One question that I have been getting asked a lot is, “What’s the difference between Christian courting and dating and which one is better?”
Courting and dating are buzz words when it comes to Christian relationship advice. The debate between these two terms gained lots of attention during the days when the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was basically the evangelical Bible on Christian dating and singleness.
In this article I will define Christian dating and courting, I will discuss the pros and cons to dating and courting, and then I will share my personal beliefs on the most biblical way to date.
Neither Courting or Dating Are Commands in the Bible
I recently sent out a tweet about a dating article I wrote. Someone got upset about seeing my use of the term “Christian dating” and said “A true Christian won’t date all. A true Christian will only court!” The first thing to point out about these two different approaches to Christian relationships is that neither one is prescribed in the Bible.
The words “date” and “court” are not found in the Scriptures. God doesn’t given us specific laws and commands about the process of getting married. Rather, the Bible gives us commands about marriage. Therefore the only thing Christians can do is apply biblical principles to their approach of meeting and marrying a spouse. The two most common approaches used these days in Christian communities is dating and courting.
In the following sections I’m not advocating for either approach or saying any of this is biblical. Rather, I’m just going to describe these approaches as I understand them. At the very end I will tell you my thoughts and beliefs.
What Is Christian Dating?
Christian dating is probably the more well-known of the two. The rules of Christian dating are basically the same as secular dating minus anything sinful like premarital sex or living together, which often happen in secular relationships. Christian dating usually starts by a guy and girl going on a few dates. At this point the commitment level is very low and the two are just feeling each other out socially to see if they would like to become a boyfriend and girlfriend.
Many people date just to date and do not think too far down the line. Marriage is a scary word to hear too soon. You can date just to date in secular dating. Variations of this approach play out in Christian dating practices as well. But usually dating is not as intentional about finding a spouse as courting is. A boyfriend and girlfriend relationship is often seen as a valuable relationship in itself rather than seen as a means to marriage as is the view in courtship.
Before the two officially become boyfriend and girlfriend, which usually happens after some type of DTR talk, it is not wrong for these two people to go on other dates with other people they may be interested in. You could go on a date with Joe on Tuesday and then go out on a date with Scott on Saturday. If you have not committed to being boyfriend and girlfriend, usually it is not expected that other dates with other people will not happen. Once the two commit to one another and become an official couple, usually marked by gaining the titles “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”, this is when it would be a violation of the relationship for the guy or girl to pursue a different guy or girl romantically.
The dating season usually has phases to it. When the dating relationship just starts it’s usually not considered “too serious” until a few months have gone by. The longer the dating relationship lasts, the more serious this relationship becomes. Eventually the couple gets so serious and committed to one another they get engaged and then married. Usually this whole dating process takes between 1 and 3 years on average for Christians.
What Is Christian Courting?
Christian courting has a lot more rules, structure, and expectations compared to Christian dating. Christian dating can occur between a guy and girl who don’t know one another that well but would just like to go on a few dates to see if they would like to become boyfriend and girlfriend. In Christian courting this mentality would not happen.
Christian courting is only for those Christians mature enough to be married. You would not court in high school, for example, because you would not get married in high school. When you court you are saying you are ready for marriage. Not only are you ready for marriage in general but you are also saying you believe you would like to be married to the person you are courting and will go through this intense season to see if marriage should occur.
Christian courting emphasizes a pre-courting phase that values friendship and group activities before any type of romantic interest is expressed. “Guarding your heart” is heavily emphasized, so going on a date with a guy or girl without committing to him or her would be frowned upon. Those who promote courting state that you can get to know someone better without getting romantically involved. Before committing to courtship, you should observe this person closely and build a relationship with this person in the safety of a Christian community and in group settings only.
Once a guy and girl would like to take the next step in their relationship, it is expected that the man should do all the relational heavy lifting. Before even talking to the girl about his feelings or asking her out, he should first talk with her dad or any other male Christian leaders in her life. Once he gets their permission, he would then approach the girl and explain his intentions to court her with the purpose of seeing if marriage is right for them.
Courting is a relationship that is very front loaded. In dating the commitment starts low and then builds. In courting marriage is discussed on day one and the two are both fully aware that they are courting with the specific intentions of seeing if marriage is appropriate for them. During the friendship phase is when you should have decided if this person is the type of person you would like to marry. You should already know enough about this person to determine if they meet the requirements on paper to be your spouse. The big questions about spiritual compatibility, life direction, and compatible lifestyles should already be known. The courting season is really about seeing if the two of you fit relationally and want to be married.
During the season of courting there is a high emphasis on accountability, transparency, and guarding your heart. Alone time is frowned upon and mentoring with an older married couple is ideal. Because of the extended friendship phase and all the time and preparation that went into the relationship before the courting even started, courting is usually much shorter than dating and usually lasts between 6 months and 1 year before engagement occurs.
