Can a 1 Corinthians 13 sort of love be found on a dating app? More and more Christians seem to think so. According to the Pew Research Center, three out of every 10 Americans have used a dating site or app, and the numbers for single Christians seem to be even higher. According to a survey of 500 Christian singles from around the nation in 2018, 80% of believers have tried online dating. In the same survey, it was found that 44% of Christians singles were actively using three-to-five dating apps and sites. Due to the rise in online interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that these numbers have increased.
What dating apps and sites are these people on? Are Christian dating apps different? Surely, the benefits and drawbacks of different dating sites varies based on the specific unique elements. Many of these programs are centered around the same general premise.
Most Christian apps, naturally, concentrate on helping users find and connect with fellow Christians. There is a dating app called Christian Dating for Free, which is exactly what it sounds like. Upward is a new program designed to prevent fake accounts, ill-intentioned accounts, harassment/hatred and, um, pictures Christians should try to avoid (if you catch my drift).
But more secular apps seem to rank higher than you might expect. Among Christians, the top five most enjoyed sites are, in order: eHarmony; Match.com; Christian Mingle; Coffee Meets Bagel; and Bumble.
Only one Christian-specific name makes the list. Likely, this is affected by stigmas surrounding Christian dating apps. An intern at Focus on the Family said, “I never even thought about [using a Christian dating app] as a possibility. I feel like there is a stigma that the people you meet are lame.”
The statistics tell the same story. So, if Christians are creating accounts on the same dating platforms as non-Christians, do they have a better chance at love? The answer is more complex than you’d think. Let’s unpack that.
There is a reason dating services are so popular. Many people have success making connections on them, and 12% of Americans have been either married to or in a committed relationship with someone they met through online dating. With users able to mark their religious affiliation and readiness for commitment, dating apps can help people quickly narrow down their search for a significant other. Dating apps help people broaden their options and can be one of the lowest pressure ways to meet like-minded people.
But is the virtual really any substitute for in-person interactions? Online dating raises concerns about honesty and safety. Users could easily lie about themselves and their intentions. There has been reports of security breaches that result in the leaking of personal information—information you have to provide when you join a service.
There are other considerations, too. Aside from often costing time and money, the process is often designed to be addicting to increase profits for the companies. And, of course, some of the pitfalls we see on social media can be magnified on dating apps. People will obviously present specific, positive images of themselves. It’s a natural thing to do for an online profile. But this could promote superficiality and ill-advised comparison games, especially for women between 18 and 34.
The sheer volume of potential relational candidates can pose its own problems. The nature of dating apps is to find a person who checks all our boxes, physically and otherwise. In our consumeristic culture, drawing a parallel between online shopping and online dating doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch. Scrolling through profiles could lead to objectification of other people, and others may feel a license to objectify you. An emphasis on a person’s appearance is common for people looking at dating apps, and profile pictures play a big role. Looking at pictures to find a relationship could lead to the dangers of lust and forgetting to prioritize intangible qualities.
The danger doesn’t stop there. Heartbreakingly, 35% of dating-app users were sent a sexually explicit message or image they didn’t ask for. The numbers are the highest for women between 18 and 34, 57% of whom had this experience. Services can also be venues for hatefulness. Research has found that 28% of people were called an offensive name, and that increases to 44% when you’re talking about women between the ages of 18 and 34. All this does not even address the possibility of experiencing sexual harassment during in-person interactions.
Scriptural Relationships in the Online Dating Age
The Bible clearly conveys that a person’s character matters infinitely more than appearance; “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV).” Can a person’s heart be conveyed through a screen?
Scripture also mentions that God’s timing is better than ours and that times of singleness can be beneficial to doing ministry. Paul goes so far in 1 Corinthians 7:8 to say, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” Spending time on dating apps may cause a believer to forget that all good relationships come from God and distract from what He might have for them in their time of singleness.
Yet, the Bible affirms making meaningful relationships in countless places. Forming Christian families is a powerful way to advance the kingdom of God. Can dating apps be done the right way? Perhaps. Proceeding with mindfulness and caution, it could be possible to use a dating app as a jumping off point to get to know a person in a real and profound way. But Christians should consider their true priorities when searching for a relationship and pay attention to maintaining those priorities when online. Many people may want to avoid dating apps to protect themselves from risk and unhealthy thought patterns.
Meeting people is hard. I understand the struggle of forming relationships with other Christians. Most secular environments don’t lend themselves toward biblical relationships, and Church should be a place to worship God rather than focus on meeting people. But spending time with fellow Church members outside of Church is both a great biblical practice and a potential alternative to dating apps. Maybe it is time for believers to break bread together at our homes and invest in deeper community, even before our own families are established.
Whether a person is utilizing a dating app or not, the key to pursuing a relationship is prayer. May the Lord protect those on and off dating services from painful relationships. The Lord will always be the relationship that truly satisfies and lasts.