By Carrie Joynton
Associated Baptist Press
Newlywed Brooks Monroe insists counting down the days to his wedding by participating in one Texas church’s program was time well-spent.
Monroe and his then-fiancée Lauren had been dating six years when they enrolled in the Countdown to Marriage program at First Baptist Church of Lewisville, Texas.
“We’d both just started jobs, and I was kind of skeptical at first, but I’m so glad we went ahead and did it,” Monroe said.
“It was an awesome chance to invest in ourselves, and in our future, and in the future of our marriage. The topics were so applicable.”
Countdown to Marriage is a group premarital counseling program designed by Byron and Carla Weathersbee of Legacy Family Ministries in Waco, Texas. It prepares engaged couples for marriage through seven weeks of topical discussion of common marital issues.
The Weathersbees, both Baylor University alumni and members of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, founded Legacy Family Ministries in 1995 after working in family ministry for 13 years.
Countdown to Marriage is an integral part of Legacy Family’s larger vision to strengthen families as the source of Christian development and ministry.
“What we’re trying to do is use the family institution as not only the greatest evangelism tool, but also the greatest discipleship tool,” Byron Weathersbee explained.
The program for engaged couples grew naturally out of ministering to families as a whole, Weathersbee said.
“We had folks who just needed premarital counseling, so we launched a class of five couples,” Weathersbee said. “We tried to find curriculum that would meet our needs and was interactive, that really got couples working through issues and talking.”
Over seven weeks, couples analyze each phrase of a traditional marriage vow to address relevant contemporary issues. For example, the phrase “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer” brings up “money matters” -- the topic of week three in Countdown to Marriage.
Countdown to Marriage also includes the topics, “God’s purpose for marriage,” “roles and responsibilities,” “in-laws,” and “communication and conflict resolution.”
The program concludes with a weekend retreat.
During each seven-week session, all couples meet as a group once a week for instruction and feedback about the designated subject. Limited participation keeps groups small and conversational.
Monroe said he enjoyed the group interaction.
“We could all learn from each other’s struggles,” he said. “I think if it were smaller, we would have missed out on a lot -- but it wasn’t so big that you didn’t have a chance to contribute to the group.”
In addition to group meetings, couples are assigned weekly tasks -- some individual and some joint assignments. Activities like Bible study, focused conversation, romantic dates or prayer help couples process and apply lessons learned. Spending structured time working through weekly topics helps many couples prioritize their relationship in the midst of pre-wedding busyness.
“The time we spent preparing for the lessons, and the time we spent sitting down with the group, was the most valued and cherished part of the week,” Monroe recalled.
Associate Pastor Brian Dodridge at First Baptist Church in Lewisville, who helps lead Countdown sessions at his church, said he wished he had had the program when he was preparing for marriage.
“They’re all the conversations married couples ought to have, and often have 10 to 15 years into the marriage, but we’re introducing them on the front end,” Dodridge explained.
Though the program is scripturally founded and teaches a Christian worldview, non-Christians also enroll. Dodridge once had the privilege of giving one participant a Bible. Many couples pray or read Scripture together for the first time while in Countdown to Marriage.
Since the program provides thorough preparation for marriage, some non-Christians attend out of sheer practicality.
“The majority of folks look to get married in either a church or synagogue, and they look to the church for guidance and direction,” Weathersbee said.
“We’ve made it fun, we’ve made it interactive – it’s appealing to young couples who’re really desiring to know what they’re getting themselves into!”
The program at First Baptist Church in Lewisville also draws attendance from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “The best thing is that a lot of the couples are not a part of our church,” Dodridge said.
Countdown to Marriage has now spread beyond the program’s base in Waco to several cities and churches in Texas and Oklahoma. A condensed version of the seven-week curriculum also is available as a weekend retreat to facilitate those who live far from a program site.
The Weathersbees hope to spread the program throughout Texas because of its effectiveness in preparing lasting marriages and possibilities for evangelism.
“We’ve taken about 900 couples through this course and the weekender course, in and around Waco. We do a pretty good job of tracking those couples, and our last count we’ve had less than four percent who’d gotten a divorce,” Weathersbee said.