Mothers contribute more to kids’ spiritual growth than fathers, Barna study says

A couple of mothers enjoying the sun.
A couple of mothers enjoying the sun. | Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Mothers are more often credited with driving spiritual development in American Christian homes than fathers, according to a new report by the Barna Group.

In research created in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, Barna released a report on Tuesday stating that “spiritual development in the home is driven by mothers.”

When surveying practicing Christians, Barna found that 68% of respondents said it was their mother’s faith that influenced them, versus 46% for fathers.

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After that, 37% of respondents reported that it was their grandparents who influenced their faith development, 16% reported a non-relative, and 14% reported it being a friend.

The study also found that most respondents (59%) said they were Christian as an adult because a member of their household “passed their faith down to me.”

Twenty-three percent of respondents said they were Christian in spite of bad experiences with Christianity in their upbringing, 15% said their adult beliefs were not influenced by their household growing up, 11% said “someone explored faith at the same time I did” and 2% said “other.”

Data for the report came from an online survey conducted April 5–11, 2018, with 2,347 interviews conducted with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.

While the Barna report notes a stronger influence by mothers than fathers on the spiritual development of the respondents, other research indicates that fathers hold a strong influence on the religious practices of their children.

In the 1990s, for example, a group of Swiss researchers found that married fathers who regularly attend church were more likely to have children who become regular attendees than fathers who never attended or attended irregularly.

“In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers,” wrote Robbie Low regarding the study for Touchstone Magazine in 2003.

“If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.”

In his book, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations, University of Southern California research professor Vern Bengtson also found a connection between fathers and religious development.

“Bengtson reports that 56 percent of kids who have a close relationship with their dads share his level of religious commitment, while just 36 percent of kids with a weaker relationship to their father can say the same thing,” explained John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris in a column published back in March.

“In other words, the closeness between dads and his kids can make a 20-point difference in how serious they are about their faith!”

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