Theos, a leading Christian think tank, has released some significant research about the hows and whys of parents passing on faith to their children. They looked at the attitudes and values of parents in modern society, how faith in families is currently being passed on, and what makes a difference in successfully transmitting that faith to children. The report did not just conduct new research, but also gathered data from 54 other published studies over the last 40 years to create a useful tool for us all to reflect on.
In many ways, the results are not surprising, supporting the wisdom that has been said many times before by experts in children’s and family ministry. The report confirms that not only does the foundation of faith occur in childhood, but also that faith transmission primarily happens at home, as that is the hub of where cultural values and practices occur. It affirms that parental modelling of faith in the home is an essential part of faith transmission.
Initially the report shocks us with some staggering statistics: only 36 per cent of self-defined Christian parents wanted their children to share their beliefs. That statistic is quickly expanded though. As we know, many people who identify as Christian do so for a variety of reasons and hold a breadth of beliefs (the report itself demonstrated that only 55 per cent of the parents who self-identified as Christians believed in God!). Of Christian parents who attend church at least once a month, 69 per cent desire their children to share their faith. It is a good reminder that parents are on a wide spectrum of faith when we speak to them about passing it on to their children.
The last section focuses on relational, behavioural, and structural factors in passing family faith on. The Theos report boldly highlights that parenting styles, skills and even family structure have a significant impact on the passing on of family faith. It points to the quality of relationship between parent and child being significant. Warmth, affection, closeness and acceptance were all factors in parent-child relationships that could be significant predictors of faith transmission. The report also asserts that authoritative parenting (rules plus warmth) facilitates passing on faith best, rather than authoritarian (my way or the highway) or permissive parenting (whatever you want - don’t be upset). It shows that both mixed-faith marriages and the quality and stability of parental marriages are important factors as well in passing on faith.
It is a report well worth your time to read. It is a chunky piece of work so settle in with a highlighter and some brain space. While it might not shock your socks off, there are significant gems in there that will challenge your practice, remind you of what is important in parenting, and help you see your church and community families in a new light. Read the report.