Home General News Children of church families feel close to Jesus, but less as they grow older

Children of church families feel close to Jesus, but less as they grow older

by ervte

To what extent does the Church form a child? How important is the Church in a child’s life? How do children view and experience Christianity, God, and their Church? The 2016 NCLS Child Survey in a paper released this week revealed some encouraging answers to those questions.

The NCLS report Faith Formation in Children at Church, and Home paints a picture of positive and active spirituality among church-going children. About nine in ten children of church-going families confirmed that they “know that Jesus is helping me,” that “God means a lot to me,” and that “God is helping me live a better life.”Children of church families feel close to Jesus, but less as they grow older

About nine in ten said they believe in God, and about one in ten are unsure whether God exists. Only 1 percent said they did not think there was a God. Eighty-three percent considered themselves Christian, 15 percent were insecure, and 2 percent said they would not identify as Christian.

The survey, based on a study of approximately 10,000 church-going children aged 8-14, reveals that Bible reading and prayer are both highly valued in the lives of child churchgoers, with about eight in ten saying, “The Bible is helpful to me. in my life” and “prayer helps me.” Only 4 percent believe that “going to church is a waste of time.”

Unfortunately, some positive attitudes decline with age, with the sharpest decline from about age ten. The statement “I know that Jesus is very close to me” shows the greatest decline as children grow older.

Most children were positive about activities for children and young people and somewhat less strongly about church services. However, most children sometimes felt bored or often in the services.

The NCLS paper suggests that local church leaders might consider bringing something appealing to children into their adult worship times, “where young minds often get adrift.”

Also relevant is that children express a lower sense of God’s presence and lower levels of learning about God in church services. This could indicate that churches used age-appropriate teaching and learning methods involving all generations, from children to adults, in their worship, prayer, preaching, and teaching.”

The most popular aspects of children’s groups and activities were socializing with people their age and learning about God/apprenticeship and their leaders. Music and singing were the least popular activities, with 8 percent saying they didn’t like it and a quarter were hesitant.

The children helped name their gifts and were active to some extent in missions and service. About three-quarters of the children say they are good at being nice to people without friends (76 percent), while nearly two-thirds say they have many new or different ideas, care for God’s earth, and stand up for what is right and fair. Less than half of the children felt good at talking to others about God and doing things at the front of the Church.

Nearly nine in ten said they often or sometimes cared for the environment, 85 percent said they asked God or Jesus to improve the world, and 74 percent helped raise money for the poor. Only 16 percent say they often talk about God/Jesus with school friends, and 31 percent say they never do.

“Perhaps local churches could emphasize encouraging children to nurture every expression of their faith in different ways while living from day to day,” the paper notes.

“Given the lower levels of happiness and belonging in church services, it may help to incorporate things they are gifted or skilled at, in church service, to address the assessments that are currently lacking.”

The children reported an active and positive spiritual life; many use a computer, tablet, or telephone for faith-related activities. Gratitude, repentance, and intercession were among the most important ways children associate with God in prayer. Answers to questions about a series of spiritual practices showed that 62 percent of the children often thanked God or Jesus; 52 percent said sorry to God or Jesus and asked God or Jesus to help others.

The most reported family activities were Bible reading and prayer (60 percent). Just over a third held conversations about God or the Christian faith, while nearly all families spoke sometimes or often about what they were learning in Church.

Most children sometimes had a relative who talked to them about doubts or concerns about the Christian faith, although a third never broached the subject.

Parents – especially mothers – and other family members played crucial roles in faith formation in various ways, including through regular home practices such as prayer; discussion of the Christian faith was generally not that frequent.

When asked about good examples of people following Jesus, 87 percent identified the mother and 75 percent the father. Grandparents also play an important role for about two-thirds of children, siblings (47 percent) and other adult relatives (46 percent).

Other adults also made a positive impression on children. Examples of faith included their local pastor or pastor (80 percent), Sunday School teachers, and other adults in the Church (70 percent).

The results underline parents’ critical role in faith formation, supported by other adults who form a secondary support network.

In the paper, NCLS Research Director Ruth Powell notes that potential discussion points in response to these results included how churches might support families to further integrate conversations about the Christian faith, including doubts and concerns, into family rhythms and routines.

“Building on the positivity that children already express about the church, how could church services be designed to be increasingly sensitive to the world of children?” she writes.

“What does it look like for children in attendance — and for adults — to develop the expression of their gifts in mission and service in the wider community?”

The mean age of the children who participated in the 2016 NCLS Child Survey was 11 years. The largest age group in the study, by a small margin, was 10-year-olds (17 percent), followed by 11-year-olds (16 percent), then 9-year-olds and 12-year-olds (15 percent each). As age increases, the proportion of older children in the Church decreases. Meanwhile, the gender distribution is quite even, with 49 percent boys and 51 percent girls overall.

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