Faith@Home Revealed: An Inside Look at Churchgoing Parents, by Mark Holmen and Brian Stewart (Crosslake, MN: Faith@Home Press, 2018)
The decline of Christianity in America has attracted much attention in recent years, and with it has come a plethora of fads, techniques, and gimmicks designed to help churches boost attendance numbers. Much of the “Church Growth Movement” has revolved around ideas and techniques that run contrary to a Biblical, Lutheran understanding of conversion, faith, and Law/Gospel. Such methods typically assume that faith is the product of a one-time emotional “decision for Jesus,” rather than the creation of the Holy Spirit. As such, the Church Growth Movement has long emphasized popular music, dynamic speakers, and inspiring messages over gradual lifelong catechesis revolving around the Means of Grace.
In the light of such programs, it is refreshing to see an American Evangelical organization that doesn’t teach churches how to manipulate people into deciding to follow Jesus or entertain their children. Faith@Home is an organization designed to strengthen the church not through marketing techniques on Sunday morning, but through living and teaching the Christian faith in the home. Faith@Home helps congregations by assessing their spiritual health on the basis of the strength of the cultivation of the faith at home, as measured by the FaithLife Survey. On the basis of the survey results, Faith@Home gives practical advice on how to strengthen spiritual life at home among couples in the congregation. The book Faith@Home Revealed: An Inside Look At Churchgoing Parents by Mark Holmen and Brian Stewart summarizes survey results from over 1,600 families from twelve different denominations, and notes major cross-denominational trends in American Protestantism.
The Three Areas of Concern
The FaithLife Survey examines families’ spiritual life in three main areas:
- the family’s attitudes towards the cultivation of faith in the home
- their actual behaviors and practices in real life
- their desires for growth in living their faith at home
Statistics reaped from the survey shows a number of alarming trends. For example, only 28% of Christian youth have talked with their mother about their faith, and even fewer (13%) with their father. This is concerning, especially considering that over half of parents believe that at least one of the spouses should be responsible for teaching their children the faith. This implies that parents are generally aware that they should be doing something to teach Christianity to their children, yet are not acting on this knowledge.
Perhaps even more significantly, Christian couples overall tend to see their faith more as a personal matter, having little to do with their relationship as a married couple. For example, 86% of those surveyed believed that praying personally is important, while 79% believed it is important to pray with their children, and even fewer (65%) thought it is important to do so as a couple. Similar trends appear in a number of other areas: Bible reading, home devotions, spiritual conversations, etc. As Holmen and Stewart state, “Couples do not feel that it’s as important for them to engage faith life at home as a couple as it is for them to do it personally or with the children.” (42) This disconnect between faith and marriage highlights the damage American individualism has done to Christianity.
Another concerning trend involves parents’ spiritual relationship with their children during their teenage years. Overall, parents’ engagement with their children’s spiritual lives drops drastically once they become teenagers. The percentage of families who pray with their children daily declines from 74% when they are 6–12 years old down to 51% when they are 13–18 years old. Likewise, the percentage of parents who daily read the Bible with their children drops from 20% to 6% once they turn 13. One can only imagine the impact this has on the steep decline in church attendance among young adults.
Reflections from a Lutheran Perspective
The Lutheran Church has always emphasized the importance of home catechesis in the formation of Christian youth. The Small Catechism was originally designed not for “confirmation classes” as it is generally used today, but for memorization in a family setting: “As the head of the house [Hausvater] should teach it in a simple way to his household.” Given the important role Lutheranism has always given to families, Holmen and Stewart’s findings should come as no surprise. In light of how much emphasis the Church Growth Movement has given to increasing bare church attendance statistics, it is refreshing to see an approach that instead focuses on strengthening spiritual life in the home.
There are some aspects of Faith@Home that may be concerning to Confessional Lutherans, however. Faith@Home is ultimately an American Evangelical group, and this shows through in several areas. Certain questions in the FaithLife Survey reflect an un-Lutheran mentality. For example, one question asks, “How satisfied are you with your personal spiritual growth in the past year?” This question may risk self-righteous introspection and not give a good indication of spiritual growth, since the most spiritually mature look not to themselves and their own perception of progress, but to the cross of Christ. However, the question may simply be intended as a way of gauging the disconnect between goals and achievements. Thus, the value of this question depends in large part upon the way in which it is understood.
Likewise, the book tends (unsurprisingly) to be non-sacramental, and therefore “Church worship” tends to be devalued compared to “home worship.” Although this may simply result from the authors’ emphasis on the importance of family worship, their under-emphasis may be at variance with the Lutheran tradition, which sees the Divine Service as the centerpiece of the Christian life, with all home worship flowing out of the Word and Sacraments present in the Gottesdienst. However, despite these weaknesses, Faith@Home Revealed offers valuable information on the poor state of living the Christian faith at home in 21st-century America.
While certain assumptions of Faith@Home Revealed may be at odds with Lutheran theology, overall the book highlights the great need for families to begin living their Christian faith at home, and provides insights into the areas in which improvement is needed. Lutherans can be thankful that their Evangelical peers are revealing the need for home catechesis, and draw encouragement from them to strengthen catechesis in their own homes. The Lutheran tradition, with its strong history of catechesis (through the Catechisms of Martin Luther), the chorale tradition preserved in hymnals, and its balance between church and home as the places of Christian education provides all the tools necessary for the Christian family to live their faith at home.
Benjamin Wessel is a student at Bethany Lutheran College, where he is completing his B.A. in Liberal Arts with a Philosophy Concentration.