The Christian faith is currently in steep decline within Western society. This could, perhaps, coincide with the diminishing masculine roles among fathers within our culture. Fathers are often (unfairly) portrayed as oafs, who have little to say about their children about matters of faith and morals. Recent data suggests that fathers very much contribute to the spiritual future of their children. A father can teach their children to stay with the church simply by going to church on a regular basis. The numbers have demonstrated that if dad stays, the children stay. While it is certainly possible for only mom to raise children into a life of lasting faith, studies have shown that the heirloom of religion rests on the father.
A 1994 Swiss study gives insight to the trends among church-goers, regardless of religion. The study provided a wide-range of family scenarios; providing data for a variety of family situations. What happens if the mother is practicing and the father is non-practicing? What happens if only the father is practicing? The results seem to suggest that children follow the example of dad.
If both mom and dad go to church faithfully, 33% of their children will grow up to be regular attending patrons of the church.
If only mom is taking the kids to church, only 2% of children will become lifelong church-goers, while 37% will attend occasionally. An excess of 60% of her children will end up leaving the church.
What happens if dad is active, but mom is not? Curiously, the numbers seem to go up. As previously stated, 33% of children remain when they witness both mom and dad going to church regularly. The number grows to 38% with an active dad and an occasionally active mom. It continues to go up to 44% when it’s just dad taking the kids to church.
To sum up the data: if dad does not attend regularly, only 1 in 50 of his children will remain in the church.
According to another study conducted by LifeWay Research Group, Father’s Day is the single lowest average holiday for church attendance (lower than Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July). Conversely, Mother’s Day has the third highest church attendance (after Easter and Christmas).
The director of LifeWay Research, Scott McConnell, offers his own thoughts on why this could be:
“Clearly, mothers want to be present for the affirmation that is typically offered in most churches, but families also are present knowing their attendance will honor their mother…The attendance difference between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is telling…Either churches are less effective in affirming fathers, or families believe Christian fathers don’t value their participation in worship services.”
So what must be done? Mothers: do not despair! The building blocks of faith rest with you. Live Science reports that loving mothers can help their babies develop larger brains that have a greater capacity for learning, memorizing, and responding to stress. Saint Paul tells us that Timothy was raised in the faith by his mother and grandmother (see 1 Timothy 1:5). Saint Augustine credits his mother, Saint Monica, for her fervent prayer, which ultimately led him away from paganism. Jesus himself describes the beautiful qualities of mothers who “gather their children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13:34).
It is time to empower mothers and fathers to bravely stand up for the spiritual future of their children. Moms: Do you feel alone with this task? Find father figures within your parish community. Perhaps it is a grandfather or uncle. Perhaps it is a youth minister or the pastor. Invite them over for dinner and allow your children to witness strong men in the faith. Text your husband a good Catholic podcast to listen to. Inconspicuously leave a book for him in the bathroom.
As for the Catholic Church’s part, she has always stressed the importance of both mom and dad bringing up their children in the faith. When a Catholic couple gets married, they declare before God that they will, “accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church.” The Catechism rightfully establishes the parents as the primary teachers of the faith: “Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God” (CCC 2235-2236).
Let us pray that fathers have the courage to be a witness of faith to their children. For good or ill, they are ultimately the model of God for their family.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).