By Jason Lee, Crosswalk.com
My wife and I, both devout believers, met on a secular dating app. And while the end result of that experience was more blessing than I could have ever asked for, we did spend the entire first date sharing how terrible our online dating experiences had been. This was no surprise to me. Having worked in the online dating industry for years, I was privy to an insider experience of what things were like for Chrisitan singles—and it was not good.
Fast forward a few years to one Sunday at church that would change our lives forever. Our pastor was speaking about the breakdown of the family unit across the country and the negative effects it was having on the Christian community. God put it on my heart that we needed to do something to provide a safe and effective way for Christians to better connect romantically. I felt that taking what I knew about online dating and creating something Christ-centered could bring about real change with the potential for a generational impact. I shared this with my wife, we prayed about it for a while, and eventually put our “yes” on the table.
But here’s the bigger realization I had during the process: most Christians and church leaders are unaware of the hidden dangers within the online dating industry. And while this knowledge gap is understandable, it’s dangerous for our singles and our churches.
With 96% of pastors being married and that trend continuing throughout much of church leadership, it makes sense that knowledge and experience in these new forms of digital dating may be scarce. But with millions of Christian singles in the U.S. expected to use an online dating app this year, church leaders cannot simply choose to ignore the needs of the singles in their congregation.
Here are four important issues Christian singles, pastors, and ministry leaders need to know about online dating apps:
1. Not all “Christian” dating apps are Christian.
One of the most prevalent and detrimental assumptions is that all Christian dating apps are actually Christian. Just because an online dating app has Christian in the title or Christ in the branding does not mean that it’s run by Christian leaders or that it cares about Biblical values. In fact, the majority of the largest and most popular Christian dating apps in the U.S. are run by secular companies.
For example, Upward is the largest Christian dating app on the market right now and is an option many pastors currently regularly recommend to their singles. However, unbeknownst to them, Upward is actually owned by Match Group, an $11 billion company that owns secular dating apps like Match.com, Hinge, and “casual hookup-style” dating app Tinder.
Unfortunately, the experience for Christian singles on Upward is much of what you would expect from a secular company. The app is riddled with inappropriate content, utilizes the same matchmaking process as Tinder, and is filled with secular features that would make a pastor blush.
Additionally, apps like Christian Mingle and eharmony are often thought of as being Christian-owned companies. In reality, though, Christian Mingle is owned by a massive publicly traded company out of Germany called Spark Networks that owns many casual secular apps, and eharmony clearly shares they are not a Christian dating app and are more focused on inclusivity.
2. Secular companies have different opinions on what is inappropriate.
With the majority of “Christian” dating apps being run by secular companies, it’s important to highlight an area where Christians and the world differ heavily on their viewpoints—specifically as it relates to the topic of lust.
Spend just a few minutes on some of the most popular Chrisitan dating apps and you’ll see a barrage of scantily clad photos, excessive cleavage, shirt-off pictures, etc. And while everyone may have a slightly different view on what is “showing too much,” these apps choose to err on the side of “letting people do what they want” as opposed to being mindful of things that could cause a Christian brother or sister to stumble.
When you pair this with the fact that Christian singles are led to feel they’re in a safe and Christ-centered space, this lack of modesty can quickly become normalized. The generational impact of this is going to be immeasurable.
3. Romance scams are real and Christian singles are the highest value targets.
The last major blind spot Church and ministry leaders need to know about are the very real danger of romance scams. By definition, a romance scam is when someone impersonates someone else online with the intention of separating someone from their money. These are the horror stories you hear that simply break your heart.
Christian singles are prime targets for scammers because they tend to be kind, giving, and empathetic, even with strangers. Scammers know this and therefore target Christian singles—both online and in-person—much more often.
4. The act of swiping profiles is creating addictive behavior.
There is a lot of research showing that swipe dating is causing serious mental health problems for singles. On average, users scroll through profiles 20 hours per week which builds an addictive dopamine loop much like drugs, alcohol, and gambling addictions do. People join these apps and start swiping. When they get their first match, it fires a high-level dopamine rush to the brain. From there, people keep swiping to chase that high, but there are a lot of reasons they’ll never achieve that same feeling. The problem is so bad that people are experiencing withdrawal symptoms like twitchy fingers when they don’t use the apps, in addition to feelings of anxiety, depression, and emotional burnout.
If an online app truly has Christian values, they should take on the added responsibility to protect their users. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked for a couple of reasons. First, most secular dating apps don’t take additional security steps because it’s too expensive or takes too many resources to implement. Secondly, the secular apps aren’t aware of the increased risk, and therefore aren’t even aware of the magnitude of the problem. The latter tends to be the case with smaller Chrisitan dating apps that may have their hearts in the right place but lack the industry knowledge to properly deliver a safe experience.
The question then becomes: should Christian singles even take a chance with online dating?
Churches have learned to leverage technology in so many great ways to better serve God’s people. In the right context, online dating can be an incredible way to help build relationships that are truly Christ-centered. But for that to be the case, two things need to change.
First, Christian singles need to start using Christian dating apps that are built on Biblical principles. Singles ministry leaders and pastors need to help steer singles to platforms that are Christian-led and that take a proactive approach to both the physical and spiritual safety of its users.
Second, we need to do a better job as the Church in educating singles about the hidden dangers of online dating. With simple education and knowledge, Christian singles can be made more aware of the potential risks of online dating and how to avoid any situations that could be harmful to them.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/oatawa
Jason Lee worked in both the Christian and mainstream online dating industries for over eight years in the areas of customer acquisition, marketing, and consulting. He graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Business Management and served as an armor officer in the Army National Guard for five years, receiving the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He and his wife have a 9-month-old daughter and make their home in Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information visit https://higherbond.com or https://thestateofdating.com/.