What do you think makes the biggest impact on a child’s spiritual development? Dinner as a family? Parents who don’t miss special events? Having church friends? Being at a good Christian school? Being at a church with a vibrant kids and student ministry?
While surely those are all good things and things I want for may daughters, none of them showed up in our recent LifeWay Research study on how kids really grow spiritually. We must be careful we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about things that don’t make the biggest impact. The study analyzed 2,000 Protestant adults who finished their parenting journey with one or more kids now between 18-30. The study looked at faith characteristics of those kids now, all grown up, and looked at the parenting practices and habits of the children as they were growing up. Jana Magruder masterfully unpacks the research in her new book, “Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith,” which I highly recommend to parents and leaders in kids/student ministry.
So what did show up in the research as the biggest influencers? Jana spends time in the book unpacking the 10 biggest influencers of spiritual health, but I am going to briefly offer the top five. If you care for your kid’s spiritual journey, this research is gold:
1. The child regularly reads his/her Bible while growing up.
This, not surprising to me because research on adults has concluded the same thing, was the largest impact on a child’s faith journey. Quite simply, kids who regularly read the Bible are much more likely to walk with Christ as adults than those who do not. More important than a family meal, more important than the school the child attends, more important than the church or the kids ministry or the youth group, is helping children fall in love with reading their Bibles. If there is one thing, and only one thing, we as parents and ministry leaders should do, it is this: Live Bible reading in front for our kids. Show our kids how to read the text. Read the Bible with them. The research says, “Do whatever it takes.”
2. The child regularly spends time in prayer growing up.
Similar to reading the Scripture, a child who looks to Jesus in the Word and in prayer is going to be continually changed and set on a trajectory for a lifetime of faith.
3. The child regularly served in church while growing up.
The research also revealed that the family attending church is very significant for the child. From a research vantage point, each drop in frequency of a family’s church attendance correlates to a drop in the child’s faith development. Bottom-line: an infrequent, church-attending family is adversely impacting the faith development of their children. So attending church matters. But even more than attending, serving in the church while growing up makes a profound impact on a child/teenager.
4. The child listens primarily to Christian music.
Okay, I did not expect this to be the fourth biggest influence and there will be some haters on this one. Some folks think Christian music is cheesy or creates a bubble or is commercialized. Still others think it is worldly. Do what you want with this point, but the research says that it was the fourth biggest factor on a kid’s spiritual growth. So if you pay attention to the research you may end up singing hymns as a family, loading up a minivan and going to a concert, and being happy when your kid’s room bumps loudly with Christian rap.
5. The child participates in church mission trips and projects.
Serving in the church impacts the development of a child/teenager, but so does serving in the community. Mission trips and mission projects ranked high on the list.
So what do we do with this research? I find it liberating because it reminds us of simple truths we already know. We should work hard to help our kids spend time with Jesus—in His Word, in prayer, and in what they put in their minds. And we should help our kids serve others, in the church and outside the church. Those are the biggest influencers on their spiritual maturation.