Many families are less engaged with their church since the pandemic, according to new research.
The study by Liverpool Hope University and the National Institute for Christian Education Research (NICER) found that Sunday morning church attendance has become “less of a priority” for families, while faith nurturing at home has improved.
The research found that engagement with church had fallen in 40% of families surveyed.
“Considering that the willingness of these families to respond to the survey indicates that they are likely to be more engaged than average, it is concerning to see that a significant proportion of the participants have decreased church engagement over pandemic times,” the report said.
This finding was confirmed by responses from church leaders, around half (48%) of whom reported families in their congregation now engaging less than they did before the pandemic.
When it came to resources to nurture family faith during the pandemic, the study uncovered “striking” differences in perceptions between church leaders and families.
Many families felt unsupported and under-resourced by their churches during the pandemic.
Two thirds of church leaders felt they had supported families in their faith at home during the pandemic, but this fell to half (49%) of parents who agreed.
A quarter (24%) of church leaders did not know if families in their church felt supported in nurturing faith at home.
Some 40% of parents surveyed said that the local church does not provide resources to support their child’s faith.
Only 2% of parents said that worksheets and activities provided by their local church during the pandemic had been beneficial.
Despite this, most parents (88%) want the church to provide or signpost them to specific activities and resources to equip their family for their own spiritual growth.
According to the report, parents said that connections with the church fell away more quickly than with other community groups during the pandemic. Some said they had fallen out of the habit of going to church and others admitted it was a struggle to reintegrate into church life as a family.
“All of the parents interviewed explained that it had been difficult returning to church after the lockdowns,” the report said.
“Many felt that their congregation had become less tolerant of children.”
The report added, “Having engaged with faith at home resources during the pandemic parents became more aware and critical of provision for children at church.”
Researchers recommended that churches listen to the needs of young families and reflect on how to provide “a welcoming and meaningful experience of church for all”.
“This research has shown that families’ faith at home has tended to improve during the pandemic, whilst their engagement with church has reduced,” the report said.
“However, there is a significant disconnect between the perceptions of church leaders and parents about what is needed going forward.
“It is clear that churches must now consider how to respond to this change in family’s ethos and practices.
“It is key to meet families where they are and support those spiritual connections which occur at home rather than simply seeking to coax them back into church attendance.”
Responding to the findings, Andy Frost, Director of Share Jesus International, one of the organisations that sponsored the study, said the research would help church leaders “take stock” and give clear insights into how they can work with families and not just children.
“As I meet with church leaders, it’s clear that the pandemic has thrown up lots of questions around what church life could and should look like,” he said.
“My prayer is that this research helps us have robust conversations about how we best support parents in nurturing faith.”
Rachel Turner, Parenting for Faith Pioneer, said, “This new research enables us to finally put statistics to the experiences that we shared over the pandemic.
“Some of its conclusions are confirmation of what we already ‘knew’, but it also provides some eyebrow raising surprises.
“It makes for a thoughtful and provoking read that demands action.”