by Ian Pacey
Most people who work in the area of youth or young adult ministries are familiar with the massive study of American religious belief and practice known as the National Study of Youth and Religion (NYSR).
NYSR started by pooling a large and diverse group of American students and parents in the early 1990s. The group was asked questions related to their religious belief and practice. The first wave of questions was administered when the students were roughly junior high or middle school aged, the second high school aged, the third post-high school aged and the fourth post-college aged.
While the raw data is interesting in itself, the hope, at least for those who work with youth, was the revelation of some strategy or some magic pill for keeping young people in the faith. Was any such thing discovered? If you can believe it, the answer is yes!
When it comes to the continued confession of the Christian faith, the most important factor for children is the belief and practice of their parents.
Here are some excerpts of the findings:
“Mothers and fathers who practice what they preach and preach what they practice are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping the faith into their 20s.”
“Just 1 percent of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.”
“In contrast, 82 percent of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults.”
“The connection is ‘nearly deterministic,’ said University of Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith, lead researcher for the study. Other factors such as youth ministry or clergy or service projects or religious schools pale in comparison.”
“There are some powerful ‘cultural scripts’ that discourage parents from taking an active role in the spiritual lives of their teens. Among those scripts: After age 12, the role of parents recedes, and the influence of peers, the media, music and social media take over. Cultural messages that encourage parents to turn their children over to ‘experts.’ In the case of faith formation, many parents consider that to be the responsibility of clergy, Sunday schools and youth groups, Smith said.”
A few brief comments on the findings:
- When it comes to content, the main thing in any youth ministry has to be real instruction in the faith. It sounds obvious, but the research shows that it is not. Fun and games may supplement a youth ministry, but they can never be the only thing in a youth ministry.
- When it comes to the questions of “Who should teach?” and “When should it begin?” the answers are clear. In addition to what is being received in church, parents need intentionally to teach and practice Christianity in the home and they need to do it from the very beginning. If parents wait until seventh grade to hand young people over to pastors to begin teaching, they will have missed the most important years for Christian formation.
How are you parents teaching the faith to your children at home? Let us know in the comment section below.