Young People and their Parents

Young people are more affected by their dad’s attendance at church than their mum’s, but parent’s attendance has more impact on each other than it does on young people.

As with all data, some of these results were as expected, some were surprising and some inconclusive. In particular, I found the insights into the relationship between parents and young people revealing. First of all though, a few caveats in how we put the data together:

While the survey focused on the attitudes, disciplines, and values of young people, it only focused on the attendance of parents. This means we do not know how proactive in faith the parents are – we don’t know if they are actively discipling their young people, or just passive pew fillers.

As with any survey, we are seeing correlations – instead of causations. We aren’t developing a guaranteed formula, we are just noting interesting indications and trends. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use the term ‘regularly’ for attending once or twice a month.

So what did the survey show?

FAMILY DYNAMICS ARE CRUCIAL ATTENDANCE MOTIVATORS, BUT NOT THE ONLY ONES

While 90 per cent of the young people who filled out the survey attend church regularly, only 74 per cent of their mums and 60 per cent of their dads do. Within church going families, if mum or dad attends church, most often their children attend regularly too. But there are a chunk of unchurched young people who seem to have been brought into church and integrated in a way that makes them regular attenders of church without their family dynamics being the main motivating factor.

DAD GOING TO CHURCH SEEMS TO BE MORE INFLUENTIAL THAN MUM

According to our statistics, if dad attends church regularly there is a ten per cent bump up in young people’s attendance from irregular to regular.

MUM AND DAD’S ATTENDANCE AT CHURCH SEEM TO IMPACT EACH OTHER’S ATTENDANCE MORE THAN THEIR YOUNG PERSON’S

The interplay between mum’s and dad’s attendance is interesting: only 15 per cent of dads go to church regularly if mum isn’t going. Mums seem to not be as affected; 40 per cent of them will still attend regularly even if dad doesn’t. For a young person, if even one of their parents attends regularly, the correlation is extremely high that they will attend regularly as well.

YOUNG PEOPLE’S VIEWS ON SEX SEEM TO BE MORE LIBERAL THE LESS INVOLVED THEIR PARENTS ARE IN CHURCH

If mum isn’t going regularly to church, her young person’s views on sex tend to be more relaxed, particularly in the areas of being in favour of sex outside of marriage (33 per cent compared to 20 per cent) and in favour of homosexuality (46 per cent compared to 30 per cent). If dad doesn’t attend church, the statistics are slightly more liberal and grows again if neither parent attends.

PARENT’S ATTENDANCE DOES AFFECT PERSONAL SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES AT HOME, BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU THINK

The most interesting statistic for me in this survey is this one: if a young person’s parents do not attend regularly, then they are 15 per cent more likely to read the Bible at least once a week, and are equally likely to pray as their peers.

SO WHAT?

We know that a parent’s proactive involvement in their young person’s spiritual life is a massive influencing factor. From God commanding Moses in Deuteronomy 6 to Kenda Creasy Dean’s research today, leaders for millennia have been insisting on the importance of parents in the spiritual life of teens. This survey provides us a tiny insight into how this plays out in a few areas for us today, and it demands us to ask ourselves some questions.

Without mothers attending, fathers’ attendance drastically drops, and yet we see statistically that a fathers’ regular attendance makes a crucial difference to young people who are disconnected from church. How do we reach out to fathers in a way that empowers them to impact their young people’s faith journey?

What are we doing right in our discipleship with unchurched young people that results in them implementing personal spiritual disciplines well? What do we need to learn so we can likewise develop those traits in all of our young people?

Our young people have a wide range of views about sex and there is a strong correlation between their views and their parents’ attendance at church. As we address issues of sex and sexuality with them, how do we sensitively and proactively empower them to engage with their parent’s views of the same topics?

While parental attendance is a key indicator of their children’s attendance at church, it is by no means the central indicator of how effective parents are in the spiritual discipleship of their young people. We all know Christian parents who are as disconnected from proactively discipling their young people as unchurched parents are. What we can see is that the vast majority of young people who attend church regularly are children of regular attenders of church. The challenge becomes: how can we utilise that partnership to the best of our abilities to enable excellent discipleship of church young people, and how can we reach our unchurched parents to encourage and support whole families, not just young people, to be transformed by the gospel?



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