The Pros and Cons to Christian Dating and Courting
The reason I Kissed Dating Goodbye exploded on the Christian scene is because there was a huge problem in the dating style of Christians at that time. In general people were dating just like the world dates.
Some of the common problems that occur in Christian dating is that people do not guard their hearts enough. By dating more and jumping into the romance phase much quicker, it is easier to get your hopes up and get hurt when things don’t work out. Since there is more freedom to date who you want without testing that person more in friendship, there is also a higher risk of having lots of bad dating experiences. Lastly, since accountability and Christian community is not as emphasized in dating, the likelihood of sexual promiscuity is often greater than in courting. Those who date, however, are usually very comfortable around the opposite sex and have healthier, more realistic views on relationships and the opposite sex. The relationship experiences they have in dating prepare them and give them relationship skills that will benefit them later when they do meet their future spouse.
Courting, however, is a lot more rigid and has many more safety checks in place. This can often benefit the couple once the courting starts, however, those who religiously follow the courting model are notoriously single for much longer because their standards and expectations are often much higher than those who practice Christian dating. Christian courting does promote purity in general more than dating but it also hinders healthy relationship experiences. Courting promotes unrealistic expectations because you think about the opposite sex far more than actually interacting with them. Social skills needed for a successful relationship one day are not developed as early and there will be lots of false ideas shattered once a courting relationship actually begins.
Don’t Make Laws Out of Opinions and Do Everything in Faith
So what is the best approach for Christian singles? Is dating or courting better? The answer to that question is completely personal. Unlike I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I believe taking a hard stand on the details of dating or courting takes us away from biblical principles and causes legalism.
Again, I don’t believe the Bible gives us a dating formula. I believer, rather, that the Bible gives us relationship principles that should be applied to your search for a spouse. I believe Christian singles who want to date God’s way should be less concerned with the “what” and more concerned with the “how” and the “why.” Going on a date right away, being friends for a period of time, a blind date, online dating – I’ve seen it all work and produce a godly marriage.
You can take any approach and do it for the wrong reasons. You can go on a blind date for the glory of God while guarding your heart; or you can date someone you’ve gotten to know in a Christian group setting and idolize them. You can use one approach sinfully and another approach morally. I believe God cares less about what approach you use and more about how you use that approach. How you approach the search for a spouse and why you are searching for a spouse are more important than the method that you use.
If you disagree and you really believe in courting, for example, then you should do what you feel is best. If you have a strong conviction to search for a spouse in a very specific way, then I believe you should follow that conviction until God changes it and gives you peace to do otherwise. Romans 14:23 explains, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Whatever approach you take, you should do it as you walk with God and seek to faithfully apply his word to your search for a spouse.
(For more on this, you may benefit from How to Put God First In Your Life)
My Beliefs About Christian Relationships Before Marriage
What follows is by best interpretation of biblical relationship principles applied to the process of a Christian single looking for a spouse. I choose to use the word “dating” rather than “courting” because courting is a word with lots of connotations and already has lots of ideas attached to it. I like the phrase “Christian dating” because people generally know what you mean.
In summary, I basically believe in taking the practical approach that is often associated with Christian dating combined with the spirit and motives of courting. I like the practicality of dating and not overthinking things, but I also like all the heart preparation and intentionality of courting. Here’s what some of that looks like:
- In secular dating you can just date anyone no matter what season of life you are in. You can be ready to date but not be ready to be married. In courting you are only supposed to court when you are ready to marry and this season of courting is used when you want to marry this specific person. I recommend a cross between these two extremes. I believe you should only date when you are mature enough to get married in general, but I don’t think you need to know if you want to marry the person you are dating. If your future spouse comes along, you should be ready to proceed with him or her, but I believe you can start dating someone even when you are not sure if you want to marry him or her.
- I believe the point of dating should be to figure out if a guy and girl want to become a husband and a wife. When a guy and girl know they should not get married, I believe they should breakup because dating just to date leads to unnecessary temptation and unhealthy connections. When a guy and girl know they want to get married, they should stop dating and get engaged. Dating should only be done when you are unsure if you want to marry someone. Once you know one way or the other, you should act.
- I personally needed to be friends with my wife before dating her (which you can learn about here), but I don’t believe this is a must. I think you should make sure a guy or a girl is a Christian before dating him or her, but I don’t think you need to know someone super well before dating. What I do believe, however, is that your intimacy should match your commitment. You should not be very open and emotionally connected to someone you don’t know that well. The more you get to know someone, the more appropriate it is to open up to them.
There’s a lot more I could say about the difference between courting and dating, but overall my main point here is to encourage you to live biblically all the time. Do what you feel is most biblical, most honoring to Christ, and gives you the best chance of fulfilling the desires God has placed on your heart for a healthy Christian relationship.