Sarah Holmes shares research from 175 church leaders and 209  parents and the picture she paints is very mixed


Premier Nex Gen spoke with Dr Sarah Holmes who was involved in a research project investigating how UK churches are connecting with Christian families in the post-lockdown era*.

Premier Nex Gen: How have families’ experiences of church changed since the pandemic?

Sarah Holmes: Both parents and church leaders reported significantly decreased engagement with the local church by families during pandemic times. Some church leaders reported an opportunity for greater focus on families, and improvement in relationships with them. There was minimal change for others, but a quarter of leaders expressed a negative impact; explaining a lack of energy and vision, smaller teams, and engagement with fewer families. Whilst three-quarters of church leaders felt that relationships amongst the church had been good support for church families, less than half of families agreed, with over a third of parents stating that the local church had not supported their faith at home. These disconnections and contrasting perspectives are explored within the report.

PNG: How has faith in the family context changed?

SH: Christian parents and church leaders alike reported that the pandemic had generally improved family’s faith lives but reduced their local church connection and engagement. Yet nearly half of church leaders did not know what impact the pandemic had had on families’ faith. Whilst faith in the home was a focus during lockdowns, there are differing perceptions of how well this was supported. A quarter of church leaders acknowledged that they did not know if the families in their church felt supported with nurturing faith at home and 51% of the families said that they did not feel supported or resourced with this by their local church. 

I think it  was 97% of families and 98% of church leaders who said: ”we want to work in partnership to help children’s faith”. But actually when you look at what’s going on in the churches, there’s very little evidence of partnership. The response of many church leaders was, let’s put on another event, or let’s make a new activity pack rather than let’s go and have a conversation and see how we can support families.

The irony is that some parents find that their church splits families up at church. They say, ”we don’t want to go to church and send our kids off to silos (separate activities) We have hardly any time together at the weekend. We want to spend time, quality family time. So therefore, we can’t go to church because we actually want to be together as a family!”

PNG So what might the future look like?

SH: There was much agreement about how best to nurture a child’s faith, with a clear consensus that church and families should work in partnership on this. However, as I said earlier, despite both parties desiring partnership, this was often not reported in reality. A fifth of church leaders wanted to listen to and dialogue with families to change the church culture regarding the role of parents in their child’s faith nurture. However, half of the leaders identified a need for parents to change how they engaged with faith, often conveying deficiencies in the personal faith of parents or their commitment to nurturing their child’s faith.  Many church leader’s responses indicated a view that the church knows better than parents.

On one hand, church leaders perceived a need for more resources, social gatherings, and intergenerational activities, with a clear caveat of needing more volunteers.  However, these views contrasted significantly with those of Christian parents who wanted more personal, targeted and relational support from their local church for faith at home. This indicates a need for church leaders to listen and learn from families, and use these insights to mould the ethos of their church to enhance support and partnership with parents in discipling their children. So if things are to improve, church leaders and parents need to make sure they are truly listening to one another. If they do they can then plan for a better future understand the real problems being faced. 

 * The report drew upon the findings from an online survey (February 2022) completed by 175 church leaders and 209 parents of children aged 0-16, and in-depth interviews (between April and June 2022) with 36 children (aged 7 to 11 years old) and 18 Christian parents. The participants represented twelve different denominations from various locations across the UK. You can read the full Report here