Last week I went to the presentation of the Faith and Belief Study funded by the Wilberforce Foundation, which ran alongside the Church Life Survey that St Paul’s was part of. This study surveyed 1,009 people, which represent New Zealand demographically and geographically, on their attitudes towards faith and belief. From this detailed survey good statistics could be produced.
What struck me during the presentation was how central the family was in forming faith. This was shown for example in the responses to the question “to what extent have the following positively or negatively impacted the development of your spiritual and/or religious practices overall?”
Parents had the greatest positive impact, with 60% stating that parents impacted them positively. On the other hand 15% of respondents said that their parents impacted them negatively. Overall, that is still a significant positive impact. Other sources of positive impact were books and articles (59%), friends (59%), and other family members (57%). Parents, grand-parents, siblings, aunties and uncles, you can be the most important person impacting people for Christ! In particular, it seems you are not as off-putting as others that convey the faith. Even youth groups, church, or mentors are not as positive and have a higher negative association.
Some of the most off-putting influences are religious education in schools and celebrities endorsing the faith. Religious education still has an overall positive impact, but celebrities have a greater negative than positive impact.
I think we can learn that the first mission field is the family, closely followed by our friends. What we do and say in the family matters. How we interact with our friends is important.
The study also reiterated that there is continuity in our religious identity. Our upbringing matters. People that are not religious often grew up in a non-religious home; people that are religious most often grew up in a home of faith. More people have changed from a religious home to no religion than from no religious background to religion. If we look to bring people to Jesus it is a lot easier doing that at home rather than in later life.
The Faith and Belief Study contains a wealth of information. Overall, it is quite positive and hopeful. If you are interested more, the report is available online: https://faithandbeliefstudynz.org/