the shape of leadership

Most Christians Say Their Faith Was Passed Down

A new Barna report shows moms are especially influential

Christina Quick on February 27, 2019


In 2 Timothy 1:5, the apostle Paul reminded his young protégé of the faith that first resided in Timothy’s mother and grandmother. According to a new report on families from Barna Group, most practicing Christians in the U.S. today (59 percent) similarly came to faith because of the influence from a believer in the household where they grew up.

Of those, 68 percent said a mother’s faith influenced them. Just under half (46 percent) indicated a father’s faith was influential. And 37 percent said a grandparent’s faith helped persuade them to become a Christian. (Respondents could give more than one answer.)

More than a third of practicing Christians came to faith for reasons other than positive interactions with people in their household, including 23 percent who said they grew up with a negative example of Christianity and 15 percent who had no exposure to Christianity at home. (Barna defines practicing Christians as those who self-identify as Christians, say their faith is very important in their lives, and have attended a worship service within the past month.)

“A person’s experience with Christianity while growing up does seem linked to their belief system even into adulthood, but a strong Christian heritage does not automatically equate to a strong Christian faith,” the report notes.

With more young people today rejecting religion and family structures becoming increasingly complex, the challenges are great.

In fact, 40 percent of those who pointed to a positive Christian heritage were nominal in their faith (self-identifying as Christian but not indicating a commitment to Christ). By comparison, just 30 percent of those who grew up with a negative example, and 21 percent of those with no Christian upbringing, had a nominal faith.

Barna also reports those with a positive faith heritage are less grounded in traditional Christian beliefs. For example, just 40 percent disagreed strongly with the idea that Jesus committed sins — compared to 60 percent of respondents who grew up without a Christian influence and 55 percent of those who grew up with a negative example of Christianity.

This analysis suggests three things to church leaders:

1. Faith often begins at home. Kids spend most of their time outside of church. As children learn to navigate the world and live out their faith, they will look first to the examples of those in their households. Reaching families for Christ can make a profound impact on future generations. With more young people today rejecting religion and family structures becoming increasingly complex, the challenges are great. We need the wisdom and empowerment of the Spirit.

2. Churches must equip and encourage parents and guardians to disciple kids. It’s not enough for parents to pass on a faith tradition. They need to teach the truths of Scripture and model what it means to live out those truths in a growing, life-giving relationship with Jesus. Churches can provide the discipleship, training, support and resources to help parents become effective spiritual leaders in their homes.

3. We shouldn’t assume people who grow up around Christianity are biblically literate. Many people today lack a basic understanding of God’s Word — including some with church backgrounds. We need an emphasis on sound, biblical preaching and teaching in our congregations, at every age and life stage.

Paul said this of Timothy: “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). That kind of faith heritage is powerful.


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