A Must Read for All Christian Families: Revolutionary Parenting

I just finished reading the book “Revolutionary Parenting:  Raising Your Kids to Become Spiritual Champions” by George Barna.  I couldn’t put it down! It was so compelling and directly relevant to the focus of this blog (intentional Christian parenting) that today I want to share several key highlights from it.

The author, George Barna, is the founder of the Barna Group, a leading market research company in tracking and analyzing matters of faith. The extensive research the Barna Group has conducted over the last 30 years has provided a wealth of fascinating insights that have been the basis of several books, including this one.

In “Revolutionary Parenting,” Barna’s objective was to analyze years of research data to quantitatively determine what common factors exist in the child-rearing efforts of parents who successfully raised children whom he defines as “spiritual champions.” These “spiritual champions” are now adults who say that 1) they have embraced Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord; 2) they accept the Bible as truth and as the guide for life; and 3) they seek to live in obedience to its principles and in search of ways to continually deepen their relationship with God.

Perhaps you read that and think having kids who are spiritual champions is the expected outcome of raising them in a Christian home. This couldn’t be further from the truth:

Research has shown that 61% of today’s twenty-somethings were church goers during their teen years but are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., they don’t actively attend church, read the Bible or pray).

When you stop to consider this astounding statistic, it makes Barna’s findings in Revolutionary Parenting all the more urgent and compelling:  What things make a significant difference in a developing a child’s faith?

I highly recommend reading the whole book yourself.  It is the ultimate motivation for making your Christian parenting truly intentional, because the findings consistently point back to the need for a family to engage in faith together at home. In the meantime, I want to share  the most pertinent highlights from my reading (these are direct quotes from the book):

  • One of the lessons that emerged from the research on which my earlier book was based was that churches alone do not and cannot have much influence on children. In fact, the greatest influence a church may have in affecting children is by impacting their parents.
  • Your impact on your children’s lives is proportional to the depth of the relationship you have fostered with them.
  • We found that the fewer children a family has, the more likely they are to produce spiritual champions.
  • Our findings suggest that the amount of time devoted to hands-on parenting is a significant factor.
  • The research showed that the firstborn is the child most likely to become a spiritual champion.
  • Our research also noted that a family’s socioeconomic status has no correlation with the spiritual development of a child.
  • Household income level, parental educational achievement, age of the parents, ethnicity, and parental career path seem to have no relationship to the trajectory of a child’s spiritual growth.
  • Our research found that parents are more likely to raise spiritual champions if they accept the fact that from day one their parenting efforts will stray from the norm and will put them at odds with parents who are pursuing a more conventional approach.
  • (These parents) intentionally identify their children as their main earthly focus in life during their parenting years.
  • One of the idiosyncrasies of these families is that they tend to delve into faith matters as a family unit.
  • While there are ample instances of family members engaging in spiritual activities apart from other family members—for example, Sunday school classes, small-group involvement, attending Christian events—the glue that holds it all together consists of two themes: family conversations that bring biblical views into their shared lives, and efforts to regularly engage in faith activities (Bible study, worship, prayer) that model the integration of faith into their lives.
  • Nationwide, fewer than one out of every ten born-again families read the Bible together during a typical week or pray together during a typical week, excluding mealtimes.
  • The adult children stated that it was the extensive time spent studying the Bible as a family that made the greatest difference in their emergence as dedicated followers of Christ and advocates of Scripture.
  • The research revealed an amazing insight into just how much time was spent in dialogue between parent and child on a typical day. The figures ranged between 90 and 120 minutes (verified by both the parent and child, independent of each other). To place that in context, the typical American family registers less than fifteen minutes of direct parent-child conversation each day.
  • The Revolutionary Parents interviewed did not hesitate to explain the personal significance of seeking their own spiritual growth on a daily basis.
  • Another of the distinctive qualities of Revolutionary Parents was that they set tangible and measurable parenting goals and held themselves accountable. Three out of every four of these parents (73 percent) developed and pursued goals. That’s about fifteen times the proportion among other parents.
  • Ninety-six percent of the Revolutionary Parents we interviewed took the time and made the effort to learn the unique nature of each of their children and to build a parenting framework around each child’s distinctives.
  • Although in our research we encountered a significant percentage of parents across the nation who said a good parent must fight every battle, we found that Revolutionary Parents disagreed. Overall, 96 percent of them said you would wear yourself out and lose your relationship with your child if you fought them over every circumstance on which you disagreed.
  • We discovered that 73 percent of the Revolutionary Parents placed “a lot of emphasis” upon protecting their children from negative influences.
  • We found very few parents who are theologically liberal or spiritually complacent among the parents who raise spiritual champions.
  • You can’t pass on what you don’t possess, so be sure you have a vibrant relationship with God.
  • The skills they emphasized most often had to do with teaching their children how to pray, how to study the Bible, and how to worship.
  • Some of the great parents we interviewed have a well-honed intuition that enabled them to make laudable decisions without much effort. Most of the parents, though, really worked hard at Revolutionary Parenting.
  • What about you? Have you come to a place where you can confidently submit that there is nothing more important in your life than how you love and serve God through the way that you raise your children? . . . To succeed, I have to answer a very fundamental question: Am I making over these children in my image or God’s? . .  . If my children are going to grow spiritually, most of that growth will come from what takes place inside our house.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts on these findings.  What here surprises you?  What here challenges you most?

