Christina and I met at our church, in person. After becoming friends over the course of a year or so, we then began dating, always exclusively. Four months later, we were engaged. Six months later, we were married. The year was 2002. It seems like eons ago. I hardly ever hear this sort of story anymore.
I do not have snarky remarks to offer about the online dating world. Like many devices created by humans, it has both its positive and negative aspects. My goal here isn’t to validate (or invalidate) the online dating world, but to deal with the fact it’s a fact. People engage with it. Since Christians are people too, many of us engage with it as well. Because of this, I want to help believers navigate the waters of online dating.
My main objective is to help you determine the validity and type of Christianity of the person you meet online. It pains me to hear the stories of people who’ve told me, “I thought he (or she) was a Christian. But they deceived me.” Others have said, “I think they’re a Christian. The kind-of-maybe-a-little-bit-seem-like-they-might-be-a-Christian Christian.”
You see, Paul warned against the unequal yoke (1 Corinthians 6:14) because the entire Old and New Testament is filled with warnings for God's people against marrying or hooking up with nonbelievers. The best and truest part of you is not your body, but your spirit. It is your spirit that communes with God’s Spirit. It is your spirit that grows inwardly, though the outward body perish. Why would you want to pursue a relationship with someone who does not share that spiritual dimension with you? How hard would it be to raise children with someone who is apathetic or antagonistic in the spiritual realm? If your foundation is Christ, you want to be with someone who shares that foundation, for it makes for a solid life together.
Now, I realize there are a million online dating services and apps out there today. And tomorrow there will be a million more. Some of them are absolutely inappropriate for a believer to engage with, mere meat markets where a person is entirely judged by their looks. Some of them are elaborate and technical, complete with thorough profiles. In many of them, a person can state their religion. But just because they check the “Christian” box, it doesn’t mean they know or walk with Christ or even believe the right things about Him. Whenever and however appropriate (likely depending on your comfort level), here are some questions you could ask to get a better idea of the seriousness of their Christianity.
1 So what’s your life about?
Christina told me of a date she went on in college. She said she knew in ten minutes he wasn’t the guy for her. How did she know? She could tell his life had absolutely nothing to do with God’s kingdom. He only talked about money and career and success. He was a man of the natural realm, only concerned with the temporal. By talking a bit about life, you can gauge a little better what drives a person.
2 What church do you belong to?
By hearing about the church they go to, you can do a little research. Look their church up online. Read their beliefs statement or listen to a recent sermon. See if it seems healthy and doctrinally strong. If they mention a church that isn’t a Christian church, you should walk away. If they say they are still looking for a church, but have lived in the area for more than six months, walk away. They might be legitimately searching for a new home church, but chances are they don’t go to church at all. You aren’t looking for someone who casually identifies as “Christian,” but someone who lives it out. Do not compromise your beliefs, especially the cardinal doctrines, just to find a mate.
3 What is the name of your pastor? What is he teaching through?
These questions will help you determine the level of engagement they have with their local church. If they cannot quickly recall the name of their pastor, or even what the pastor is currently teaching, they might be putting you on. It is such a basic element of Christianity to have a local church and to get into His word, so if they struggle to know who their pastor is, or what the recent sermon series is about, they likely aren’t very engaged with their church community. For a married couple, one of their best friends is the Sunday gathering, for when sitting under the word together, God often speaks and corrects and encourages. If this prospective mate isn’t already allowing this into their lives, how do you know they ever will?
4 How did you come to know Christ?
Does this seem too personal a question to you? Well, for a believer, it isn’t. It’s one of the most exciting questions in the world. It might be personal, but we rejoice to speak of the day when Jesus Christ came into our lives and saved us from our sin. If the person cannot articulate their salvation story, though they might become a believer one day, they might not yet know the Lord. If they respond to this question by talking about how they’ve gone to church all their lives or their parent’s brought them to church while growing up, they likely haven’t had a personal encounter with Christ yet. If there is no mention of faith, but they focus more on things like church attendance, a Christian or Catholic school they went to, or conservative politics, they don’t know the gospel.
5 What kind of shows or movies or podcasts do you like?
This question is innocent enough, but you can learn a lot about a person by learning what they watch and listen to. You might not get the whole picture with this question, but at least you’ll get a better idea of the kind of threshold that person has. What a person lets into their eye-gate and ear-gate shapes them. I’m no legalist, but if they love sexually charged movies and banal TV shows, you might want to steer clear. It's not as if they need to exclusively podcast Bible studies, but if everything they listen to is new or carnal or nonbelieving, that tells you something about how their worldview is shaped.
6 Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?
In response to questions like these, if they never mention a solid Christian author or book, you should be apprehensive. They might not be a reader at all, but as you talk through literature, if the Christian faith community and its writing never come up, they might not be the kind of person who invests much into their walk with God. Perhaps they will in the future, but a lack of any interaction with solid Christian writing is a clue to their level of seriousness about their Christianity. On the other hand, if they mention different authors and books, ask more about them, both in person but also through research. Are they into prosperity doctrine? Are they into a Christianity that is all positivity, focusing too much on the quality of your faith? Are they into scholarly authors and works? Are you doctrinally close to each other?
7 Do you have a small group? Do you have a mentor?
These questions will help you learn about the kind of access this person wants others to have to their lives. If they are isolated, they will remain so once in a relationship with you. Believers need accountability, fellowship, counsel, rebuke, and friendship. If these elements are not in their lives, they might be operating as an island, raging against all wise counsel (see Proverbs 18:1).
