The Fuzzy Faith-Connections of Contemporary Families

In her latest “What We’re Learning” blog, Dr. Nancy Going targets our discoveries about parents’ evolving relationship with their faith, and what role the church plays in their everyday life. Through our four-year research project “Fourth-Soil Parenting,” we’ve created a firsthand “listening post” for parents’ hopes, dreams, and concerns. We asked our 21 partner churches to each invite a dozen parents (couples and singles) to a nice restaurant for dinner out (our treat)—there, we gave them questions to discuss with each other during dinner, followed by a guided conversation with the whole group. Each church recorded notes from these conversations and sent them back to us.

Nancy and I pored over the results from these “dinner-party” surveys, looking for insights and common threads. We did this separately, then compared notes. In Nancy’s piece she highlights what stood out to her—I’ll do the same here with my takeaways. First, I’ll take a broad stab at a kind of fog that crept into parents’ responses to our five primary questions (think about using these same questions for a parent-survey in your own context):

  1. What is hard or challenging for you as parents in raising your kids to grow up in their faith?
  2. In ways do you assume or expect faith to be formed in your kids?
  3. Do you know what other parents are doing to nurture faith in their homes? If not, why not? If so, how and what have you learned?
  4. When you were going to church online, what did you do with your kids that was faith-connected? How often? How did they respond?
  5. What expectations do you think your church has for you forming faith in your kids at home?

 In their answers to these questions, parents often described a fuzzy, important-but-unexamined connection to their faith and their congregation. I mean, they see “Christian” and “church” as expected facets of their identity, but often don’t treat either as the hub that connects the spokes of their everyday life. They have unrealized spiritual longings for both themselves and their kids, but don’t seem to be following clear, intentional paths toward a deepening relationship with God. As Nancy points out, we can see “fuzzy” and “unrealized longing” as negative markers of parents’ faith maturity, or as an invitation for ministry leaders to accompany parents as guides. Underneath this umbrella observation, here are my other takeaways from the surveys…   

  • The longevity and immersive nature of parents’ church connection has a soul-forming influence.
  • Parents have a surprising sense that parenting is forming and shaping their identity—it’s not just a “role.”
  • Many couples are at different places on the faith continuum, and that makes clarity and intentionality with their parenting less focused.
  • Some parents have a kind of lurking skepticism about the church in general and church leaders in particular—they’re searching for someone and something to trust.
  • In the messiness and chaos and challenge of everyday life, they don’t seem to have a “hub” that brings meaning to it all.
  • They seem to recognize the natural “spiritual moments” in their relationship with their kids, and are longing for guidance on how to enter into them with wisdom—for example, how to answer questions about God’s care and will when a pet dies.
  • Parents appreciate practical, intentional, persistent faith-growth resourcing for their children at home, and a messaging and programming persistence from the church.
  • Chaotic, exhausting family life makes intentionality around faith conversations and faith influence difficult—it’s often an afterthought to the “emergencies of the day.”
  • Many would appreciate a greater focus from the church on their challenges and dreams—resourcing, encouragement, programs, and help.
  • They are longing to feel equipped to answer life’s faith conundrums and questions.

I wonder how these observations resonate with your own experience, and how they might tweak your ministry creativity and curiosity. Listening to parents is, in itself, a spiritual practice. And our experience with the ministry leaders in our project is that these dinner-party explorations have re-energized their connections with parents and helped re-establish important connections to their faith and the church.

Just for You!
If you’ve been reading my Friday blogs for the last few months, you know my new book Editing Jesus comes out soon—June 4th to be exact. The book’s publisher has put together an extended excerpt (the first three chapters!) that is exclusively available to the Vibrant Faith community. So, here you go… Just click on this link and you can download a pdf of this long excerpt from the book.   

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including his new release (June 4) Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church, The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.



A Deeper Way to Lead Others Into Faith Maturity… Guide your people into depth relationally and experientially… A new curriculum by Rick Lawrence for both youth & adult ministries. Learn More Here




Thank you for Registering