A few weeks ago I wrote about LifelongFaith Associates’ amazing work around the future of faith development, or as they call it, Faith Formation 2020. I’ve been going over their Thirteen Trends and Four Scenarios this weekend in preparation for a conversation I’ll be facilitating about FF2020 with my Congregational Life colleagues at the UUA in Boston. I was especially interested in Trend 10: Rediscovering the Impact of Parents and Families on Faith Practice. The FF2020 summary notes the work of sociologist Christian Smith and what he learned from his research for Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. I remember reading this a few years back. It seems even more important now given the context of the FF2020 report.
Parental Influence. Research from the National Study on Youth and Religion (as reported in Soul Searching) clearly shows that the single most important social influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents. Grandparents and other relatives, mentors, and youth workers can be very influential as well, but normally, parents are most important in forming their children’s religious and spiritual lives. The best social predictor, although not a guarantee, of what the religious and spiritual lives of youth will look like is what the religious and spiritual lives of their parents do look like: “We’ll get what we are.” By normal processes of socialization, and unless other significant forces intervene, more than what parents might say they want as religious outcomes of their children, most parents most likely will end up getting religiously of their children what they themselves are. The best way to get most youth involved in and serious about their faith communities is to get their parents more involved in and serious about their faith communities.
That last sentence certainly bears repeating: “The best way to get most youth involved in and serious about their faith communities is to get their parents more involved in and serious about their faith communities.” I really believe that this is where we should start when we think about our ministry with children and youth. Unless we get “their parents more involved in and serious about their faith communities,” we might just be guaranteeing a continued decline in numbers as a faith movement.