Dads who invest in growing their child's faith increase that child's chances of having a thriving faith as an adult. And a thriving faith increases your child's chances of being an adult with high life satisfaction, a happy marriage, and good health.
Children's spiritual development is often left up to moms. If children attend church or have any religious training, it's often because of mom's influence. Dads too often participate in religious activities only because their wives urge them to, if they participate at all.
A Swiss study, The Fertility and Family Survey, revealed that between moms and dads, dads have the greatest influence on a child's faith, as measured by future church attendance. One out of three children whose dads attend church regularly grow up to be be regular worshippers. If a father doesn't go to church regularly, his child has a one in 50 chance of growing up to go to church regularly as an adult.
While faith is deeper than church attendance, there is an obvious connection between the two. Among Christians, there's a strong correlation. Of concern is that most surveys of church attendance in the United States reveal only a third of Americans attend church weekly -- much less than a century ago.
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Data analyzed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shows over the past 15 years. There seems to be a correlation between low church attendance and growing despair among young people. On the flip side, scientific research shows a strong relationship between regular church attendance and higher life satisfaction, stronger marriages, and higher ratings of general health status.
Religion often offers a way to find hope and life meaning -- necessary ingredients to a person's sense of well-being. A strong spiritual foundation is especially important for kids entering their teens. It gives them something positive on which to anchor their identity. For teens entering adulthood, a strong faith is a source of courage and resilience when facing the stress of setting up a home, launching a career, and starting a family. Without an avenue such as religious activities through which to develop a positive perspective, despair and gloom can easily take root.
When my daughter was an infant, my wife and I stopped attending church regularly. Weekends were a time to sleep a little later, make up for sleep lost during the week from colic-induced crying, midnight feedings and diaper changes. Late mornings made it too much work for us to get ready and make it to church on time. As church attendance declined, so did our interest in spiritual things.
Had we continued on that path, I might have a sad story to tell today. Fortunately, after about a decade of casual church attendance, my wife and I recognized our focus in life had turned to things lacking in lasting value. Our quality of life at home and work had suffered as a result.
So we started a new chapter. We devoted ourselves to reviving our spiritual lives, and to cultivating the faith of our daughter and younger son. We discovered that what parents model and teach is the strongest social influence on a child's spiritual development.
At 20 years old, my daughter is now very committed to her faith, attends church regularly, and lives with a positive outlook and strong sense of purpose. My son is learning the value of faith in the teaching and modeling he sees in his parents -- especially in his dad.
Knowing the power of a dad's influence on the growth of child's faith, I've worked on keeping my own faith alive and thriving. This provides the capital I invest in my kids' spiritual development. Here are a few practical and effective ideas I recommend to to other dads who want to make that investment:
Take your family to religious services. This is the obvious opportunity. Take the initiative to get your family to church at least once a week. You may need to do some scouting to find a church that's family friendly. But avoid churches that put entertainment over substance. Many children are starving for teaching that's character-building. Religious activities should help prepare kids to be good citizens of this world and the next.
Let your child see you pray. Jesus taught His followers to pray privately, in their closet. He warned against using personal prayer time as a time to show off. But you can leave your closet door open once in a while. Let your child see you on your knees during your private time with God. It will set a positive example for them, when they see that your prayer time is important to you.
Lead a family devotional time. Cultivating a thriving faith in a child takes more than a weekly visit to church. Gather your family together at least once a day. . Use this time for each family member to express gratitude for a good thing that's happened to them. Take turns reading a short inspirational passage or story from the Bible or a devotional book -- choose something your child can understand. Pray together for your family, friends, neighbors, and country.
Model generosity. The Bible teaches that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). There is no greater work of faith than an expression of self-sacrificing love. Let your child see you as a cheerful giver. Start at home in the way you care for their mother, your wife, by doing a chore she usually does, taking the kids out so she can have time for herself, or getting a sitter and taking her on a date. You can also invite your child to join you in volunteer activities in your community.
Jon Beaty, a life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”