Families at the Center of Faith Formation

Mar 13, 2024
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Over the past two decades we have been blessed with some of the best research ever done on the role of parents and the family in forming the faith of children and young people. The research confirms that  parents/caregivers and the family are the most powerful influences for virtually every child and youth outcome—personal, academic, social, and spiritual-religious; and that parents are the most important influence on the social and religious lives of children, youth, and emerging adults. Given the central role of parents/caregivers and families in shaping the lives of children and youth, they need to be at the center of faith formation.


NCCL’s new Parents and Families at the Center of Faith Formation Project is guided by a set of convictions about the importance of parents/caregivers and the family in faith formation. We believe these convictions can guide every parish in making parents and families central to all catechesis.

  1. We believe the family is the first community and the most basic way in which God gathers us, forms us, and acts in the world. The family is the essential and foundational environment for faith nurture, faith practice, and the healthy development of young people. We know from research studies, that the family is the primary way by which Catholic identity becomes rooted in the lives of young people through day-to-day religious practices.

  2. We believe parents are the most significant influence shaping the religious and spiritual lives of children and youth. We believe that the single most powerful force in a child’s religious formation is the spiritual personality of the parent. We know from research studies that the parental factors that make a significant difference in promoting faith in children and youth include the personal faith and practice of parents and caregivers, and a close, warm, nurturing parent-child relationship.

  3. We believe, as research studies have found, that the primary ways by which a religious identity becomes rooted in children’s lives are the day-to-day religious practices of the family and the ways parents model their faith and share it. The primary responsibility for passing on religious faith and practice to children rests with parents and caregivers. Religious congregations primarily serve to provide support and encouragement by developing healthy partnerships with parents and caregivers. Among the most important practices are:
  •  Reading the Bible as a family and encouraging young people to read the Bible regularly
  • Praying together as a family and encouraging young people to pray personally
  • Serving people in need as a family and supporting service activities by young people
  • Eating together as a family
  • Having family conversations about faith
  • Talking about faith, religious issues, and questions and doubts
  • Ritualizing important family moments and milestone experiences
  • Celebrating holidays and church year seasons at home
  • Providing moral instruction
  • Being involved in a faith community and participating regularly in Sunday worship as a family

  1. We believe the quality of parents’ relationships with their young people and the parenting style they practice make a significant difference in faith transmission. We know from research studies that parents and caregivers who cultivate relationships of warmth and love make everything else possible. While faith practices and attending religious services are important, the quality of the parent–child relationship is even more important


We know that a parenting style that sets religious expectations for children, with flexibility, and that focuses more on listening, and less on preaching, makes a huge difference in faith transmission. Parents maintain and enforce high standards and expectations for their children while simultaneously expressing a lot of open warmth and connection to their children and confidently giving them enough space to work out their own views and values. Parents listen more and preach less. 

 We know that parents who balance desire for religious continuity with children’s agency transmit their faith to their children by teaching principles and values, providing expectations of religious participation and responsibility, not forcing faith, allowing exploration and mistakes, and showing respect for children’s views

We know that the way parents approach parent–youth conversations about religion and spirituality matters. It is a more satisfying and successful religious and relational experience when the conversations are more youth-centered than parent-centered. Parents preach less and listen more. Parents talking with their children about religious matters during the week is one of the most powerful mechanisms for the success or failure of religious transmission to children. When parents talk about their religion in personal terms, that sends a strong message to their kids that it’s really important to them. It’s about living into the faith rather than passing on the faith



As you reflect on how you can put these four research-based convictions into practice, consider the following three ways you can make parents and families the center of faith formation in your parish:

  • How can you encourage parents to grow in faith and become faith formers?
  • How can you equip parents to incorporate faith practices into family life at home?
  • How can you engage parents – and the whole family – in faith forming experiences and programs at home and church.


Assess how well your current catechetical practice addresses each conviction.

Identify what you need to strengthen or redesign or create to engage, encourage, and equip parents and the whole family at home and church.


John Roberto
NCCL Executive Director
[email protected]


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