What We’re Learning: What Are Christian Parents Thinking?

What do we actually know about what’s going on inside the faith-life of the parents in our churches today? On some level, they’re longing to raise their children to know and love Jesus, but how is that going for them?

Vibrant Faith has been asking these questions in a variety of ways over the last two years as we dig into the mission of the Lilly Endowment’s Christian Parenting and Caregiving Grant—our project is called Fourth-Soil Parenting. In preparation for our grant work, we recruited ministry leaders to hold dinner parties with parents and gave them questions to start conversations about their own faith and the unfolding faith of their children. Later, the first thing we asked our 21 participating churches to do was organize these same dinner-party listening gatherings. They invited groups of parents to sit down for a nice dinner together and talk about what it’s like to raise their children in the faith, in a rapidly changing and challenging cultural ecosystem.

We’re discovering that parents can have WILDLY different faith experiences and expectations, depending on the kind of church they are attending. We purposefully recruited churches from all across the country and from very different theological perspectives, as well as from a variety of cultures. Parent responses to some of our questions, such as their own faith experiences, were markedly different.

However, in spite of the lack of commonality in their spiritual experiences, parents shared remarkably similar concerns for their own life of faith and for the faith of their children. While their answers aren’t surprising, we see profound traction for the formation of faith in the next generation as we lean into parents hopes, dreams, and concerns. I’ve organized my observations about parents’ relationship with faith into a few categories. It’s critical for people who are working with children and youth to acknowledge that these concerns matter, and that parents are carrying them. How do we need to structure ministry differently to connect with (not solve!) these concerns?

Their Own Faith
Parents entered into these conversations by revealing aspects of their own personal faith journeys. Parents connect to churches today for a wide variety of reasons, which only sometimes have anything to do with sharing the faith with their children. Many parents who have struggled in their own personal spiritual journey express concerns about guiding their children into a deepening relationship with God. 

Parents told us about their own experiences of faith-doubt, and how that can creep into their willingness and capacity to share faith with their children. That means they have concerns about offering the “right answers” and are unsure how to help their children make space for the existence of alternative beliefs and mythologies.

Concerns About Christian Practice In the World   
Parents in all kinds of churches are challenged to explaini the differences in denominations and religions at a level not experienced in recent generations. In a culture where people don’t talk well about differences in belief and practice, and when denominations are losing much of their meaning, parents face the difficulty of explaining the specific beliefs and practices of their own faith tradition. It’s hard from them to distinguish their beliefs from other denominations or religions.

Parents are struggling to explain religious concepts in a way that is age-appropriate and comprehensible to their children.

Helping Their Children Have an Active Faith  
Parents express a variety of concerns about how to engage their children’s interest with lots of stories about what worked and what didn’t during Covid. They’ve encountered challenges in engaging their children’s interest and curiosity in matters of faith, particularly when traditional activities and classes don’t capture their attention. Many parents expressed a desire for the church to provide an environment that meets their children where they are, and foster genuine engagement.

Accordingly, parents express delight or frustration with youth programs within their churches, and offer blame, and credit, for their children’s interest or lack of interest and engagement or disengagement from religious activities.

An Oppositional Culture
Finally, we heard again and again about the external pressures that parents of all kinds feel as they seek to influence and disciple their children. Parents all over the county highlight the influence of a secular and screen-saturated culture, and named challenges of raising children with strong faith values in this context. 

Parents expressed various levels of disconnect with their children as they discuss the difficulty of reconciling their own faith and religious practices with their children’s perspectives, especially when their children pursue atheism or reject religious beliefs. They navigate the challenge of maintaining a sense of connection and understanding while respecting the challenges while claiming God immutable love and care for their children.

We look forward to exploring how and where we can come alongside parents more actively to help them actually engage these fears, and the faith of their children, from a position of resting in God’s love and care themselves. 

Join us for more! 

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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