Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Significance of Spiritual Activity as a Child

With all of the time, money and effort that parents and churches invest in the spiritual growth of children, we find ourselves often wondering if there is really any statistical connection between childhood faith and adult religious commitment. A recent study by the Barna Group provides new insights into the age-old question.

The survey asked adults to think back on their upbringing and to describe the frequency of their involvement in Sunday school or religious training. The researchers then compared these responses to the current level of faith activity of these adults.

More than 80 percent of adults remembered consistently attending Sunday school or some other religious training before the age of 12. Seven out of 10 adults (69%) said they attended such programs weekly.

About 70 percent also recalled going to Sunday school or other religious programs for teens at least once a month. Half (50%) indicated they had gone to such teen programs at least once a week when growing up.

In connecting childhood and teen engagement with adult spirituality, the Barna team used four elements of adult religious commitment: attending church, having an active faith (defined as reading the Bible, praying and attending church in the last week), being unchurched, and switching from childhood faith.

"Those who attended Sunday school or other religious programs as children and teens were much more likely than those without such experiences to attend church and to have an active faith as adults," concluded the report. Fifty percent of those who attended such programs as a child said they have attended a worship service in the last week, which is slightly higher than the national average and much higher than those who did not attend such programs as children. Among those who frequently attended religious programs as teens, 58 percent said they had attended a worship service in the last week.

Being unchurched or changing from one's childhood faith were also correlated to early-life spiritual experiences. The study asked if people had the same faith perspectives today as when the were children or whether they had ever significantly changed their views. Twenty-two percent of those who recalled frequent religious attendance as children had changed their faith views from those held as a child. Among those who attended religious programs as teens, 21 percent had changed their core faith views.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, noted, "It is important to clarify what this research does and does not indicate. First, correlation does not imply causation. This means that the research does not prove that spiritual activity as a young person causes spiritual engagement as an adult. In fact, the research confirms the pattern that many students who are active in early life disengage from their faith as they get older. And people's recollections of childhood activities are only one limited way of understanding faith durability. ... [However,] it provides clarity that the odds of one sticking with faith over a lifetime are enhanced in a positive direction by spiritual activity under the age of 18."

(from FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

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