A national survey of parents with children under age 18 finds only a third of parents believe it’s important for their kids to share their religious beliefs. Yet majorities of white evangelicals and Black Protestants desire to nurture their Christian beliefs in the next generation.
In a new study released Tuesday by Pew Research Center, overall 35% of American parents say it is extremely or very important to them that their children have similar religious beliefs.
Two subgroups bucked this trend. A super majority of 70% of white evangelical and a majority of 53% of Black Protestant respondents find it important for children’s religious beliefs to correspond to their own.
The nationally representative survey of 3,757 U.S. parents with children under age 18 has a margin of error of 2.2%. It was conducted Sept. 2 to Oct. 22 of last year.
“As more parents are less and less interested in their own religious commitments, it’s only natural that they also place less emphasis on their children’s religious development,” said Carson Weitnauer, executive director of Christian apologetics ministry Uncommon Pursuit.
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In an interview with The Roys Report (TRR) he referenced a September study by Pew Research in which researchers forecast the future religious landscape using current data inputs. By 2070, if current trends continue, the study projected Christians might make up less than half — and as little as a third — of the U.S. population.
“Many Christian parents have already seen their kids walk away from God as teenagers or young adults,” said Weitnauer. “The resulting differences in religion and values can generate uncomfortable tensions between parents and their adult children.”
A 2017 study conducted by Lifeway Research surveyed 2,002 young adults who had attended a Protestant church in their teen years. Of those respondents who no longer attended church, only 37% affirmed that their church “genuinely demonstrated how to follow Jesus.” And only 34% found the church “a welcoming environment for people in my life stage.”
Similarly, in a 2011 study, the Barna Group surveyed 1,296 current and former evangelical churchgoers about their reasons for leaving church. The study found 36% of millennials who left the church say they were unable “to ask pressing life questions” in that environment. Another 23% claimed that their church discouraged them from expressing doubts about their faith.
Weitnauer echoed these findings in commenting on the recent Pew survey. “Some have tried to find God at church but instead experienced spiritual, sexual, and financial abuse, racism, judgmental attitudes, or indifference to their needs,” he said.
“Our unwillingness to acknowledge [their] pain is, understandably, a major stumbling block for those who remain spiritually curious.”
Study uncovers other concerns, aspirations of parents
The recent Pew survey also finds that more parents are concerned about potential mental health issues of their children than involvement with gun violence, drugs, or premarital sex.
Four in ten parents (40%) were either extremely or very concerned about their child struggling with anxiety or depression at some point. Another 35% cited concerns about their child being bullied.
Pew also reported that U.S. parents have broad agreement on certain attributes of the sort of people they hope their children will become.
Fully 94% of respondents said it’s important for their children to grow up to be “honest and ethical.” Large majorities of parents also affirmed hopes for their children to be hardworking (88%), to help others in need (81%), and to accept others who are different (80%).
However, only 16% of respondents said it’s important for their children to have similar political beliefs as they do once they’re adults. “Republican and Democratic parents are about equally likely” to answer in the affirmative on this question, according to Pew.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.
5 thoughts on “Pew Survey: Passing On Faith to Children Not A Priority for Many Parents”
I’m really interested in hearing from the parents on here what it means to pass along your faith to your child (while there are a lot of children in my extended family and friend group, I’m an “auntie” but not a parent). I feel very fortunate to have parents who raised me in the church (youth group, confirmation, ministry camp, Vacation Bible School, I did it ALL), shared with me how they came to faith, and also encouraged me to develop my own faith through discussion and sharing. When I was in college and wasn’t sure if I was a Christian or just grew up immersed in Christianity, I spent time exploring A LOT. And yet, when I was exposed to behaviors and beliefs that weren’t Christian, my parents kept asking questions that made me think about what I believed, what I was experiencing, (and often sent me back to my Bible). I ended up becoming a Christian of my own volition, belief and accord in my early 20’s.
What do I see today? A lot of “you WILL be a Christian”, “you WILL go to church,” “no, you CANNOT believe that”, “no you CANNOT study/read that”, “we are Christians which means we do NOT do that/say that/vote that way”, and the like – as if it’s a bunch of rules. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations where I expressed my concerns over this approach. What am I missing or misunderstanding?
As parents and grandparents, we pray that each of our family members will “be born again of the Spirit” and believe in Jesus!
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
proverbs 22:6 train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it
What does this look like in action?
I find this number to be shockingly low. I would have thought it was significantly higher than the number of parents who find it important to have similar religious beliefs. Over the last three decades I have personally witnessed a lot more conflict and disappointment between children and parents caused by divergent political beliefs than any differences in religious belief.
Most of my friends have parents who are much more religious and much more conservative than they are, and it’s the difference in politics that causes far and away the most anxiety and disappointment. Conversely, even though the youngest adult generation in my extended family is much less religious than their parents/grandparents, there’s been very little discord since the political views haven’t diverged much at all.
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that most parents believe that if their children grow up to have a healthy, happy, and successful life, the rest will take care of itself.
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