In the April issue of Christianity Today, Grove City College Sociology Professor Dr. David C. Ayers surveys evangelical opinion about – and the practice of – a scripturally suspect lifestyle choice that’s become commonplace.
In his article “First comes love, then comes the house keys,” Ayers uses data and research to establish that cohabitating is the new norm for many evangelicals as more and more couples are living together, either in anticipation of marriage or with no intention of ever tying the knot.
"This may seem odd to those who recognize that Scripture forbids all sexual activity outside marriage," Ayers said. But, after reviewing large national surveys for years and interviewing a spectrum of pastors in 2019, he came to an unmistakable conclusion: “Evangelicals, especially those under 40, increasingly see cohabitation as morally acceptable. Most young evangelicals have engaged in it or expect to."
"Simply put,” Ayers writes, “living together is far more common and accepted than Christians realize. American pastors are grappling with how to navigate wedding policies and premarital counseling among cohabiting congregants. But one thing is certain: If the church is to preserve and protect marriage, something about its approach has to change.”
Ayers said his research provides some “reason for hope” amid the data. “The cohabiting habit is less acute among those who are theologically conservative and attend church weekly. Even with shifting cultural attitudes, the studies show that evangelicals who attend church regularly or who regard their faith as very important to their daily lives are much less likely to plan on cohabiting or to actually do so. Church attendance and personal faith commitment make a huge difference.”
The article is an outgrowth of Ayers’ research and writing on Christian marriage, the family and human sexuality. It has produced a landmark study of marriage, journal articles, a video series and the soon-to-be released “Beyond the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical,” a book that expands on a 2019 research brief that drew attention to data detailing the pre-marital sexual behavior of young, self-professed evangelicals. It will be available later this year from Lexham Press. He is under contract with Christian Focus Publications to begin writing a book for teens on dating, cohabitation and properly preparing for marriage.
“This research is motivated by the desire to see Christ’s church honor and glorify Him with the way they live, distinct from the declining culture around us, in the areas of sex, marriage and family life,” Ayers said.