Brand new research shines a light on faith in the home – just in time for a country that is mostly staying home on Sunday mornings.
As a pastor in the time of COVID I’ve had to ask questions I’ve never asked before. The same is true of the many other pastors I’ve talked with since this virus disrupted one of our central, rarely questioned, strategies for encouraging spiritual growth: Sunday mornings.
Sunday morning at church is where Christians can worship God together, attend classes, hear the Bible preached, chat and pray with other Christians, and share the Lord’s Supper. If you want to grow your faith (or the faith of those in your household), we pastors have always had a ready recommendation: come to church!
And then 2020 came. And Sunday mornings (mostly) got taken off the table. The thrill of figuring out how to live stream our services wore off quickly and pastors across the country had to wrestle with a new question: How do we continue our mission of making and growing disciples of Jesus when (mostly) everyone is homebound?
Sure, Sunday mornings are starting to open up more and more, but many people cannot or will not head back to their churches. Some of these people are “virtually” attending church but this provides only a thin facsimile of the experience (and growth) of gathering together. And, according to new research, one in three practicing Christians has simply stopped attending church during COVID-19, virtual or otherwise.
So I and my fellow pastors are left wondering: with classes and children’s church and youth group and coffee hour and small groups pretty much off the table – what’s left? How do we inspire and equip the members of our congregations to express and nurture their faith where 2020 finds them spending most of their time: within their homes?
The good news is the home turns out to be a fabulous place to make disciples of Jesus. In fact, a brand new research project that I’ve been a part of with Barna and Lutheran Hour Ministries over the last year confirms what the Bible proclaims and church history models: our homes can be wonderful incubators for our faith.
Perhaps COVID is providing the perfect opportunity for Americans to reassert the home as a reliable place of spiritual growth.
The Home as a Faith Incubator
Most recognize that the Christian faith can and should affect everyday life. (My faith should color how I live in my household.) But what we often overlook is a corollary truth: our everyday life affects our faith. (What we do in our households colors our faith.) For example, our research on faith in the home revealed, among other things, that:
- Faith formation is connected to and increases with hospitality in the home.
- Generally, active households are spiritually active households, and vice versa.
- The majority of practicing Christians inherited their faith from someone in their household of origin.
- Homes with minors have more spiritual conversations.
Let’s take that last finding as an example of how homes function as incubators of faith. Many a harried Christian parent (this one included!) has lamented how chasing their children around has distracted them from having a quiet time of devotion or kept them from spending unhurried time in prayer. But the reality is having children in your home actually correlates with an increase in spiritual practices. As you can see in the graphic, households with children in them talk about God more, pray more, and read the Bible more.
This doesn’t mean that to grow in your faith you should have children; rather, it underscores a truth that Christians have understood for ages: the home is a fabulous incubator for the Christian faith. Recall that God encouraged his people from the beginning to “talk about” his commandments right where they live their everyday lives:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
This has long been understood in the church: the home is a place to nurture the Christian faith. For example, Martin Luther’s catechisms were actually written to be used in the home. As Luther begins each section of the Small Catechism, “As the Head of the Family Should Teach It in the Simplest Way to His Household.”
Building Spiritually Vibrant Homes In 2020
Our particular secular-sacred split that sees home as the place where regular life happens and church as the place where spiritual life happens is a relatively new way of looking at the home and the church. It’s a way of thinking that COVID is, thankfully, forcing pastors like me to rethink.
Of course, church on Sunday morning (or whatever time) is a wonderful and profound place to express and grow your faith. But so is your home. And in 2020 it is nigh time that we re-discover how to do just that.
This is where the latest research comes in perfectly. We identified homes where the Christian faith was growing and found that these “spiritually vibrant homes” shared three household habits that correlate with a more vibrant Christian faith:
- Applying Spiritual Disciplines
- Extending Hospitality
- Engaging in Spiritual Conversations
Christians who have these three habits interwoven into the fabric of their everyday home life have a more mature, strong, vibrant Christian faith. Their household habits grow their Christian faith. The research showed any home can function as a faith incubator in this way, regardless of the household type or location or income. As the researchers put it:
Rituals and relationships have a meaningful impact on faith formation and can be replicated regardless of a household’s category or context. (Households of Faith, 117)
This means that homebound Christians don’t have to take 2020 off spiritually. (Good news, given how desperately we need all our spiritual assets to confront our heightened stresses in life.) Any Christian, in any household, can take everyday steps to incorporate one or more of these three simple habits into their home life. Those of us involved in this research have developed a number of resources to help them do just that.
And pastors like me? We can stop biding our time waiting for people to come back to church and spend our God-given energy learning how to equip our congregants to slowly weave these three habits into their everyday household life. If our mission really is to make and grow disciples of Jesus (and not just to get people to “come to church”) this is exactly what we need to lean into here in the time of COVID.
Don Everts is reluctant to call himself an evangelist, but for decades he has found himself talking about Jesus with all sorts of skeptical and curious people. He is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and teaching pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Churchin St. Louis, Missouri.