Canadian Research Examines How Parents Share Faith with Children
Several years ago, the leadership of Muskoka Bible Centre embarked on a journey to better understand our focus as a Kingdom ministry. We knew that ‘family’ had always been at the root of our mission, but we wanted to know more specifically what needs and opportunities existed in family ministry. In 2018, we undertook a one-year research project that included interviews with pastors, MBC guests and various other agencies that focused on family ministry. We also reviewed any significant social trends (and accompanying research) that were having an impact on the family experience. Some common themes emerged:
- An epidemic of loneliness among society; especially among young people and the elderly.
- A sense of urgency and some helplessness among pastors as they see families hurting.
- Documented concern about the percentage of youth abandoning faith.
Our initial research identified the critical importance of faith transference from one generation to another and a sense that this must become of increasing importance to the Church. Not only is this a biblical mandate (Psalm 78) but given the aggressive secularization of our society, the transfer of a proper knowledge of God and the Gospel to the next generation will take strategic wisdom, understanding and some very intentional effort. We also discovered that research on how parents are forming biblical faith in their children in Canada was almost non-existent.
Given the lack of research available, we approached the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) with the question of conducting a survey around faith formation in Canadian families. The result was the creation of a Canada-wide partnership that launched what we now call the Parenting Faith research project. It was a great experience to work with so many ministry agencies, including various denominations, to better understand how we can support parents in transferring faith to the next generation.
That research work has now been completed and Parenting Faith, a 245-page report has now been released. This report presents the findings of this uniquely Canadian research that identifies what helps and hinders the transmission of faith from this generation of parents to their children.
The research, conducted by the CRCF, involved interviews with Canadian evangelical parents and family ministry experts as well as surveys with 1,217 parents representing 3,041 children across Canada. The report identifies the cultural influences and parental priorities that are currently shaping how beliefs and faith-related behaviours are adopted or rejected by the next generation.
“Parenting Faith identifies both gaps and opportunities for churches, ministry organizations and parents to help us all better guide youth into a life of following Jesus and meaningful belonging and participation in the Church,” says Rick Hiemstra, lead researcher and CRCF director. “As parents ourselves, we were fascinated to hear other parents share their hearts, and in many cases, their actual techniques for nurturing a love of God within their kids. We are excited to think about how this report will equip leaders and practitioners to understand the context parents are living in now, and how they can most effectively come alongside.”
The report also reveals seismic shifts in how parents of this generation view and carry out their role as shapers of faith in their children’s lives, compared to the previous generation and their own parents. Seventy-three percent of surveyed parents believe it is essential to offer their children religious choice without any pressure, while 32% of respondents report that their own upbringing was quite different. They recall their own parents requiring unquestioning obedience to religion and not offering explanations about faith.
The survey reveals that, in contrast to previous generations, these parents do like to discuss faith with their children, and often do so casually while on the move from one extracurricular activity to another or during other transition times during an ordinary day. The research also shows other typical faith-forming activities like reading the Bible, praying or sharing personal testimonies are not being practised by children in a way that would indicate they would continue to practise them as adults.
An astounding 99% of parents surveyed say their role in faith formation is to teach and model their faith.
The full list of EFC affiliate organizations that partnered in this project along with the report are available at www.TheEFC.ca/ParentingFaith. Also included on this website are some summary reports of the findings.
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CEO, Muskoka Bible Centre