Passing Faith to the Next Generation

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Our son got married this summer, the last of our four children to get married. My husband tells people that “now we’re done parenting.” People always laugh with us because they know it’s not true. Parents don’t stop being parents just because their kids move out of the house. I know that, while we don’t have the day-to-day concerns about our kids that we used to, we still worry.

One thing that we worry about is their faith life – are they continuing to live a life of faith? We know we’re not alone in this. Christian parents everywhere want their children to follow Jesus. We often wish that there was a silver bullet of some sort or a simple set of procedures for parents to follow to ensure that our children have faith.

While he does not give such a list, Vern Bengston Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California, has conducted a 35-year longitudinal study on the transmission of religion across generations. The results of his study are discussed in the interesting and encouraging book, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down By Generations.

While this is an academic book, Bengston unpacks his research in a way that is both readable and relatable. Bengston and his colleagues have determined that cultural changes don’t have as strong an influence as we might be led to believe. That’s good news for parents! He also points out that there are a number of factors that enter in to why some children continue in their parent’s faith and other’s don’t. One of the most encouraging conclusions is that families, parents and grandparents, are very important for religious transmission. This is an optimistic book that concludes that families are by and large very effective at transferring faith from generation to generation, and that the factors that come into play in today's world really don't make it any harder or easier to pass on faith now than it did 40 years ago. 

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One thing I found interesting about this study was that it pointed to the importance of the quality of the parent/child relationship in passing on our faith. It's important that we are intentional about talking with our kids about God but it may be even more important that our interactions with them be characterized by openness, affection, grace, and love--qualities that reflect God's heart for them too. It is nice to know that just loving our kids well helps them to love and admire the God we adore.