Helping Parents Form Faith
How is Christian faith shared from one generation to the next? What help does the local church provide? In 2019 the Christian Reformed churches in Canada joined 16 other Canadian ministry organizations and denominations in partnering with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Centre for Research on Church and Faith (CRCF) to help answer such questions.
Parenting Faith, a 245-page report released Apr. 11, 2023, presents the findings of this uniquely Canadian research. It identifies what helps and hinders the transmission of faith from this generation of parents to their children.
“I think churches have found themselves at a crisis point after the pandemic. Volunteers aren’t coming back. There are families who aren’t engaging in ministry in the same way,” said Lesli van Milligen, the CRCNA’s Canadian director of congregational ministries.
She noted that as a result of various factors, young people seem to be leaving the church more than they are staying. This, combined with how the pandemic changed church programming, means that “churches need a new way to look at how to support faith formation,” she said.
Understanding what is happening within families can help churches and ministry organizations serve and help those families better.
The research conducted by the CRCF involved interviews with Canadian parents and family ministry experts as well as surveys with 1,217 parents representing 3,041 children across Canada. The report identifies the cultural influences and parental priorities that are currently shaping how beliefs and faith-related behaviors are adopted or rejected by the next generation.
“Parenting Faith identifies both gaps and opportunities for churches, ministry organizations, and parents to help us all better guide youth into a life of following Jesus and meaningful belonging and participation in the church,” said Rick Hiemstra, lead researcher and CRCF director.
“As parents ourselves, we were fascinated to hear other parents share their hearts and, in many cases, their actual techniques for nurturing a love of God within their kids. We are excited to think about how this report will equip leaders and practitioners to understand the context parents are living in now, and how they can most effectively come alongside.”
The report also reveals seismic shifts in how parents of this generation view and carry out their role as shapers of faith in their children’s lives, as compared to the previous generation and their own parents.
Seventy-three percent of surveyed parents believe it is essential to offer their children religious choice without any pressure. Many (32%) of these parents said that their own parents required unquestioning obedience to religion, and they do not want the same for their children.
Instead, the survey revealed that today’s parents do like to discuss faith with their children. When they do, it is less likely to be during a formal time of family devotions. Instead, faith is discussed casually, while parents and children move from one extracurricular activity to another.
Similarly, the research shows that children and young people are not participating in faith-forming activities such as reading the Bible, praying, or doing personal devotions.
“Rather than fighting the busyness of a family life, we’ve got to find ways to help support how families live their lives together,” said van Milligen about how to apply this research within our congregations. This could include encouraging and equipping parents to have faith conversations with their children that fit into the family’s existing routines. It could also include fostering an intergenerational approach to faith formation in churches so that everyone plays a role in discipling each other.
“We have to think intergenerationally. Can we get together and have a meal once a month with people within our congregation and share faith in life with each other? Are there social things that help us to be connected to each other? Can we look to some of our seniors who have been doing this for a long time and gain wisdom from them?” she asked.
Over the coming months, CRCNA staff will be offering webinars to discuss the findings of this report, and they will be developing resources and encouraging churches to take next steps in supporting parents and young people.
To download the full report or to read the executive summary, visit evangelicalfellowship.ca/parentingfaith.