What We’re Learning: Connecting Matters More Than You Think


In Vibrant Faith’s ongoing Fourth-Soil Parenting Project, we coach church ministry leaders to:  

  • Honor (uphold) parents as the primary faith-forming agents in the lives of their children. 
  • Experiment with new ways to support and encourage parents to live out and talk about their faith in Jesus in daily life.
  • Provide daily life spiritual nurture for the skills and tasks of parenting in streams that are consistent with parents’ daily lives.

Our team’s five-year project plan, funded in part by the Lilly endowment, is built around three C’s—three concepts that we want churches to explore through a “menu” of ministry experiments. We believe these three big ideas have a profound, even foundational impact on the capacity of parents to disciple the next generation of believers. They are:

  1. Connecting—Are parents emotionally connected to their church community? Are they able to nurture emotional connection to their children?) 
  2. Calling—Do parents see parenting as one of their God-given callings?
  3. CommittingAre parents aware and leaning into a deepening relationship with God?

We began our Fourth-Soil Parenting Project by inviting 20 geographically and theologically diverse churches as partners, kicking off our work at a Denver training event in April of 2023. There, we prepared them to launch into a set of diverse experiments, all focused on new ways of connecting parents, raising their awareness of calling in their parenting, and deepening their commitment to Jesus as fuel for their discipling relationship with their kids. Now, almost a year into the project, we’ve learned a lot—I’d like to highlight three takeways…  

  1. Parents are responding to connecting with each other, and are making it clear that they need more of itOur churches chose from a variety of ways to help parents connect. One of the most popular among theexperimental ideas we prepared for them was hosting online conversations around topics of concern to parents. However, our churches were encouraged to LIMIT any expert input into those topics to 10 minutes, so that the bulk of the time was spent in guided conversation with other parents. The goal of the experiment was NOT to share information about the topic—the goal was to help parents CONNECT around issues that are sources of worry for them in raising children in today’s world. And parents loved it! They showed up and asked for more. They moved conversations from online to in-person. Because of the response, our project-partner churches are hosting more conversations than originally planned. The critical learning for us is the importance of leaning into THE PARENTS’ emotional and intellectual needs, rather than the church’s agenda. Another way to wonder about this: Are your parents looking to learn the thingsWE want to teach them? Or can we use the concerns of their daily lives as they parent to help them experience new ways of following Jesus.  
  2. Connecting is an essential foundational step in any discipling process.We have been heartened by reports from our churches that parents are responding well to this focus on connecting. We (and so many others) believe that faith is formed through personal, trusted relationships. However, as ministry leaders we often think that relational connections already exist when they simply don’t, or that they will happen in and through whatever “teaching” or worship time we’re engaged in. They simply can’t or don’t happen at any depth in these environments. We need to find time and space in and through our ministries for INTENTIONAL relational connections FOR and WITH parents so that they are able deepen their relationship with God in the context of everyday life. The lesson for us here is that parents who are disconnected from other parents have a very difficult time maturing in their relationship with God and, by extension, their relationship with their children. Not only are relationships the seedbed for faith; it is very difficult to nurture faith OUTSIDE of them. If parents are not “relationally connected” to spiritual guides in their churches, it will be VERY difficult for them to grow in discipling their children.   
  1. Connecting matters, especially now. We so often lament what parents don’t KNOW about their faith and wonder how we can possibly trust them to pass it on to their children. We talk about their lack of Scripture engagement or their busyness as our primary concerns. Yet, Vibrant Faith’s experiments with our Fourth-Soil Churches over the last year reveals a crippling loneliness among parents—they’re longing to bring deeper impact in their kids’ faith lives, but need discipling relationships as guides. It’s not just that relationships make following Jesus better. It is imperative that we focus on creating intentional relational connections BECAUSEthose relationships ARE the good soil where the seeds of faith can grow: “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 13: 8-9).

Make this the year that you and your church partners lean into FAMILYING the Faith. When you consider how to engage your parents, our strategies need to land comfortably in their everyday rhythms. They need spiritual prompting that fits their relational ecosystem. And they need Scriptural connections that are the MOST meaningful and resonant for them in the moment. We describe this as FAMILYING the Faith. It’s also the name of our new podcast—check it out HERE.  


Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.



If you liked this article, check out the following resources that help parents become the primary influencers of their children’s faith: 
lives of meaning and purpose

Practical Tools for Raising Faithful Kids           Familying the Faith.


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