A lot of Christians are talking about courtship instead of dating as a way to prepare for marriage. I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. Here’s how I define courtship and dating and the relationship between the two.

The Purpose of Dating

Dating is a process of getting to know members of the opposite gender to begin to discern whether it is appropriate to make an increasing emotional commitment to any of them. Dating is provisional. No commitment is implied, other than the basic commitment to treat a person with respect. It’s okay to date more than one person at a time. In fact, it is probably healthy to do so as long as emotional commitments are not made or implied. I remember in one dating relationship, I made it my purpose to win a certain woman’s heart. That was a mistake. I made an emotional commitment to her too quickly. My goal should have been to get to know her well enough first to discover whether or not she was a person whose heart I should seek to win.

[Related Resource: What to Look for in a Potential Mate]

The Reason for Courtship

Courtship, by contrast, is an exclusive relationship. If, while dating, you believe you may have found a person worthy of marrying, you stop dating other people. You communicate about your intentions. You focus on that one person to discern whether this is or is not someone to whom you can make a lifetime commitment.  When I was dating the woman I eventually married, I sat down with her and asked her if she would be willing to consider us as an exclusive couple. I then outlined what I thought it meant for us to court one another. She agreed and we began a more serious process of discovery.

The Goal of Engagement

Courtship is a time to evaluate your relationship to determine if you can each make a lifetime commitment to each other. Engagement is a time of preparation for the wedding, and more importantly, for the marriage. An engagement can be broken off, but you should have your questions largely answered before you become engaged. Courtship should not be rushed, but if a couple has done courtship right, engagement needs only be long enough to make all the plans for starting a new life together.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. As you look for a potential spouse, why is it important to have a clear process in mind?
  4. Why is it important to communicate clearly and openly at each stage of the process? What are some reasons couples don’t communicate?
  5. How do you know when it’s time to enter the courtship stage? What happens if a couple enters courtship too soon?
  6. Who should initiate courtship – the man or the woman – and why?
  7. How do you know when it’s time to become engaged? What happens if a couple enters engagement too soon?
  8. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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