12 thoughts on “A Must Read for All Christian Families: Revolutionary Parenting”

  1. There is a LOT of good information here! We have always been a little “different”, even from our Christian friends. We have finally found a church with members who share our views, which is such a blessing! It is very challenging to be in the world and not of the world, especially as your children get older! Thanks for this great article!

    1. Hi Kelli – Great! So glad you enjoyed it. What you said is so true also, about how even Christians differ. I think that is why we see that 61% of kids who grow up in “Christian” homes leave the faith; a home that is “Christian” only in name and church-going does not build the faith that a child needs. I’m so glad you have found a church with members who share your commitment!

  2. It surprised me to read, “We found that the fewer children a family has, the more likely they are to produce spiritual champions.” This has not been my own personal experience. (For background, I personally come form a family of 3 kids, and I only have 2 kids). It surprises me that parents with a Spiritual Conviction to allow God to plan their parenthood (have lots of kids) would then not invest in those kids and allow them to stray. I realize that ultimately each child has to decide for himself where he will go so I don’t mean to be inflammatory. Perhaps some people just have kids for no spiritual reason, though. Maybe there is a distinction between the two types of parents and their parenting.

    1. Hi Lauren – That surprised me as well! In the book, Barna does address this slightly further, saying that it is probably due to the lesser amount of time available to spend per child. The findings showed a strong relationship between time spent with a child and the faith outcome, so he suggested that the more children parents have, the less time that is naturally available on a per child basis. If a family with several kids is intentionally finding ways to spend the necessary time with each child to develop their faith, I doubt this finding still holds up. He didn’t quantify that in the book, but I definitely recall him addressing it as a likely “time per child” issue.

      1. I fully agree that it is likely a “time per child” issue. Another facet that interferes is the fact that when you have a lot of kids, and lots of different ages, the number of relationships increases exponentially. Between the interactions between the parents themselves, the parents with each child, the children among themselves, and the family as a unit, the opportunities for “Satan to get a word in edgewise” increase. Add that to the fact that the more people you have in a household, and the less space to accommodate them all, the more organized/regimented the family unit has to be just to survive, and the opportunity for meaningful relationship dwindles. I’m not saying it’s not possible, just that an exhausted mother of six is going to have a hard time finding the energy to “intentionally parent” the way of a mother of one could. Or that the lessons she intends to teach could get lost in the “noise” of daily living much more easily. (ok, I’m cheating and thinking of my brother-in-law and his family and their six vs. our one.) Does Barna address special needs children in the book? It sounds like a really good read.

        1. Hi Sharon, No, Barna did not mention anything about special needs children in the book. That certainly would have been an interesting component, however. I can imagine that the extra time needed to devote to special needs would also be part of the time factor here. I think that the more and more children you have, the more and more intentional you have to be about not only integrating faith at home, but about tending to individual faith needs. Like you said, it’s not impossible, it just requires even *more* intentional parenting! Even when we went from 2 children to 3, I felt it made a significant difference in the time spent per child. Thanks for your comment!

  3. I am so glad that you have brought this book and it’s findings to your readers attention. Reading this post has caused me to examine my own parenting; I think it is so important to be reflective. While we know, intentionally creating moments to share our faith in our homes is the most critical ingredient in nurturing a child into an engaged Christian as an adult, it is good to be reminded!
    Thanks, Natasha.

  4. The firstborn child is most likely to become a spiritual champion! Wow! That is proven true so far in our home, and she’s only 7. This all fascinating information. Thanks for sharing your review. I’m pinning this and planning to get the book myself. 🙂
    Wishing you a happy and blessed Friday, my dear friend!

  5. Tracie Meadows

    Am ordering this book and can’t wait to read it. I work in family ministry and we are constantly encouraging our parents to take on the role as the primary spiritual nurturer, to take this role seriously. I look forward to reading and to passing on to our parents.

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