The long-held notion that having children acts as a catalyst for increased church involvement is not true for a majority of Americans, according to a new study by the Barna Group. Half of American parents said that having children did not influence their church activity in any way, and only 5 percent reported going to church for the first time because of kids. However, significant minorities did report that parenthood helped them reconnect or get more involved in their churches.
The study found that non-Christians and people living in the Northeast and West were the least likely to let parenthood affect their church habits. Among Christians, 47 percent said that the presence of children had no influence on their church life. Although that number was considerably lower than most groups, it was still a majority.
The study found that the most likely way kids change a parent’s church life is by getting them more involved. One-fifth of parents said that having children made them more active in churches they were already attending. People attending large churches were more likely to do this than those attending smaller churches.
Some 17 percent of parents reported that having kids helped them reconnect with church after a long period of not attending. The most likely candidates for reconnecting were people in lower income homes and Hispanic parents. Another factor among this group is age. Parents under 35 were more likely to reconnect with a church than older parents.
As expected, previous faith experiences were a major factor in parents’ decisions about church. Interestingly, evangelical Christians—those with a biblical worldview—were not likely to say that parenthood impacted their church activity, presumably because they were already actively involved.
“Many religious workers assume that parenthood motivates people to return to their spiritual traditions and to church attendance. This perspective is especially common when it comes to justifying the frequent disengagement among young adults,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. “Parenthood might help to clarify and enhance people’s pursuit of spirituality, but usually it does not fundamentally alter a parent’s spiritual trajectory.” [barna.org, 5/24/10]