Parents abdicate spiritual training
of children to church, Barna says
By John Hall
Texas Baptist Communications
ARLINGTON–Christianity is the only worldview emphasizing parents' responsibility to raise their children, researcher George Barna said during a recent conference at Lamar Baptist Church.
Even so, his research indicates Christian parents place a low priority on their children's spiritual development and are “totally dependent” on the church to nurture their offspring.
Parents are unwilling or do not know how to develop their children spiritually, Barna said at the Arlington seminar, which is part of his current national tour to report on new findings of the Barna Research Group.
Barna's research found fewer than one in 10 church families prays or reads the Bible together. Less than one in 20 families has any worship activity together outside the church.
While Christians are common in the United States, the overwhelming majority of American Christians do not demonstrate a deep faith, Barna's data shows. He believes this lack of understanding scares many parents away from trying to develop their own children spiritually. As a result, they send their kids to church to obtain spiritual guidance.
“They've exempted themselves from all responsibility in this,” Barna asserted.
However, 87 percent of parents polled appear satisfied with the church's work.
That's good, isn't it?
Not really, Barna countered.
Parents are happy with what the church provides because they have no standards for evaluation, he said, noting the church is the only entity doing spiritual development, and parents have relatively low expectations.
The “absolutely necessary outcomes of church involvement” that parents want are general knowledge about Christ and God, good behavior in public and keys to “meaningful parental involvement” in their children's spiritual growth.
A majority of pastors believe their youth ministries are instilling a “biblical worldview,” Barna said, but few youth have that vantage point.
His research found most 13-year-olds believe Satan is a symbol, that a good person can earn a place in heaven, and the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon are different expressions of the same spiritual truths.
The nation's early teens do not believe moral truth is absolute, that history is guided by God or a person's soul goes to heaven or hell depending on their confession of sin and asking Christ to save them.
Barna encouraged congregations to focus on their children's ministries for a number of reasons.
Children are key evangelistic prospects and agents for the church, he said. Two of every three Christians were converted before they turned 18. Children also freely invite their friends to church and encourage parents to come into the faith.
The church must reach people early in life to make a difference, Barna argued, explaining that children develop a sense of right and wrong by the time they are 9.
Children are the leaders of the future and their parents' spiritual legacy, Barna reminded the audience. God is not the only one with plans for them, because Satan has plans for them too, he said.
Barna challenged churches to support families in spiritual development without allowing them to become reliant on the institution. Congregations can give parents and children direction, skills, information and experiences to help them understand the spiritual development process.
To do this, Barna encouraged churches to create clear philosophies for integrated programs that start at age 4 or 5. Many effective programs Barna discovered taught the same lessons to adults and children during the same week so families could discuss topics later.
He noted some programs adopt a series of principles they want to instill in the children and repeat those ideas each year.
Churches never should give up on children's ministry, Barna urged. Nine of 10 polled teenagers reconsidered moral beliefs in the past year. Six of 10 listed a religious influence as the reason they rethought their stands.
If churches give up on youth ministry, they may face the same hardships they face today with adults, Barna cautioned.
“We struggle with ministry to adults,” he said. “It's difficult. You know why it's so difficult? Because we didn't do a good job when they were kids. We are reaping what we sowed 20, 30, 40 years ago.”