Study examines what families want from church
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
June 23, 2011

Study examines what families want from church

Study examines what families want from church
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
June 23, 2011

WACO — Conventional

wisdom says “the family that prays together stays together.” But one study of

15 Baptist congregations found that what families want most from their church

are opportunities to serve.

In 2004, Baylor

University researchers polled more than 3,000 members of churches in

12 states affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist

Fellowship or both. While not statistically representative of all Baptists,

researchers Diana Garland and Jo Edmonds said findings shed light on the

struggles church families face at different stages of life.

Seventy percent of families in the survey were married

couples with or without children, far higher than the general population. One

in four of those was a second marriage. Fewer than 1 percent were unmarried or

separated couples, far below the national norm, while widowed single adults

were double the rate of society as a whole.

Researchers asked respondents to mark items from a list of

37 possible causes of family stress. Four of the top five reported stressors

involved physical or mental health. A third reported serious illness or

disability of a family member, close friend or relative had caused stress for

their family in the previous year. About one in four mentioned death of a loved

one, depression or other serious emotional problems or financial strain.

Some stressors varied by age. Teenagers felt the same

stressors their families reported, like death, illness and depression, but

others—such as school problems and parent-child conflict—were unique to their


Among families in their 20s, 61 percent reported financial

strain. Thirty-eight percent cited problems balancing work and family. Three in

10 reported stress about moving from one home to another.

Financial strain was somewhat less common for families in

their 30s, but a new issue emerged—30 percent reported difficulty on the job

for a family member.

Families in their 40s continued to experience stress from

balancing work and family and finances, about 40 percent each, while death of a

family member, close friend or relative entered the top five most prevalent

stressors, affecting 28 percent of families in the survey.

Respondents in their 50s carried the dominant stressors of

younger groups, along with higher rates of worries related to physical or

emotional health. Nearly half (46 percent) reported stress from serious illness

or disability of a family member, close friend or relative, 38 percent from

caring for a sick or disabled family member, and 36 percent because of a death.

Financial strain remained a problem for more than a third (36 percent) of

families in their 50s.

Financial strains decreased to 19 percent for families in

their 60s and older, while health-related worries became more common. Nearly

half (46 percent) cited stress from serious illness or disability of a loved

one, 38 percent mentioned pressure of caring for a sick or disabled family

member and 36 percent the death of someone close to them.

In terms of religious practice, daily Bible study and prayer

historically have been considered important for Baptists, and 86 percent of

individuals reported praying on a daily basis. Barely half, however, (55

percent) reported doing so as a family.

Fewer than one in four individuals said they studied their

Bible daily. That rose to 62 percent on a weekly basis. Researchers said that

probably is a result of Sunday school and weekly Bible studies, but daily Bible

studies by families was reported by a scant 5 percent.

The most common religious activities engaged as families

were caring for the created world (more than 50 percent weekly), caring for

others in need and helping their community to be a better place.

“These examples suggest that families are more likely to be

engaged in the world around them as expressions of their faith than to be

engaged in studying the Bible together,” researchers surmised. A majority also

mentioned forgiving and encouraging others and talking and listening to one

another’s deepest thoughts at least once a week.

Respondents also marked up to six items in a list of 47 ways

in which they would like to see their church help their families. The most

common were:

  • Serving others outside our family, 26.8 percent.
  • Family prayer and devotional time, 21.8 percent.
  • Communication skills, 20.6 percent.
  • Developing a strong marriage, 19.6 percent.
  • Developing healthy habits—eating, exercise, rest and

    recreation, 19 percent

  • Talking about our faith together, 18.5 percent.

“A majority of these families already is engaged in their

communities—serving others in need, caring for the created world, offering

hospitality, seeking more justice in the world and stronger communities—and

still list help in these areas at the top of their requests from their

congregation,” researchers reported.

Second, researchers said, families wanted more help in

developing prayer and devotional time as families instead of as individuals.

“Perhaps the most interesting challenge for the church is to

offer guidance and support for families in these needs of common areas of

concern that are grounded in the beliefs and values of the Christian faith,”

researchers noted.

“Families can go to schools and community centers for

marriage or parent education or anger or money management, but only the church

can ground these life issues in Christian values and practices.

“Similarly, families can go to any number of social service

agencies seeking volunteers and find ample opportunities to serve their

communities. There are a myriad of ‘walks’ for various causes, community

cleanups and so on. These families are asking their churches to ground their

service in Christian mission.”

“They not only want to offer charity, they want to

strengthen their communities,” the study concluded.

“The data suggest that these families are seeking an

integration of the life of service with the life of prayer and worship.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is managing editor for Associated

Baptist Press.)