Do those who “inherit” their faith from a strong Christian family as children have stronger faith practices when they become adults? And how do their faith practices compare with those who came to faith later in life?
A recent Barna report, Households of Faith, studied the link between one’s faith heritage and one’s faith practice as adults. The study found that for most practicing adult Christians, their early, formative days of discipleship occurred as children in their families, usually before they were 12 years old.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents said their Christian beliefs had been “passed down” to them by a particular relative. Most often, these respondents credited their parents with imparting their faith to them, with more than two-thirds saying they were particularly influenced by a Christian mother.
A little less than half (46 percent) pointed to their fathers as Christian models, while more than a third (37 percent) noted the spiritual influence of a grandparent.
One-fourth, however, said they had come to faith in spite of having had a negative example of Christianity in their home.
While researchers concluded that a person’s experience with the Christian faith as a child appears linked to their belief system as an adult, they found that having a strong Christian heritage does not necessarily develop into holding strong Christian beliefs as an adult. In fact, respondents who said their Christian faith was passed down to them (40 percent) were more likely to hold a nominal commitment to traditional tenets of the Christian faith.
Instead, the key appears to be taking ownership of one’s beliefs or finding a rich community of faith, which can help one build upon or even overcome the spiritual experiences of childhood, they found.
“One way or another, Christians need outside influences for robust faith formation,” the Barna report stated. “Adults whose upbringing did not plant them in meaningful Christian teachings or traditions might grow in community with their extended households. Meanwhile, adults with a long-held Christian identity might look to resources and voices beyond their family of origin to examine or strengthen their beliefs.”