Help! We’re parents. . .

By Peter Brierley


From Adam and Eve to present day royalty, parenting has always had its problems!Most of the values by which teenagers and we ourselves subsequently live by are caught (rather than taught) from parents.A number of Christian agencies are clearly concerned about modern-day parenting judging by the amount of research into family life and children in recent months and years.

One of the key issues on which they focus is how parents pass on their faith.One key Anglican project in 2014 found that only 28 per cent of active Anglicans would put this as one of their top family priorities.A large New Wine survey in 2015 sent to those on their database found that of the 2,000responding 51 per cent had believing fathers, 67 per cent believing mothers and 30 per cent believing grandparents, the latter percentage echoed by a 2002 survey.

Children were more likely to follow their parents’ faith if the children were involved in ministry of some kind.It was also important that they enjoyed their church experience, something naturally varying for different traditions and denominations.

A Youth for Christ 2016 survey among those aged 11 to 18 generally found that for only 2 per cent of young people was a youth club their favourite place to socialise.Spending time with friends outside (32 per cent) or inside the home (31 per cent) was how they would prefer to spend their spare time.Peer groups did not appear to be a significant factor for faith in the New Wine survey even though 77 per cent of the children in the families of respondents had Christian peers.Friends (92 per cent) and family (91 per cent) are key for feeling good about yourself, while social media is most likely to do the opposite (67 per cent).

Time with friends face-to-face is only a small part of their social activity – social media is used by 94 per cent of young people on a daily basis.

A third (32 per cent) of the young people approached by Youth for Christ said they believed in a God, and 59 per cent of these (that is, 19 per cent) said they followed Jesus.A 2017 ComRes survey put that percentage as 51 per cent.But half, 47 per cent, of those who believe say they never pray.What therefore does “belief” mean in practice?Not, for example, going to church – only 5 per cent of those under 15 and 3 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 actually attended church in England in 2015.

A 2016 Care for the Family (CFF)/HOPE study based on CFF’s data base helpfully listed some key data:


  • The majority, 72 per cent, of those who come to faith do so by the age of 19, 16 per cent between 19 and 25, and 12 per cent after the age of 25.
  • Only about 50 per cent of children brought up in Christian homes follow the faith as adults (both Christian and secular surveys [like British Social Attitudes] agree with this).
  • A quarter, 28 per cent, of church-attending Christians say they do not mind if their children do not accept their beliefs.
  • While 85 per cent of parents believe they are primarily responsible for their child’s spiritual development, they also believe the church can do it better than they can.


The 72 per cent of conversions by the age of 19 is very similar to the 1966 survey asking 4,080 people where the percentage was 76 per cent, showing that this percentage hasn’t varied much over time.This survey found that 17 per cent were converted under the age of 12 (22 per cent if from a Christian home), while a later (American) survey would put this percentage much larger.

The average age of conversion by British young people in the 1960s was 15 years of age, a 1994 survey finding it slightly older.

There is no question, though, that parents play a key role in influencing the faith of their children.“Quality relationships are central to successful faith transmission,” wrote Olwyn Mark in an article in Transmission.What are the factors important in that process?At least the following (also in the CFF/ HOPE report):


* Children feeling close to their parents, especially the father, and growing up in a warm family.

* Children seeing their parents have an authentic (not perfect) faith.

* Parents seeking to develop and nurture their children’s faith.

* Children receiving multi-generational input from wider family and church.


What then might the responsibilities be for church leadership? The 2016 Church of England report suggests:


* Helping young people to contribute to society outside of the church.

* Providing leadership opportunities for young people, especially for those aged 16 to 19.


One young man testified that organising youth services helped a lot as it made him feel part of the church.Treating young people maturely, not as “token youth,” is also key.It is clear too that young people need to progress – from confirmation (if Anglican), from a choir, to … what?Significant relationships with peers and between the generations are also vital.Youth workers can be a crucial part of the whole need to provide training, relevance and support for young people.

Not mentioned in that Church of England report but worth noting is the rapid popularity of “gap years” in the last 20 or so years.From the escalation of temporary overseas opportunities for service for young people (provided by both secular and Christian organisations) and the testimonies of those who participate, such experiences often prove transformative for young people.


Sources: From Anecdote to Evidence, Church Growth Research Programme, Church of England, 2014; New Wine survey 2015, Mark Griffiths, reported FutureFirst April 2016, Page 1; Reaching and Keeping Teenagers, Peter Brierley, MARC, 1993; Reaching and Keeping Tweenagers, Peter Brierley, Christian Research, Eltham, London, 2002; Gen Z Rethinking Culture, Laura Hancock, Youth for Christ, 2016; Passing on Faith, Olwyn Mark, Theos report 2016; UK Church StatisticsNo 2, Table 16.8.3; Finding Faith in 1994, Report inQuadrant, March 1998, Page 5; Background to the Task, Scripture Union, 1968, Table 7; Faith in our Families, HOPE and Care for the Family based on research by 9Dot, 2016; British Social Attitudes in Religious Trends No 7, Table 2.3; Rooted in the Church Summary Report, Church of England Education Office, 2016; article “Passing on faith in the home” in Transmission, Bible Society, Spring 2017, Page 23.


Dr Peter Brierley may be contacted on