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As marriage continues to decline amid divorce, cohabitation and rampant “casual sex,” a Texas pastor is encouraging cohabiting singles to marry — and the church will pay for everything, from the rings to the wedding cake.

“We continue to see the issue of cohabitation in our church and in our community and we wanted to use God’s Word to give us a pathway,” Bryan Carter, senior pastor of Concord Church in Dallas, told The Christian Post.

“As a pastor, my heart is for marriage and family, and one of the biggest threats to the stability of those things is the issue of cohabitation. Our passion is to lift up and value and honor marriage. We want couples to understand the importance of a covenant relationship, which leads to strong marriages and families.”

Every three years, Concord Church agrees to pay for the weddings of cohabitating couples who wish to get married, covering the cost of mandatory premarital counseling, dresses, tuxedos and rings. For those unsure about marriage, Carter said the church would pay one month’s rent to help couples find suitable living arrangements.

Since the church first implemented the marriage program in 2009, nearly 60 couples have walked down the aisle. The response, Carter said, has been overwhelming.

“One man came to me and said, ‘Nobody in my family is married, so I didn’t really see marriage,’” the pastor recalled. “We gave him the support he needed to honor God in his relationship.”

Another couple married through Concord Church couldn’t afford a wedding after living together for 12 years. “For them, this opportunity meant a lot,” Carter said. “Half of the time, people want to honor God in their relationships but they don’t have the means.”

On Sunday, Carter preached on cohabitation and presented each cohabiting couple with three biblically-based suggestions: to start the process of getting married, to move to separate spaces but continue to date, or to break up.

“After I preached on Sunday, nearly 30 couples came up to me and said they wanted to start the process of walking down the aisle,” he said. “I reinforced the idea that following God isn’t just on Sunday; it’s also demonstrated in how we do marriage and family.”

Each wedding put on by Concord Church costs about $8,000, Carter said, adding that church members often donate decorations, flowers and food items in addition to financial gifts. Others, he said, offer to help mentor newlywed couples through the first years of their marriages.

“As a church, we want to help people find restoration and healing, and let the Gospel be lived out in how we approach it,” the pastor explained.

Carter cited statistics revealing that nearly 70 percent of married couples live together prior to getting married. However, only about half of cohabiting couples end up marrying.

“Cohabiting is a rising approach to how to do to marriage and family,” he said. “But statistics indicate it’s not serving us that well, as it creates a whole set of dynamics that can make it challenging for marriages and families long-term.”

The reasons couples cohabit are varied, but often stem from financial considerations and a desire to “test out” a relationship ahead of marriage, Carter contended. But the pastor pointed out that the Bible calls sexual intimacy without being married a sin and urges Christians to flee from it.

“I believe people are trying to figure out how to do marriage and so we’re trying all kinds of options, and they genuinely believe these reasons are good,” he said. “Casual sex is becoming so popular and available that living together now seems normal. But God says sex is reserved for a marriage relationship.”

“That’s a step of faith and requires a covenant and a commitment. If you try to ‘test out’ a relationship, you’re saying, ‘I can leave whenever I want to.’ It sabotages what you need for a long-term relationship.”

Carter’s passion for giving cohabitating couples a pathway to marriage stems from personal experience. He shared how as a young man, he lived with his fiance — and his brother gave him money to move out, encouraging him to honor God with his relationship.

“Part of my strategy has been a testament to my own life of being in this space and needing help to transition out,” he said. “It’s not enough for us to simply preach from the pulpit against cohabitation. People need pathways, help and resources.”

Concord Church’s model, the pastor emphasized, is highly reproducible. He encouraged other churches to consider implementing a similar program to help cohabitating couples have a God-glorifying marriage.

“Our ultimate hope is that other churches will do this, too,” he said. “It’s a great picture of the Gospel and the Gospel is redemptive. We believe that in days like these, it’s important for the Church to step up and redeem the covenant of marriage.”

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