“In today’s culture, one that often disparages family continuity and assumes that families are not doing a good job, our research reflects a basic resiliency in American families over generations. Good news for the church.”
Recent Research on Faith Transmission
A recent article from Christianity Today: Religion Runs in the Family (9/20/13) raised some important points that the church needs to pay attention to as we “worry” about how parents don’t seem to be able to pass along faith to their children. The article is an interview with an author of a forthcoming book, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations (Oxford University Press) that involves research of parents, plus that generation of “nones.”
Our study tracked the degree of religious similarity between parents and young adult children in 1970 with that of young adults and parents in 2005. We measured this degree of similarity in four dimensions of religiosity: intensity of faith, frequency of religious service attendance, agreement with a literal interpretation of the Bible, and agreement with the importance of religion in civic life.
Despite the many societal changes that have lurched us towards greater individualism and away from a more collective family focus, over half of young adult children are following in their parents’ footsteps, in that they are affiliated with the parents’ religious tradition. (To a lesser extent, their religious practices and beliefs also align with those of their parents). This number is the same now as it was in the 1970s. In today’s culture, one that often disparages family continuity and assumes that families are not doing a good job, our research reflects a basic resiliency in American families over generations. Good news for the church.
However, quite unexpectedly and unique to our modern times, we found that many religious “nones” (the almost 30% of Americans between the ages of 18-40 who say they have no religious affiliation) have also been successful in passing on their faith. These kids are not rebelling from their parents, but instead following their parents’ influence in having no religious affiliation. After all, a child’s lack of religion is often no less an example of intentional religious formation on the part of parents. We noted that non-theistic families pass down strong moral and ethical standards just as consistently as pious Catholic or evangelical parents try to pass down their own values and religious standards.
The Task for Church Leaders
Perhaps our churches should focus on those who are seeking what they did not receive growing up. We know there is a spiritual hunger from adults across all generations; the institutional church just doesn’t seem to meet them where they are and guide them along the way. This article might make an interesting starting off point for small group discussion, church leaders, and staff reading. Read the entire article here.