Friday, May 11, 2007

Is Church Good for Kids?

That is the conclusion of a recent study by a team of sociologists at Mississippi State University. The study claims that it is "quite clear" that religious attendance has various positive effects on children and that children who attend church of some description fare better emotionally, behaviorally, and cognitively. The study also found a direct correlation between positive childhood development and regular attendance as opposed to sporadic attendance.

The study's definition of religion is one significant drawback in that they only examined generalized data; denomination or affiliation was not included in the study parameters. Therefore, it cannot be concluded (from this study) if attendance at a Baptist church would have a significant difference over attendance at a church of another denominational stripe or even religious affiliation.

A significant finding from this study is that parental disagreement about faith does impact a child's development and his views on faith later in life.
But Bartkowski's study did determine that while church attendance is good for children, parental debate over religion is not. In fact, the study found that when parents argue about religion, it can "significantly undermine" a young child's development. However, when they are in agreement, it can be very beneficial. The study also said parent-child discussions about religion "often yield positive affects on child development."

Regularity in attendance can make a difference, too.

"In many of the developmental domains featured here, the children who are doing the best are in households where both parents attend worship services frequently," the authors wrote.
Though regular church attendance does indeed have a positive impact on children, a more significant conclusion of this study, one overlooked or drawn unwittingly, is that how faith is modeled at home has a much more significant impact on the child's development as well as how he views faith later in life. Parents who are unequally yoked serves, as Scripture testifies, to confuse childhood faith development.

In such home settings, any work done in church to disciple children is typically undone at home or is not being reinforced and does indeed confuse the child. The study does draw this point, that church should reinforce what is taught at home and not vice versa. This draws the more general point that faith is best taught at home and the church setting serves to best act as a conduit for working faith out, being edified and encouraged, and enjoying fellowship with other believers.

What is more significant is whether or not the child knows Jesus Christ and is being led to love Him, serve Him, and follow Him. So while church attendance is indeed good, parental discipleship is still best.


selahV said...

Hello Tony: I like this post. There's a bunch of stuff we could discuss. But for starters, let me put out the fact that they stated, "In fact, the study found that when parents argue about religion, it can "significantly undermine" a young child's development."

When parents argue vehemently about anything it can significantly undermine a young child's development, can't it?

Tony said...


Yes, one point that did confuse me is what kind of "development" they are talking about. The study did paint with a broad brush, saying, "emotionally, behaviorally, and cognitively," but there was an absence of specifics. How does it affect emotions? How does it affect cognitive development? Etc, and so on...

The main point was to say that overall, generally faith has a positive effect on children and generally the absence of faith, or specifically (lol) arguing about faith, has a negative effect.

I mean, honestly, there are some very well-adjusted unchurched (if we want to use this moniker, though I am not fond of it) kids out there.

But you are correct, when parents argue about anything, from the checkbook to the good book, it has deleterious results on a child's demeanor.

selahV said...

Tony: I was wondering the same thing about "development". These studies are always so vague and leave one with far more questions than information.

I know one thing. Children who go to church want their parents to go to church, too. I always wanted my dad and mom to go to church. They didn't. My dad started when my eldest brother died. By then we'd all left home.

While the ideal of faith being taught from the home is wonderful, it is probably a farfetched idea. Even in the most dedicated church attending families one finds less of the Bible and faith being taught than in the S.S. classroom. And given some of the views of teachers and the lack of monitoring of those teachers, a distorted faith is being taught. Even a watered down gospel in many cases. (not true everywhere or in every church...but given the dialog I hear, I'd say it is a norm rather than a rarity.) what do you think? selahV

Tony said...

For the most part, I agree.

Children who go to church do indeed want their parents to go. This is one point of aggravation for me. Vacation Bible School is one of the most teeth-grinding times of the year for me.

During VBS we get kids once a year who never come to church. Their parents are more than willing to drop them off that week and oftentimes consistently the whole week. Where are they the other 51 Sundays of the year?

Yet VBS is ALWAYS touted as THE best way to reach kids. What has happened to the biblical standard of mom and dad teaching faith at home? Sure, VBS packs the kids in, the church sees more baptisms as a result of VBS than any other event, and I am not opposed to childhood evangelism.

But as my post pointed out, if it is not reinforced at home, what happens to the seed? It falls on rocky soil.

And the SS curriculums are tailored to be as vanilla as they can be. The most formidable years of a child's life and we fail to take advantage of those years! Who says children cannot learn doctrine? Yet we teach them Noah and the ark, Joshua marching around Jericho, and David and Goliath over and over and over, like they don't get it the first time.

I don't know about a distorted faith, because you cannot get it out of those SS books; if anything you phrased it perfectly already: watered-down.

I know the quarterlies must teach to a "standard." Couple that with teachers who do not care, who do not add to the lesson, who do not try to meet their children's spiritual needs but just read that quarterly to them and let them color the stupid picture, and faith being taught at home is not such a bad idea.

I'd disagree with it being a farfetched idea. The problem is because the vast majority of parents just don't or they won't.

Families like to have their lives "compartmentalized." Work is work, school is school, and church is church. Therefore, spiritual development is best left up to the church, because that is where it is "supposed" to take place.

I am cutting myself off now, because my return comment has gotten too long and long comments make my eyes hurt.

Oh, and btw, I didn't grow up in church; had no idea what it was till I was seventeen years old.