While relationships provide the traction for faith to stick, there are several additional factors involved in the faith-forming process:

We explore these factors in detail at the Do What Matters workshop for congregational leaders. But I’d like to offer a few thoughts on each in this series.

Home / family Matters

Some things you probably already know:

  • Parents are the primary educators in the faith.
  • Home / family has the most influence on whether and how faith is transmitted from one generation to the next.
  • Any Sunday School teacher or child catechist knows which of their students experience faith reinforcement at home, and those who don’t.

Faith is transmitted from one generation to the next, in significant ways, by the family’s faith and religious practice.

Something you may not have thought about: Lack of faith and religious practice is also transmitted from one generation to the next in similar ways.

As just one indicator among many, a recent CARA study asked Catholic parents if prayer was a part of their family meals and family gatherings. Only 13% reported “Always” while 49% reported “Not often” or “Never.” The same study found that 68% of Catholic parents do not have their children engaged in parish or school faith formation programs. (They don’t even drop them off anymore!)

Transmitting faith to the next generation has less to do with teaching the content and whole lot more to do with the quality of the parent/child relationship, and with how faith is modeled.

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The forty years of research by Vern Bengtson concluded that faith is more likely to be transmitted when the relationship between parent and child is seen as warm, loving, and open to questions vs. distant, dictatorial, and black & white. (See Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations, Oxford University Press, 2013.)

Bengtson also concluded that faith is best transmitted in the home by the manner in which faith and religious practice is genuinely modeled by parents, grandparents, and other adults in the family.

By the time our children are ten or eleven years old, they have figured out if faith practice is really real and important to their parents, or if they do it only for the sake of the kids. If children perceive that it’s truly important and crucial, they are more likely to take it with them as they emerge into young adulthood. If they perceive that parents do it only for their sake, they are more likely to leave it behind. If the parents don’t do it at all, well then . . .

How do we encourage and empower faith expression at home? A perennial tough question. Again, a few things you probably already know: Families grow in faith when they . . .

  • TALK with each other about their faith
  • PRAY together in ways that are comfortable and comforting
  • RITUALIZE their important moments
  • REACH OUT in service and support of others.
  • SHARE BIBLE STORY to connect with family stories
  • LEARN ABOUT FAITH TOGETHER in comfortable and fun ways

Still, how do we buck the trend and get them to do these things on a regular basis? These type of activities can move from low priority “shoulds” to high priority “must dos” when they experience greater well-being, closer relationship, even healing and reconciliation by doing them. How does that happen?

One way is when the faith expression helps the family navigate key moments of their day such as bedtime, car time, meal time, exits, and entries. Also, key moments of their lives such as memory-making moments and milestones. When these moments are navigated well it boosts family well-being. When navigated well with a faith practice it boosts family faith.

So what if we gave them simple faith-based activities (from the six categories above) that are actually designed to help them navigate key moments? When faith practice feeds family health, they will come back for more. Here are some examples:

Bedtime Meditation (young family – bedtime)

Tripping Together (adult / couple – car time)

Family Pause (teen family – exit or entry)

Eating Together Well (teen family – mealtime)

Bad Days Jar (teen family – bedtime or entries)

Reading Together; Being Together (young family – bedtime)

Serious Illness Simple Prayer (young family – memory making moment)

Prayer is SADness (young adult – memory making moment)

These activities are found on Vibrant Faith @ Home where you can find more than 600 faith forming activities for use at home.

What do you think? Comment here on the blog!

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