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December 17, 2013 / BTM

Research Shows Dad More Important Than Mom In Passing On Faith

??????????????????“If you’re an atheist, I’ll bet you a steak dinner that you’ve had authority issues with a father figure.” This statement was made by Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland in a debate with an atheist.  Paul Copan examines this further and provides examples of noted atheists (among them Voltaire, David Hume, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Christopher Hitchens, etc.) for whom this was true.  Either their father was absent, uninvolved, abusive or the relationship was strained. Research quoted by Wintery Knight is showing that a father’s beliefs are even more important than a mother’s when passing on faith to the next generation. Moms – you may not like how that sounds, but we can’t deny the findings.  And it challenges us to make sure we give our husbands the respect and influence they need in the home. A 1994 Swiss survey also found a father’s faith to be the number one critical factor for determining if a parent’s religion will be carried through to the next generation.

If both father and mother attend [church] regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly.  Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars.  Thirty-eight percent will be lost. If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly.  Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church. Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility. […]  The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising.  They are about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional Christians know.  You cannot buck the biology of the created order.  Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex by the implantation of his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal society.

Why does the faith of fathers have a higher influence than that of mothers?  Clearly we’re interested in more than mere church attendance, we want kids with a Biblical worldview that guides them in every aspect of their lives.  And moms will have a difficult time passing this on by themselves.  Why? For children, mothers are synonymous with intimacy, care, and nurture.  On the other hand, fathers are role models of how to engage with the world.  If children went to church only with mom:

[…] both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a “grown-up” activity.  In terms of commitment, a mother’s role may be to encourage and confirm, but it is not primary to her adult offspring’s decision.  Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious observances.   Read more from the source.

There’s no reason for moms to think they have no role in passing on their faith to their children.  However, clearly moms need to give their husbands the respect and influence in their homes to be active in their children’s spiritual formation.  This is also another reason why making sure you marry a solid Christian man is of utmost importance!


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  1. BTM / Dec 17 2013 11:21 am

    For an American study: Probe Ministries conducted a survey across America in 2010 and found:
    […] over sixty-five percent of the respondents reported that the source that had the greatest influence on their religious beliefs was a family member, with the vast majority of those saying it was parents or grandparents.
    […] Of those who stated that a family member was the primary influence, over seven out of ten stated it was their mother or grandmother while less than three out of ten said it was their father or grandfather. […] However, the rate of fatherly influence almost doubles for young adults with a biblical worldview compared to those without such a worldview. So it appears that fathers who hold a biblical worldview are much more likely to be involved in establishing the spiritual beliefs of their children.
    Read more at:

  2. Natasha / Dec 17 2013 12:38 pm

    Interesting information! The potential problem in these studies is how they classify the respective parental influence (what qualifies as mom or dad being labeled “faithful”). It’s well known at this point that church attendance alone has very little impact on kid’s eventual adult faith. The Barna Group has studied this extensively. So if we know church attendance alone has little influence, it’s hard to look at the church attendance of each parent and draw conclusions. George Barna’s book, Revolutionary Parenting, summarizes his years of research findings on the family commonalities of young adults who did NOT turn away from Christianity. I summarized those findings here:

    Overwhelmingly, what impacted the eventual faith of young adults is how integrated faith was in daily life. I believe that whether it’s mom or dad, it’s this daily integration of faith and spiritual “training” that makes the most difference. Of course, when both parents are involved in that, it’s the ideal. My husband and I consciously alternate nights leading the Bible devotional with our kids so we present a “unified front”. 🙂

    Great topic!

    • BTM / Dec 17 2013 4:48 pm

      Thanks for the comments Natasha! I agree, these studies can be self-selecting in a way – church attendance can mean very little, but when both parents are church attenders, they are also more likely to want to pass on that faith to their kids. Not always, but more likely. Either way, the fact that the stats change so much when father rather than mother attends church says something. I found their idea that fathers are considered the role model for how to engage the world as adults very interesting, and something to keep in mind.

      • Natasha / Dec 17 2013 4:52 pm

        Absolutely. I would love to see a study broken down also by how that changes for girls vs. boys. I wonder if girls relate more to their mom’s faith and boys relate more to their dad’s faith, or if the findings are constant across gender. Very interesting! I’ll share on my Facebook page. I’m loving your blog topics!

      • BTM / Dec 23 2013 8:32 am

        Hi Natasha,

        Here is a clip from the article that seems to indicate that male and female children seem to react the same to dad’s attendance.

        Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a “grown-up” activity. In terms of commitment, a mother’s role may be to encourage and confirm, but it is not primary to her adult offspring’s decision. Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious observances.

        Read more:

  3. Ima / Dec 18 2013 12:38 am

    Seems the article is assuming passing on church attendance equates to passing on faith. I would separate those two as church attendance doesn’t necessarily equal faith.
    The top #’s here for passing on church attendance are 38% and 44% with the top parameters, and average more in the low 30% for most of the parameters. If each generation is only passing on 30% and basically losing 70% this certainly illuminates the severe decline of church attendance in the last few 30 years. As to the reasons for the decline of church attendance, here is perhaps one of the base reasons. Passing on church attendance would need to double the %’s here to start to reverse the trends.
    Now the big question. Where is the breakdown that even in the best family situation the passing of church attendance remains dismal?

    • BTM / Dec 23 2013 8:39 am

      Hi Ima, Thanks for commenting. I totally agree, “church attendance” seems to be a wimpy parameter as we know church attendance isn’t an indicator of the quality of ones faith. In general, the numbers are always dismal in terms of children staying in the faith. I too would like a study of the success of passing on faith of solid, Bible-living families who are actively passing on their faith and worldview to their children. I have to think that they are having more success than families who are not doing this.

      • Natasha / Dec 23 2013 11:09 am

        The findings in the Revolutionary Parenting book I mentioned in my first comment would be that study. Check out my link in that comment for a summary, but the whole book is fantastic.

      • BTM / Dec 23 2013 11:50 am

        I’m just now getting the chance to read this and your post is excellent. I’ll repost it here for my readers, thanks!!

  4. Jen / Dec 29 2013 5:23 pm

    I don’t quite agree with this article. So many people I know attribute their faith to praying moms. I think it’s important for fathers to have spiritual impact, but that is sometimes not possible. God has given teaching gifts to women as well, and any impact a mother has is very crucial, in my opinion. Jesus empowered and esteemed women in a time when this was not done. I think we need to follow in His footsteps.

    • BTM / Jan 1 2014 1:23 pm

      I can certainly understand not agreeing with this research because many of us know examples of the opposite happening. It’s not that moms don’t have a role, because they do. But it is a study, so we have to give it some bearing. I am aware of other studies that break down passing on faith more precisely than this one does (this one only considers church attendance, which is not sufficient for most of us who are being proactive passing our faith on to our kids). I’ll share those results with you as well in a future post.


  1. CRISIS OF FATHERHOOD: Statistics show fathers are indispensable in passing on the Faith to their children |

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