Research: Parents Feel Ill-Equipped to Disciple Kids

A parent’s primary responsibility is to disciple their children, which entails serving as a role model and mentor to help them think like Jesus, so that they can act like Jesus throughout their lives.

However, according to new research from veteran researcher Dr. George Barna, most parents today admit to feeling ill-equipped for this task, and children are frequently overlooked when it comes to discipleship efforts. In fact, only 1% of preteen children have a biblical worldview, and very few parents even consider their children’s spiritual development. According to Barna, less than 10% of born-again Christians have any kind of spiritual development plan in place, and less than six out of ten (58%) even claim that their children’s spiritual development is their responsibility.

As a result, Barna claims that the vast majority of children today are not being discipled effectively during the critical childhood years. Thus, they are increasingly lacking in fundamental elements of spiritual understanding and commitment that allow them to know and follow Jesus as adults. Barna’s decades of research show that children spend the first 12 years of their lives filling a spiritual vacuum, and by the age of 13, most people’s worldviews are so deeply formed that significant change is rare.

Something must change, warns the veteran researcher. 

“When it comes to making disciples,” he says, “a close examination of faith in the American context reveals the need to strategically shift our focus away from prioritizing ministry to adults and toward investing in reaching and influencing children.”

In support of this claim, the long-time researcher identifies four “disciple-making practices” that parents and others who work with children can employ to effectively teach and mentor the next generation to know and follow Jesus Christ.  The new research in Raising Spiritual Champions shows that those who effectively disciple young people typically engage in four practices that lead children to a deeper spiritual life:

  • Helping them to develop a life-defining commitment to be a disciple of Jesus
  • Exploring the biblical principles and commands that lead to thinking like Jesus
  • Facilitating the lifestyle of a disciple—obedience through the application of biblical beliefs
  • Introducing personal accountability and stability—through assessing what matters, reinforcing growth, and celebrating disciplehood.

“If you want a roadmap for how to raise a child to be a spiritual champion,” he explains, “the actions undertaken as part of those four disciple-making practices offer a well-traveled pathway en route to a successful outcome.”

Furthermore, effective discipleship is a relational endeavor, he says. “Disciples are not born. They are coached into the life of Christ by other disciples. We clearly see this in the example given by Jesus,” he writes. “My studies have consistently confirmed that people almost always become disciples because one, or a series of followers led them on a deeper journey toward Christ. That relationship between discipler and disciple-in-process is crucial to the outcome.”

George Barna
George Barna

George Barna is a professor at Arizona Christian University and the director of research at the Cultural Research Center at ACU. He also founded the Barna Group and has written more than 50 books, including numerous award-winners and New York Times bestsellers. He is also a senior research fellow at the Family Research Council, has taught at the undergraduate and graduate level, and has pastored two churches. 

God Chooses Ordinary People

Remembering the profound grace of the Christmas story

As Leaders Get Older

According to the research by the Faith Communities Study, the average age of a pastor is 57 years old compared to 50 years old in 2000.

Successful Leaders Say No (A Lot)

Are you saying no to the million distractions that surround us every day?