How is faith is being nurtured in private—with the spouses, children, parents, roommates and even frequent visitors who spend time under our roofs? How do our core relationships engage us in a thoughtful, transformative faith—the kind that holds up to and is passed down over time? This was one of the guiding questions of Barna’s new Households of Faith report, based on an extensive study of practicing Christians in the USA and their living arrangements and routines.
What Makes for a Spiritually Vibrant Household?
One of the goals of this study, conducted in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, was to learn from households that appear to be exceptionally engaged in communal and consistent faith expression in the home. Barna developed a custom metric that sorts households by reports of collective, frequent engagement in key behaviors:
- Spiritual practices—defined here as praying every day or two and reading the Bible weekly all together
- Spiritual conversations—defined here as talking about God and faith at least weekly all together
- Hospitality—defined here as welcoming non-family guests regularly, or at least several times a month
Households that participate in all of these activities at this frequency are what Barna refers to as spiritually Vibrant. A quarter of respondents in this study (25%) describe a household environment that is Vibrant. Others describe homes that are Devotional (only participate in spiritual practices and spiritual conversations), Hospitable (only practice hospitality) or Dormant (participate in none of the above), all of which are explored at length in the full report. In this release, we’ll focus first on what sets Vibrant households apart.
Vibrant households stand out in that they have meaningful, fun, quality time with both their housemates and extended household members. These are practicing Christians who know the meaning of play—and indeed, half call their home life “playful.” Every day or so, members of Vibrant households come together for games (32%). They share meals (63% eat breakfast together and 75% eat dinner together) as well as their feelings (59%) on almost a daily basis. Vibrancy also correlates with group discipline, like working on the house or yard together (34% every day or two) or hosting household or family meetings (68%).
Given that welcoming others is part of the definition for this group, it’s not surprising that friendships play a great role in Vibrant households, with close friends (56%), as well as neighbors (28%) coming over several times a month. They lead the way in claiming friends who are so close as to feel like family (91%), with whom they might share deep conversations (55%) or prayer (58%). They are also more likely to depend on others (especially moms or grandmothers) for help with finances, childcare or other household needs.
Members of Vibrant households learn positive spiritual lessons and behaviors together through intentional, reverent moments between household members. Spiritual coaches are remarkably consistent in Vibrant homes. Among this group’s distinguishing traits is the presence of someone who shares about God’s forgiveness (76%), the Bible (73%) or traditions (69%). More than seven in 10 have a household member who sets a spiritual example (73%) or encourages church attendance (71%). And though somewhat defined by their spiritual behaviors as a household, respondents in Vibrant homes are also highly involved in other personal spiritual practices, like reading the Bible on one’s own (76%) or attending small groups (51%) each week.
Factors like ethnicity, location and faith history do not produce significant differences among the spiritually Vibrant (or Devotional, Hospitable and Dormant groups), suggesting that, for the most part, spiritual vibrancy is not determined by unchangeable characteristics, but by things any Christian can improve. This is encouraging news for church leaders and for the households that make up their congregations.
Good things happen when those who share a home also share everyday liturgies with one another. Good things happen when those who share a home habitually share their lives with others. And all of these good things—a support system, shared regimens, recreational and creative time, spiritual discipline—are amplified when both Christian devotion and hospitality become part of the ethos of a household.
[Comment on this research and follow our work:
Facebook: Barna Group]
About the Research
This study began with in-depth qualitative interviews with highly active Christians of various household types: two nuclear families (white Millennial parents with young children), one multi-generational family (Asian American household with children and boarders), one single-parent family (African American family that is sometimes multi-generational) and a roommate household (white Millennial males). Key insights about what makes a vibrant household or how faith grows in a household setting were initially identified through this research.
The results from the qualitative interviews were used to shape the questionnaire for quantitative online surveys conducted from April 5–11, 2018. In total, 2,347 interviews were conducted, including 448 with teens between the ages of 13–17. In order to qualify, respondents had to identify as Christian, agree strongly that their faith is very important in their life today and report attending a church service at least once in the past month. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 1.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Individuals living by themselves are excluded from this study. This sample is not designed to be representative of all household types in the U.S. As the goal of this study is to observe interactions among practicing Christians who live together and how faith is experienced and transmitted among them, households of a single person did not qualify for participation.
Practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives and have attended a worship service within the past month.
About Barna Group
Barna Group is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.