The default setting for most people is that they continue being in the present what they have been in the past. For many persons, the only way they really know how to live their lives is by drawing upon how they have been raised. Rarely do people’s thoughts and behavior change dramatically without some big-time exposure to new relationships or to completely different experiences. As a generalization, only when people face insurmountable challenges and unsatisfying solutions do they consider a different path from the one that they have always known. In other words, people don’t usually change unless they have to.
This is why faith formation within a family is so very important. If a family’s modus operandi is mostly doing their own thing, like watching their own TV shows in separate rooms or pursuing only personal goals, then faith formation will likely be negligible. But if a family makes it priority and intentionally pursues eating meals together, discussing shared experiences, and reading Scripture and other works of literature as a family, then the likelihood of a significant faith formation will occur.
Families may place importance on church attendance. Yet, if that attendance is not followed through with family discussions and by looking for ways to put the sermon or worship event into practice, then church may have little impact upon any given family member. Sociologist Christian Smith has discovered in his research that in order to sustain high levels of religious commitment through the adolescent and emerging adult years, several factors are present, including: a strong faith commitment among parents that provides significant modeling; shared faith experiences in families; personal and family practice of prayer; other supportive faith-minded adults; close relationships between family members; and, frequent Scripture reading, along with the openness to ask questions. Smith furthermore found that within such families kids had few religious doubts and tended to place a much higher importance on religious faith.
This combination of a teenager’s parental spiritual practice, the importance placed on faith, prayer, and Bible-reading within a family makes an enormous difference in what will happen to that teen when he/she enters the twenty-something years – a time when many young adults dropout of church. Perhaps one of the most significant reasons why a twenty-something moves away from a sustained faith commitment is that he/she never really had a firm foundation of faith as demonstrated and lived-out within the home. If our past family situations hold such a prominent place in how we shape our lives, then it behooves us to ensure that as parents, grandparents, and significant others that we make the default setting one of confident faith and serious engagement with Holy Scripture.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6) is not a promise of the Bible, but a short pithy statement of experiential truth for most people. A significant way of helping kids to grow a strong faith is by helping families grow strong in their own faith formation. Churches and Christian organizations would do well to put their energies in such directions. In so doing, they can be a default setting for a generation of emerging adults.