At the beginning of Lent, I shared this graphic with a small group of young parents during a Sunday school class.
This chart was based on some very simple math assuming a 7-year-old child attending public school and getting the 10 hours of sleep per night recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics. As you can see, that tiniest little sliver of time indicates the amount of time a child spends in church during a year. (That is assuming they spend two hours at church on 45 out of 52 Sundays a year, which is a rather generous assumption.)
The fact is, the church can and should certainly play a large role in a child’s faith formation. However, if children only experience faith practices, worship, and study while they are physically within the walls of the church building, it is simply not enough time to make it “stick.” Faith formation MUST happen at home as well.
Families who value faith and want their children to grow into faithful adults need to incorporate faith into their daily lives and there are many simple ways to do it! Mealtime or bedtime prayers, reading bible stories, and recognizing God’s presence in nature are easy things anyone can do. It does require intentionality, but simple gestures like these when children are young pave the way for deeper practices and open conversations as children grow – in age and in their faith.
Parents, however, are not the only ones who have a responsibility for helping children grow in faith. Sticky Faith is a research-based approach published by the Fuller Youth Institute with the goal of equipping parents and ministry leaders to nurture long-term faith development in children and youth. According to their research, children who had at least FIVE adults in their lives, other than parents, surrounding them and helping them develop their faith were much more likely to experience faith that “sticks;” faith that they carry into adulthood. Where do those five people come from? They could be other relatives or teachers. They could also be Sunday school teachers, milestone leaders, confirmation mentors, pastors, or neighbors.
In addition to faith at home and a team of supporters, kids also need space for questions. As adults, we have questions about our faith (even if we don’t like to admit that!). So do kids. They don’t need simplistic answers to complex questions. They need adults who are willing to have honest, open conversations; who are willing to wonder together with them; who are willing to say, “I’m not sure about that either.”
If you have children, what would your graph really look like? Who are the five people in your child’s life who are going to form their faith? How do you incorporate faith at home?
If you do not yet have children or if your children are grown & flown, are you one of the five in a child’s life? Who were the people and what were the experiences that formed your faith?
As we begin the work of planning for a new church school year, these are some of the things I am pondering. When we baptize children, we promise to nurture them in their faith. Sometimes, we do that well, but there is always room for improvement, innovation, and growth.