8 Do you serve at your church? How so?
The answer to these questions will tell you much about their heart, the kind of person and gifts God has given them. If they do not serve, they might confess to being in a season they cannot. Perhaps it has never crossed their minds. Perhaps they have not been invited to do so. But listen to their heart. Perhaps, as you discuss this subject, you’ll learn a bit about their priorities and giftings (or lack thereof).
9 What is God teaching you right now?
The gospel paves the way for a personal relationship with God. He becomes our Father. He resides within us by His Holy Spirit. The separating veil was torn in two; we now have total access to the throne of God. As we walk with God, He teaches, corrects, shapes, and encourages us. Perhaps this question will help you catch a glimpse of the vitality of your prospect's walk with God.
10 What is one of your favorite books of the Bible? What is a favorite verse?
Honestly, a dumbfounded look might accompany this question, because, like many of these questions, it might catch them flatfooted. But, given a moment to collect their thoughts, a solid believer will likely be able to answer this. You don't have to pinpoint one—“what is your favorite?” Keep it wider—“what is one of your favorites?” This will give them a chance to think through all the Scripture and give an answer. If they respond with “the book of Hezekiah,” dump ‘em.
11 Do you believe in sex before marriage?
Perhaps you are brazen enough to ask this out loud, but this is a question that will be answered at some point, even if it never asked out loud. If they pressure you for increased levels of intimacy, pushing you into sexual acts, you know where they stand. The sanctity of the marriage bed is important to the success of Christian marriage (Hebrews 13:4). If that bed is not respected before marriage, it is likely it won’t be respected after marriage. Sex before marriage is another way of having sex outside of marriage, so respect your potential future marriage by reserving sex for the marriage bed alone.
12 Have you been married before?
There are some biblically permissible reasons for divorce. The scope of this article is not to help you navigate whether your prospect was divorced for biblical reasons or not. But by asking this question and listening to their response, you should be able to learn a bit about their respect for marriage. If they are flippant about their previous marriage, talking about incompatibility and “falling out of love,” you’ve just learned they have a light view of marriage. If they seem reserved, grieved and disappointed it didn’t work out, you might have an indication of how serious they see the marriage covenant. Further exploration with a pastor or other qualified student of Scripture will help you determine if remarriage would be biblical for them or not, but this question can help you discover their basic attitude regarding marriage.
13 Can we go to your church next Sunday?
Go on a date to church! By sitting through a church service at their home church, you can learn a ton. Does anyone recognize them? Are they engaged in the worship and teaching? Do they seem to be prayerful? Are they welcoming to others? Is their church fluffy or serious, man-centered or God-centered?
14 What is your morning routine?
If they talk about dealing with hangovers, sleeping in due to video game binging, or wake up times that end with “p.m.,” run away, they aren’t ready for the responsibilities of a relationship, let alone a marriage. See if they talk at all about prayer or Bible reading or journaling of any kind.
15 Where do you want to live someday?
This question is a fun one because it helps you hear what kind of person they are, but will also tell you if they are looking for God to direct their steps. If so, they will likely mention some semblance of James 4:15—"if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."
16 What are your hobbies?
Some people will readily admit to hobbies that are sinful and dishonoring of God. If “getting hammered with my friends like every weekend” is a hobby for your prospect, run away. Listen to see if they are a balanced person. Do they overly obsess over physique and body image with their hobbies? Do they enjoy getting outdoors? Hobbies are restorative and fun. They aren’t directly spiritual, but are indirectly so, in the sense that they restore and refresh. Additionally, try to discern if their hobbies are an all-consuming fire. Do they take all extra finances or time? Those might not be hobbies, but idols.
17 Can I meet your friends?
A glimpse into their friends is a glimpse into your date. Watching their friends interact with each other will tell you volumes about how they feel about the opposite sex, honor, dignity, liberties, sins, etc. We are all shaped by the people we invite into our lives, and so many marriages are derailed because a spouse won’t give up cancerous friends, so check them out ahead of time. They don’t all have to be believers, but it’s a good thing if your prospect is friends with other Christians.
18 Would you ever want to serve on a church-planting team?
This question throws your prospect into the deep-end. As with many of these questions, their reply is no deal breaker, for many believers don’t know what a church-plant is. Still, it’s a good sign if they are immediately conversant about the need for more gospel-centered churches to exist throughout the world. If they are willing to entertain the idea of rearranging their lives for the sake of the kingdom, even better.
19 What do you think a disciple of Christ looks like?
Even church leaders have varying views of this, in part because different contexts and cultures demand slightly different answers. Still, there are some basics a disciple is and is not, so it would be great to see if your prospect can talk about this with ease or not.
20 Do you want to get married?
Pop the question! OK, not like that, but somehow see what their goal is for dating. If they are merely looking to have a good time and try out a ton of different people, often at the same time, I would advise against the relationship. But if they are in it because someday they’d like to be married and are looking to see who God has for them, great.
21 Are you going to pursue or be pursued?
Call me old-fashioned, but the general rule seems to be that men are to pursue, while women are to be pursued. I know there are always exceptions, but leadership in marriage is important for men to engage in (see 1 Corinthians 11:3), so it is best to start now. An apathetic, unwilling, unmotivated, and disinterested man will likely remain that way. And a vigilant, forward, initiating woman will likely need to lead the marriage for years to come.
My prayer is that each believer who receives a release from the Lord to step out into the online dating world would do so with discernment. We need help navigating these waters. Surround yourself with good people who can speak honestly into your life during this time. Be cautious. And pray! As God brought Rebekah to Isaac, let God, if he wills, bring someone to you (Genesis 24:63).