Earlier this month, September, 24 couples held hands and committed to a lifetime of marriage in the fourth annual “Grand Wedding” at Dallas-based Concord Church, USA, as reported by Christianity Today.
The wedding is an all-expense paid event made possible by generous vendors—including artists, hairstylists, and musicians—from the congregation and concludes Pastor Bryan Carter’s 90 Day “Cohabitation Challenge.”
The challenge started four years ago by Carter, encourages couples to either move out or get married. The congregation offers to pay rent for anyone who decides to move out and couples who choose marriage enter 90 days of premarital counseling and relationship classes, as well as mentorship with a married couple for the first year of marriage.
“It helps us to model the gospel, because the gospel is redemptive,” Carter said to Christianity Today. “It’s not just about us calling out a struggle that people may have, but let’s talk about how I can move from where I was to the place where God is honored.”
The challenge began while Carter was teaching a series on singleness.
“I didn’t want to preach about [cohabitation] without giving people a pathway forward. And so we just began tossing around ideas, and somehow we landed with: What would happen if we married them?” he said.
The congregation wanted to tackle cohabitation because of the negative effects it can have on families.
“Marriage works because there’s a commitment. For some people cohabitating, she may have an expectation, and he may have a different set of expectations,” Carter shared. “Domestic abuse is higher in cohabitation relationships. Children do more poorly academically and emotionally in cohabitation relationships.”
Temptation for premarital sex is also higher in cohabitating couples.
But Carter sees the Grand Wedding as an opportunity to speak grace and truth, especially with his background. He lived with his girlfriend, now wife, and understands why couples often seek this option.
“We moved in together before we were married primarily because of financial reasons, and I had some problems at home so I needed a place to stay,” he said. “It probably gives us some sensitivity and some grace to them, that we understand. When we tell them if you want to move out, we’ll pay your rent, I get to say, ‘I’m paying your rent because that’s what my brother did for me!’”
The challenge has seen great success over the years, having married over 80 couples and seeing seven professions of faith in the last challenge. But even those who don’t enter the challenge have been inspired.
“There’s a lot of people that weren’t in the program, they just heard about it and did it on their own. I met a guy in the airport one time, and he said, ‘Hey, I proposed. I’m engaged! I gave her a ring!’ and I was so proud of him!”