Are you setting 2023 goals for your yourself and your family?

Go ahead and look a few more years down the road. Where do you see your children spiritually 10, 15, even 20 years from now? If you are searching for the most important factor in your child’s spiritual development, read on…

The message we sometimes hear is that parents have little effect on shaping their children’s moral and religious convictions. Parents may even make a decision to be religiously neutral to enable their children to make their own decisions. Perhaps these parents believe they have no right to influence. Maybe they hope their children will build stronger convictions if they are allowed to discover and develop them on their own.

But, the reality is that children will be shaped. And in the absence of direction from parents, someone will shape their thinking. Your influence matters more than you may think.

The Research

From 2001 to 2015, Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame and Lisa Pearce, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, embarked on a longitudinal study to examine the transmission of religion from parents to children. The findings of this National Study of Youth and Religion detail just how important parents are in the spiritual development of their children.

“The biggest and most consistent finding of the Study is that the most important sociologically measurable factor in determining the outcomes of young peoples’ religious and spiritual lives, is the religious and spiritual lives of their parents.” –Christian Smith

Smith said that parents matter tremendously, but not just in what we tell our children. Although telling is important, our kids are more affected by who we are, by what matters most to us, and the things that are real to us.

So, it’s a combination of who we are, how we live, and what we talk about all together. It’s true that we can’t pass on a faith that we do not ourselves possess. And, yet we know we are passing on something to our children. Children watch our every move. A parent’s lack of spirituality is not insignificant. It is an identity that has consequences for another human being.

This study concluded that just one percent of teens raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid-to-late 20s.

In contrast, another group of parents talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs, and were active in their congregations. Eighty-two percent of children raised by these parents were religiously active as young adults.

Christian Smith called this connection “nearly deterministic.” He went on to say that other factors such as youth ministry or clergy or service projects or religious schools pale in comparison. This tells us that the effect of these valuable ministries to our children will have a greater impact when paired with values they observe in the home.

Even though this is so important, for many parents discussing the Bible or “religion” is uncomfortable because they don’t know what they believe.

“A lot of parents don’t know enough or are too embarrassed to talk to their kids about anything religious. So, they go to church and then when they get in the car, that’s over with. And that sends powerful messages… It has to be something that parents work on with their children if it’s going to stick.”

–Christian Smith

This is exactly what Moses instructs parents to focus on in Deuteronomy 6:7. Without a roadmap, your children will have great difficulty navigating the terrain.

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

What Parents Can Do
  • Know what you believe about God and why you believe it. Do you have a truthful, coherent theology to pass on to your children?
  • Make Christian fellowship and regular church attendance a priority for your family.
  • Talk about spiritual things every day with your children.
  • Discuss current events and what your children see on TV and social media. What does God say about this? Explore God’s Word together.
  • Model a life consistent with the theology you profess.
  • Be the one your children will want to imitate.

Indeed…Parents Matter.


Further Reading:

An Interview with Christian Smith, “How Parents Pass Religious Faith to their Children”

Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation by Christian Smith and Amy Adamchyk

National Study of Youth and Religion