Over the years, Barna has conducted research surrounding children’s faith formation, focusing on some of the biggest questions faith leaders and parents are asking: Who is responsible for a child’s faith formation? What role does faith heritage play in spiritual development? What is the link between fun and faith in our homes? Now, in a new report produced in partnership with OneHope, Barna offers pastors and parents a deeper look into the faith formation of children, taking into account our ever-changing cultural and technological landscape.
One of the key findings of Guiding Children to Discover the Bible, Navigate Technology & Follow Jesus shows that nearly six in 10 highly engaged Christian parents (see About the Research below for a full definition) say children’s programming is the primary reason they chose their current church (58%), proving that even though children may be small, they carry big weight when it comes to family decisions about where to worship. This suggests that, for churches to attract and retain strong Christian households, children’s programming must be a key part of holistic family ministry.
Consistent Church Attendance & Engagement Is Important to Engaged Christian Parents
As any parent can confirm, regular church attendance with a kid can be a challenge. So how often are families making it to church? In general, more than one might think. Regardless of what region you’re in, about three in five engaged Christian parents report attending church with their children every week. This is as true in the West and Northeast (generally speaking, more unchurched) as it is in the South. Attendance at Sunday worship appears quite consistent across age groups of children, hovering in the 80- to 88-percent range across the span of childhood years. Sunday school attendance trails by only a few percentage points across these years. The dedicated truly are dedicated.
That said, various factors appear to impact the likelihood of a family attending church on a regular basis. As one example, two-thirds of married people’s children (64%) attend church every week, compared to half of single parents’ kids (51%). For some, the weeklong work and parenting demands of a typical single parent means less time and energy even for a family activity that’s very important to them, such as attending church. For others, it may be a logistical issue having to do with weekend custody.
For the six in 10 Christian parents who report attending church on a weekly basis, we see that their high involvement in church is echoed in other domains of family life. These are church-engaged families, and their faithfulness in a worshiping community correlates with other faith-forming activities. (When it comes to activities that are not specific to Christians, church-engaged and less engaged kids’ lives look similar.)
For example, children who are most active in church tend to engage with the Bible outside of church, to attend church activities other than Sunday worship (such as Bible studies, camps or children’s / youth events) and to pray together with their family as well. They are also about twice as likely to engage in outreach activities and volunteerism, demonstrating that the level of dedication in this group to the overall mission of the church is not only internally focused, but expresses itself in outward action.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, three out of five church-engaged parents are very satisfied with their children’s spiritual formation thus far (61% vs. 51%). They are also more likely to rely on their church for the faith development of their kids (72% vs. 63%). Less church-engaged parents, by comparison, are more likely to look to extended family as key to their child’s faith development (39% vs. 30%).
“Spiritual development is closely tied to moral development phases,” Evergreen Parenting Course developer Hettie Brittz says in an interview for the Guiding Children report. “How growing children process the ideas of right and wrong, safe and unsafe, good and bad. These are very abstract concepts for a while and only become concrete later in childhood. When we as parents demonstrate both God’s justice and his forgiveness in consistent ways… it is the best spiritual gift we can give our children.”
The above article features research from our latest study, Guiding Children, as well as commentary from childhood development expert Hettie Brittz. Read her column to learn more about the stages of children’s spiritual development.
ABOUT THE RESEARCH
This study began with qualitative interviews of toy developers, children’s ministry leaders, educators, child development specialists and technology professionals. These interviews were conducted in the fall of 2018 and used a flexible script to explore respondents’ experiences in their specific fields.
A set of quantitative online surveys was subsequently conducted September 17 to October 18, 2018, using an online panel. The sample included 508 self-identified U.S. Christian parents of children ages 6 to 12 who are engaged in their Christian faith. The margin of error for this sample is +/- 4.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Highly engaged Christian parents have attended a Christian church service within the past month (other than for a holiday or a special event); strongly agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and contains truth about the world; strongly agree that they believe Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death; strongly agree that they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today; and strongly agree that they desire to pass faith on to their child.
Church-guided parents look to church leaders for faith formation guidance.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020