Research confirms mother's role in faith development

Mothers play the most significant role in bringing up their children in the faith, according to research from the Australian interchurch National Church Life Survey organisation.

According to researchers behind the 'Social Influences Upon Faith Development' report - produced by NCLS Research, and sponsored by the Bible Society - the major impact of parents seem to be twofold: their faith in God and in the way they lived out their faith. Other aspects such as the ability of parents to explain the faith were much less important.

By contrast other people, such as family, friends and local church workers, are more likely to be influential in other ways as well, including in their ability to explain the faith.

Co-author Dr John Bellamy says "Parents are at their most influential when a person first becomes a Christian at an early age: 75% of those who became Christians before 10 years of age said that their parents had been influential in their faith development." This declines to just 33% of those who became Christians after 20 years of age.

The report also found that parents were less influential among attenders currently aged 30-49 years (41%) than among attenders aged over 50 years (60%). However it is too early to tell whether parents have been even less influential among attenders now aged less than 30 years or whether it is a particular characteristic of church attenders who grew up during the cultural shifts of the 1960s and 70s.

The 'Social Influences Upon Faith Development' report reveals that among a range of activities targeted at children and adults, "church services emerge as the single most significant activity for bringing people to faith (42%)".

Report authors suggest that youth groups, often run by the youth themselves, perhaps offer a different approach that is more appealing to younger people. "This is at a time in life when younger people are wishing to be more independent of their parents and are more influenced by their peers. Youth groups can become communities of faith their own right, fulfilling important religious and social functions for young people"

The report authors also conclude that while parents are an important influence, they could still be having a greater impact than currently. Dr Bellamy says, "We hope that Christian agencies feel encouraged to ensure there are resources for parents to assist them in the important task of helping children to find faith in a context of many religious and spiritual options."

The full report 'Social Influences upon Faith Development', sponsored by The Bible Society, can be found on the NCLS Research website at http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?docid=3548&view=summary

Some 7200 congregations in 19 denominations across Australia were involved in the 2001 National Church Life Survey. NCLS Research also draws from surveys of the wider community and the national census to provide resources to assist Australian churches in mission. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Australia is one of the bodies sponsoring NCLS.

Mum's the Word on Finding God (NCLS Research 19/4/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
NCLS Research | Social Influences upon Faith Development - PDF download of paper

2 May 2005