What is the difference between dating and courtship?

Dating is the process whereby two individuals of the opposite sex meet to 'study' one another in order to judge their suitability for each other for a long term relationship such as marriage.

The term has also come to mean any romantic relationship that has not reached the point of engagement, that is, the man hasn’t proposed yet.

Dating may involve going out for rendezvous if the individuals are in the same physical location or e-messaging and video calling if they meet online.

Courtship is an advanced dating relationship, and varies from culture to culture, even Christian cultures.

The couple, after establishing their suitability for each other, get more intent on the goal of the relationship, which is marriage. Usually at this stage, the family, church and close friends are involved.

In other Christian settings, courtship can mean there's no dating at all. There's no going out for dates and there's no studying of each other for suitability.

The single is encouraged to hear from God about who to marry. The male (usually) then proceeds to initiate the relationship after. If the female hasn't heard from God, she prays about the proposal, and then gives a positive answer. The two now begin marriage preparations.

Or in some cases, the spiritual leader, believed to be more in tune with God, may do the praying and mate-match singles, who may not object to the choices.

Dating is condemned because of fears about sexual immorality, heartbreak or risk of making wrong choices.

The difference between dating and courtship therefore seems to lie more in the method of mate selection. One takes a longer, riskier route, the other seems more direct.

Dating is seen to be shallow, conducted with a careless attitude, while courtship is very serious and purposeful about marriage.

Which is right for Christian Singles? Dating or Courtship? Date or Wait?

When Christian singles ask to know the difference between dating and courtship, there's always an undertone inquiry whether one is preferred over the other, and in some cases, they may want to find out if dating is the right path to take.

You maybe wondering, like others, whether as a Christian who desires to meet the right one, you should date around in order to find them, or wait on God to reveal the person to you before you approach them for courtship (preparation for marriage), not dating.

If you are female, you've probably been told numerous times that all you need to do is just focus on serving God, and passively wait for Him to bring your very own Mr. Right to you in ways that cannot be mistaken.

That God has someone specific for you who will ultimately locate you; dating several people before finding that particular one is therefore risky and should be condemned.

I can't say authoritatively which is right or wrong. If the individuals are mature spiritually and psychologically, I think dating is appropriate.

On the other hand, if someone is so spiritual that they can hear God about who to marry, so they can bypass the dating route, that is just great.

Apart from a few people whose love stories are revealed to us in Scriptures, we don't know how people got their spouses. Besides, their culture was different from most of our cultures today.

We don't know if Mary was chosen for Joseph by his father or whether Joseph ever dated another girl before meeting Mary, or whether he only got a revelation from God that Mary was the one.

What I strongly believe in is emphasis on being led by God AND focusing on what matters when you are in a relationship.

A special emphasis here at The King's Offspring is the pursuit of intimacy with God and a purpose-driven life. That way of living takes care of a lot of things that might otherwise contribute to challenges the single person faces, including the issues of dating and courtship.

As a single, the best thing you can have is a relationship with God where he leads you, and where you live in accordance with the biblical command to:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6, New KJV

I so love the portions, 'Lean not unto your own understanding' and 'And He shall direct your paths'.

That means you shouldn’t be stereotype, but allow the Lord's wisdom to take pre-eminence over your way of doing things. That means the Lord will lead you but you can't dictate to him how you should be led.

God indeed leads people to their mates. You shouldn’t marry someone without having God’s sanction upon your relationship.

The question now is how does he lead? Does he lead John the same exact way he led Peter?

I've heard wonderful testimonies of God's supernatural matchmaking, stories of people who date one person and marry them.

Honestly, I love those testimonies, especially when it has to do with someone with an intimate relationship with the Lord. They are proof that you can trust God with your dating life and he will not fail.

However, there have been many singles who have interpreted an infatuation and lust as God leading them to marry someone.

Others have had experiences of visions, voices and dreams about someone being the specific one God ordained for them, and they waited in vain for the partner to come along while turning down those who were genuinely interested in them.

Others refuse to date, but choose to wait on the Lord in ways that can result in them remaining single.

So while it is advisable for you to be led of God, it is still necessary to state that you shouldn’t go about it in a legalistic rigid manner.

Remember that the decision whether to marry and who you marry is ultimately yours. While God guides, he doesn't force marriage or someone on you.

You can wait and be so convicted that the right one has been revealed to you before choosing to initiate a relationship, or you can date while seeking God for guidance. The bottom line is seeking guidance from God with an honest heart.

Some of the most painful break ups have even been courtship relationships that began with the belief that God was asking the two individuals to get married.

What this means is that courtship doesn't have an edge over dating if you don't go about it the right way, with the right knowledge.

Love stories of true supernatural match-making still have that element of 'judging', assessing whether the decision to proceed with the relationship is right, and talking about what is important to relationships.

You don’t just proceed blindly with a word from God about someone being your wife or husband-to-be. That too is risky.

You need to prove that word from God by asking the right questions and discussing what matters in relationships with your partner.

If there are red flags or something smells fishy, God’s written word, biblical principles and even common sense must triumph over what you think or feel is a leading from God asking you to marry someone.

This is why you need to seek premarital counseling when you are in a relationship, whether dating or courtship. It helps you make wiser decisions, increasing your chances of a successful relationship.

Fears about dating and how to deal with them.

Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, later admitted that he regretted transmitting his fears into the book which is alleged to have caused some singles to remain single.

Fear, I believe, is the reason why some Christians think courtship is better than dating in the process of finding a mate. Fear too is one reason why there's an overemphasis on ‘hearing God’ concerning who to marry.

This is kind of hard for me to say because I emphasize that. But care must be taken not to become dogmatic about the ‘how’ instead of the ‘what’.

Harris also admitted that no method of dating (I suppose finding a mate) is superior to another.

What Christians singles need to focus on is doing things God’s way, conducting their relationships in purity and with purpose.

To avoid heartbreak, don't let your heart be so sold out to a relationship that is not yet marriage. Make room in your heart for the probability of a break up.

If it becomes obvious that you must part ways, sit and talk about it, pray for each other and then dissolve the relationship. That way resentment, anger and hurt are unlikely to develop.

About sexual immorality, you should already know that sex before marriage is sin. You have a responsibility to honor God's standard and to exercise self-control during dating.

See also  Sexual Purity in Christian Dating

Be patient in relationships. Don't rush to the altar. It is hard for someone to pretend over a long period of time without you getting the clues. If you are honest in seeking God for guidance, He will expose the hypocrisies of your partner for you to see.

When dating is wrong

The type of dating that is absolutely wrong and should be discouraged for Christian singles is dating without purpose.

The mindset that at a certain age, young people should seek romantic partners, even if it's a non-sexual relationship, when they have no plans for marriage is wrong.

If marriage is not on your mind yet, concentrate on what matters to you now. Develop an intimate relationship with God. Seek to understand his plan and purpose for your life.


Instead of seeking to make a big difference between dating and courtship, it is important to lay emphasis on dating with purpose.

As a Christian, only go for romantic relationships when you are ready for marriage.

Seek to be led by God in the process of finding a mate.  To avoid the alleged fears of dating, such as heart break or falling into sexual sin, or making wrong choices, commit to conduct your relationship by the principles of God's Word.

If you find out that a dating relationship should not proceed to marriage, terminate it in a godly way, by being forthright with your partner about your reason and decision to say goodbye to the relationship.

Ultimately, your success in relationship is linked to your relationship with God and a willingness to do things His way. Numerous are the dating and courtship advice, but in the closet, God makes things clearer to you. Seek to honor him in all you do.

God bless,

Jane.