Beliefs, identity and faith practices of child churchgoers
How much does church shape a child? How important is church in a child’s life? How do children view and experience Christianity, God and their church?
In the 2016 NCLS Child Survey, we looked at attitudes to Christianity and the church from the perspective of around 10,000 church-attending children aged 8-14. We investigated their beliefs, identity and practices. Plus, we asked them about their family’s engagement with faith matters, as well as adults who provide good examples of faith.
Most of the children questioned hold positive views, in that at least eight out of 10 agree or agree strongly with a series of positive statements regarding Christianity and the church.
Around nine in ten children surveyed say they know that Jesus Helps Me, and that God Means a Lot to Me and God Helps Me Lead a Better Life. These affirmations suggest that churchgoing children are experiencing a high level of meaning and reliance on God in such statements.
Some eighty-six percent of children also affirmed the statement I Know Jesus is Very Close to Me, showing an awareness of the presence of God in their lives.
Christian practices of Bible reading and prayer are both also strongly present in the values of child churchgoers, with around eight in ten saying The Bible is Helpful to My Life, and Prayer Helps Me. Only four percent in this group say Going to Church is a Waste of Time.
However, while these results are very strong, some of these positive views decline with age. Results show that from the age of about 10 the sharpest decline occurs. The statement I Know Jesus is Very Close to Me shows the greatest decline as children get older.
A picture painted by the 2016 NCLS shows that children possess an active and positive spiritual life. Around nine out of 10 children say they believe in God, while around one in ten are not sure if God exists. Only 1% indicate that they do not believe there is a God.
Most children who attended church would call themselves Christian (83%). Only 15% are not sure and 2% said they would not identify as Christian.
The Children’s 2016 NCLS included a range of questions about spiritual practices, as shown below.
The practices with the highest proportion of children who often do them are saying thank you to God or Jesus (62%); saying sorry to God or Jesus (52%); and asking God or Jesus to help others (52%). These results suggest that gratitude, repentance and intercession are amongst the top ways children relate to God in prayer.
Those surveyed were asked whether they had received their first Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper and if they had been baptised.
Around six in 10 children say they have received the Lord's Supper, with almost one-quarter saying they have not. However, 15% are not sure. Over half of children surveyed say they have been baptised, while over a third have not.
The majority of churchgoing children say both their parents attend church a lot (69%). Some 8% percent say their parents do not attend church a lot. Further, if only one parent comes to church, it is more likely to be the mother (19%) rather than the father (4%).
Children surveyed were asked a range of questions about their perception of the level of engagement of their family.
The most frequent activity reported in families is Reading the Bible or Praying (60%). Also prominent is Discussions about God or Christian Faith with just over one-third often taking this action. What they learned at Church occurs in family conversations sometimes or often for almost all child respondents.
Most children sometimes had a family member talk with them about Doubts or Worries about Christian faith. However, about a third never broached the subject.
The person most commonly identified when asked about good examples of people who follow Jesus is Mum (87%) and then Dad (75%). Grandparents play an important role for around two thirds of children (65%). Siblings are also on the list (47%), as are Other Family Adults such as step-parent, aunties and uncles (46%).
Children were also asked about non-family adults who were good examples of people who follow Jesus. Eight out of 10 identify their local minister/pastor, and seven out of ten say both Sunday School teachers and other adults at church provide good examples for them.
The research also reveals the importance of youth leaders (59%), school teachers or other school staff (54%) for around half of churchgoing children.
Evidently, prayerful practices, especially those with attitudes of thanksgiving, intercession for others and personal confession, are quite strong amongst child churchgoers.
Mothers and fathers continue to be central in the faith development of their children. As churches seek to support families, this crucial role of parenting remains apparent. Interestingly, Sunday School teachers, other adults at church and ministers and pastors also form a secondary support network, leaving a positive impression on children as examples of faith.
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Powell, R. (2020). Views and experiences of children in churches, Occasional Paper 42. Sydney, Australia: NCLS Research.
Builders and Boomers: a bridge from faithful tradition to contemporary choice