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New research explores long-term effect of spiritual activity among children and teens

Staff Report • Nov 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

What is the connection between childhood faith and adult religious commitment? Parents and religious leaders are naturally interested in knowing if spiritual investment in young lives pays off in the long run. A recent study conducted by the Barna Group provides new insights into this age-old question. The survey asked adults to think back on their upbringing and to describe the frequency of their involvement in Sunday school or religious training. The Barna researchers then compared those reported early-life behaviors with the respondents’ current levels of faith activity and faith durability. One of the remarkable facts about the current U.S. adult population is the breadth of people’s exposure to spiritual training as children and teenagers. More than eight out of every 10 adults remembers consistently attending Sunday school or some other religious training before the age of 12. Those who recall being involved typically said they were engaged every week. In fact, seven out of 10 adults (69%) said they attended religious programs weekly.Adults recall their church involvement as teenagers as less frequent than their participation as children. Still, about seven out of 10 Americans recall going to Sunday school or other religious programs for teens at least once a month. And half (50%) indicated they had gone to such teen programs at least once a week, on average, when growing up. Among the most active as children were Catholics (86%), upscale adults (78%), Midwesterners (76%), notional Christians (75%), college graduates (75%), women (73%), political conservatives (73%), and those ages 65-plus (73%). The least likely population segments to have attended Sunday school or other religious programming as children were atheists and agnostics (35%), people associated with faiths other than Christianity (52%), Asians (53%), unchurched adults (56%), 18- to 25-year-olds (59%), never-married adults (60%), Hispanics (61%), and residents of the West (63%).The types of Americans most likely to recall religious participation as teenagers were evangelicals (61%), those ages 65-plus (60%), born again Christians (58%), Catholics (58%), women (56%), political conservatives (56%), residents of the Midwest (56%), married adults (55%), and Protestants (54%). On the other hand, atheists and agnostics (19%), members of other faith groups (30%), unchurched adults (31%), never-married individuals (33%), economically downscale adults (40%), and men (44%) were the least likely to have frequently attended Sunday school or other religious programs during their teen years. Read the full report and check out the data sets at the Barna Group's Web site.

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