, University of Virginia: The National Marriage project, December 2010 (http://www.stateofourunions.org)

[viii] Children’s Adjustment Following Divorce: Risk and Resilience Perspectives, J.B. Kelley & R.E. Emery, 2003

[ix] The Effects of Divorce on America by Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. and Robert Rector (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2000/06/the-effects-of-divorce-on-america)

[x] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage –Harvard University Press 1981

[xi] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage –Harvard University Press 1981 and The Effects of Divorce on America by Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. and Robert Rector (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2000/06/the-effects-of-divorce-on-america)

[xii] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce, and Children’s Adjustment (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1988), 94. For Emery’s summary of the literature comparing divorce and death, see pages 57 and 67 (cite information from http://www.divorcereform.org/psy.html)

[xiii] The Effects of Divorce on America by Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. and Robert Rector (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2000/06/the-effects-of-divorce-on-america)

[xiv] Children of Divorce: The Shocking Statistics by Elijah James (http://www.articlesbase.com/divorce-articles/children-of-divorce-the-shocking-statistics-833765.html) citing “Marriage: The Safest Place for Women and Children”, by Patrick F. Fagan and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D. Backgrounder #1535

[xv] Lawton, L. E., & Bures, R. (2001). Parental Divorce and the “Switching” of Religious Identity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40, 99-111. Synopsis by Scott Stanley, on the Smart Marriages Archive 2/25/02, modified. As cited on http://www.divorcereform.org/health.html#anchor1407382.

[xvi] Children of Divorce: The Shocking Statistics by Elijah James (http://www.articlesbase.com/divorce-articles/children-of-divorce-the-shocking-statistics-833765.html) citing “Marriage: The Safest Place for Women and Children”, by Patrick F. Fagan and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D. Backgrounder #1535

[xvii] Painful Legacy of Divorce Breakup’s Effect On Children Often Reaches Far into Adulthood by HealthyPlace.com Staff Writer, December 22, 2008 (http://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/main/painful-legacy-of-divorce-breakups-effect-on-children-often-reaches-far-into-adulthood/menu-id-63/) citing “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” by Marin County psychologist Judith Wallerstein, San Francisco State University psychology professor Julia M. Lewis and New York Times science correspondent Sandra Blakeslee

[xviii] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing Peter Hill “Recent Advances in Selected Aspects of Adolescent Development” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1993

[xix] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing Dawson, “Family Structure and Children’s Health and Well Being” National Health Interview Survey on Child Health, Journal of Marriage and the Family and citing Angel, Worobey, “Single Motherhood and Children’s Health”

[xx] Bind Up the Broken Hearted and Set the Captives Free, Linda Ranson Jacobs (http://www.hlp4.com/?q=node/69)

[xxi] Painful Legacy of Divorce Breakup’s Effect On Children Often Reaches Far into Adulthood by HealthyPlace.com Staff Writer, December 22, 2008 (http://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/main/painful-legacy-of-divorce-breakups-effect-on-children-often-reaches-far-into-adulthood/menu-id-63/) citing “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” by Marin County psychologist Judith Wallerstein, San Francisco State University psychology professor Julia M. Lewis and New York Times science correspondent Sandra Blakeslee

[xxii] Children of Divorce: The Shocking Statistics by Elijah James (http://www.articlesbase.com/divorce-articles/children-of-divorce-the-shocking-statistics-833765.html) citing “Marriage: The Safest Place for Women and Children”, by Patrick F. Fagan and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D. Backgrounder #1535 and Nelson, Farberow and Litman, Youth Suicide in California: A Comparative Study of Perceived Causes and Interventions, 24 COMM. MENTAL HEALTH J. 31-42 (1988); and John S. Wardarski and Pamela Harris, “Adolescent Suicide: A Review of the Influences and Means for Prevention. 32(6) Social Work 477-484 (1977). Cited in “No-Fault Divorce: Proposed Solutions to a National Tragedy,” 1993 Journal of Legal Studies 2, page 18 as cited on http://www.divorcereform.org/psy.html.

[xxiii] 18 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce by Larry Bilotta (http://www.marriage-success-secrets.com/statistics-about-children-and-divorce.html) citing Wallerstein “The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 1991.

[xxiv] Relationship Reasons for Divorce (http://www.psychpage.com/family/mod_couples_thx/divorce.html)

[xxv] Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum. citing N.D. Glenn and K.B. Kramer, “The marriages and divorces of the children of divorce,” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, pp. 811-825. Cited in Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., “The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children: A Review,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, May 1991, p. 357. As cited on http://www.divorcereform.org/teenmoms.html. and Gallagher, M. (2002) Third Thoughts on Divorce. National Review v54 i5 p50. Retrieved June 9, 2004 from Expanded Academic ASAP as cited on http://www.divorcereform.org/psy.html.

[xxvi] Painful Legacy of Divorce Breakup’s Effect On Children Often Reaches Far into Adulthood by HealthyPlace.com Staff Writer, December 22, 2008 (http://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/main/painful-legacy-of-divorce-breakups-effect-on-children-often-reaches-far-into-adulthood/menu-id-63/) citing “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” by Marin County psychologist Judith Wallerstein, San Francisco State University psychology professor Julia M. Lewis and New York Times science correspondent Sandra Blakeslee

[xxvii] An Exploration of the Ramifications of Divorce on Children and Adolescents by Sara Eleoff, The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, November 2003 (http://www.childadvocate.net/divorce_effects_on_children.htm) citing Wallerstein, JS. Corbin SB. The Child and the Vicissitudes of Divorce and The Effects of Divorce on Children by Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, April 10, 2009

[xxviii] Brian Willats, Breaking Up is Easy To Do, available from Michigan Family Forum. citing Nicholas Zill, Donna Morrison, and Mary Jo Coiro, “Long-term Effects of Parental Divorce on Parent-Child Relationships, Adjustment, and Achievement in Young Adulthood,” Journal of Family Psychology, 7:1, p. 96. Cited in Glenn T. Stanton, M.A., The Social Significance of the Traditional Two-Parent Family: The Impact of Its Breakdown on the Lives of Children, Adults, and Societies (Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family, 1995), p. 9. As cited on http://www.divorcereform.org/psy.html.

[xxix] Children After Divorce (http://www.childrenafterdivorce.com/)

Spot on Wayne. I pray many people pay attention to this series. How about getting it on CMconnect where the children’s leaders are?

Blessings