Opportunities for Faith Formation at Home
How do our core relationships engage us in a thoughtful, transformative faith—the kind that holds up to and is passed down over time? What does a board game with your kids have to do with spiritual formation and development? Do beliefs transcend generations, and if so, is this beneficial? These were some of the guiding questions of Barna’s Households of Faith report, the second in a series of studies produced in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries and based on an extensive study of practicing Christians and their living arrangements and routines.
Below, we’ve highlighted some of the data from Households of Faith, offering a glimpse into the present opportunities we have to nurture faith in our homes during a season of sheltering in place.
One of the goals of this study was to learn from households that appear to be exceptionally engaged in communal and consistent faith expression in the home. Barna developed a custom metric that sorts households by reports of collective, frequent engagement in key behaviors:
- Spiritual practices—defined here as praying every day or two and reading the Bible weekly all together
- Spiritual conversations—defined here as talking about God and faith at least weekly all together
- Hospitality—defined here as welcoming non-family guests regularly, or at least several times a month
Households that participate in all of these activities at this frequency are what Barna refers to as spiritually Vibrant. A quarter of respondents in this study (25%) describes a household environment that is Vibrant. Others describe homes that are Devotional (only participate in spiritual practices and spiritual conversations), Hospitable (only practice hospitality) or Dormant (participate in none of the above).
Practicing Christians who intentionally cultivate a spiritual environment in their household are simply intentional to begin with. Good fun, good work and good faith seem to go hand in hand, indicating spiritual growth is yet another way of being present, interested and engaged in the lives of those around you, or vice versa.
Vibrant households stand out in that they have meaningful, fun, quality time with both their housemates and extended household members. These are practicing Christians who know the meaning of play—and indeed, half call their home life “playful.” Every day or so, members of Vibrant households come together for games (32%). They share meals (63% eat breakfast together and 75% eat dinner together) as well as their feelings (59%) on almost a daily basis. Vibrancy also correlates with group discipline, like working on the house or yard together (34% every day or two) or hosting household or family meetings (68%).
Today’s Christian teen consistently identifies their mother as the principal housemate for almost all activities. From eating meals together (85%) and watching TV or movies (81%), to talking about God (70%) and having confrontations (63%), mothers are the primary activity partner for their teens. They are second only to friendships even when it comes to using their phones for texting (69% mothers vs. 73% friendships) and calling (61% vs. 71%).
According to practicing Christian teens, mothers are the go-to person for all kinds of support: advice (78%), encouragement (75%) and sympathy (72%). Meanwhile, fathers play a somewhat key role in meeting teens’ tangible needs for money (74%) and logistical help (63%), though even on these two issues, they are somewhat on par with mothers. As mothers are seen as advisors and encouragers, teens report approaching them with tougher topics. Even conversations about sex (41%) aren’t off limits between teens and moms.
Practicing Christians in their teen years consistently identify mothers as the ones who provide spiritual guidance and instruction and instill the values and disciplines of their faith in the household. Moms are their foremost partners in prayer (63%) and conversations about God (70%), the Bible (71%) or other faith questions (72%).
A majority of practicing Christians tells Barna they became Christians long before adulthood, usually before they were 12 years old. This is true regardless of the type of household practicing Christians now occupy. For most practicing Christian adults in this study, the early, formative days of discipleship occur in their family of origin.
Usually, respondents say Christianity was “passed down” to them by a particular relative (59%), though sometimes another family member was exploring faith around the same time as the respondent (11%). More than half of those who report growing up in the faith (57%) say they were Christian at the time of their birth, a response that is revealing either of their theology or of how extensively Christianity permeated their upbringing. Practicing Christians most often credit their parents as the individuals who helped impart faith to them.
A person’s experience with Christianity while growing up does seem linked to their belief system even into adulthood, but a strong Christian heritage does not automatically equate to a strong Christian faith. Rather, taking ownership of one’s beliefs or finding rich community may be required to build upon—or overcome—the spiritual experiences of one’s upbringing.