Cohabitation and Church Membership

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I’m curious about how other pastors and churches are dealing with this issue.

Because of the way we “do” church, and the atmosphere of acceptance at our church, we normally have many guests in our chairs each Sunday. I have discovered that there are often times guests who are living together outside the bond of marriage. I am thankful that they are seeking the Lord. And I am thrilled that they feel welcome at our church.

But I am beginning to deal more and more with this issue of cohabitation with regard to membership in the church. As I counsel these couples who desire to unite with the church, I lovingly tell them that the issue of “living together” must be addressed first. My basic approach is this, “How can one commit to be a faithful, covenental person within the ‘Bride of Christ’ if he or she is unwilling to make a covenant relationship with his or her mate?”

I always offer patience, counseling, and love. I always offer to work with the couple to bring them into a biblical marriage relationship. And I always, always make sure they know they are welcome in our worship and the activities and life of the church. Invariably, these couples “agree” with me and acknowledge their need to be married in these private meetings. Often times they refer to themselves as “living in sin,” even though I never use the phrase. But then most never return to our church. I am sort of at my “wit’s end.”

Now, don’t get me wrong … I believe with all my heart that I am absolutely right in the stand that I take. I hold membership in very high regard. Membership in our church is sacrificial and covenantal. We have many more “attenders” than we have actual members.

But is there a better way to get this message across? Or are so many of these couples simply seeking a “Christian” endorsement of their behavior and relationship, then become offended when one is not offered?