Guiding Children

Guiding Children

A Barna Report Produced in Partnership with OneHope


By Rob Hoskins, OneHope President

I’m excited about this generation. Even more so since becoming a grandpa. When I found out I was becoming a grandparent, everything changed . . . and yet nothing changed.

Everything changed in that what I’ve been doing for the entirety of my life and ministry—reaching children and youth with the truth of God’s Word—became deeply personal. Now I wake up at night not only thinking about the 113 million children and youth we’re reaching this year through OneHope, but also thinking about the world my granddaughter is going to grow up in.

As I step into this new responsibility as a grandparent to help my baby granddaughter become ready to face that world, three things stand out to me from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river that prepared him to go out and start his ministry.

At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
(Matt. 3:16–17, NIV)

Our job as guides to the next generation is to endow our young people with:

  1. IDENTITY (“This is my son”) so they know who they are in Christ.
  2. AFFIRMATION (“whom I love, with him I am well pleased”) of who they are becoming, being in close proximity and relationship so we can be their biggest cheerleaders and know what’s important to them, encouraging and affirming decisions in their life.
  3. LOVE FOR GOD’S WORD (“It is written”) so that when they are tempted by the world, like Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, they respond grounded in the truth of God’s Word.

Pastors, leaders, teachers, parents: We are to help young people establish their divine identity in Christ, surround them with a community that builds authentic relationships and help them hide God’s Word in their hearts. Then, no matter what life throws their way, they will be rooted and will know where to turn for truth, answers, support and encouragement.

While becoming a grandpa changed something in me, what didn’t change is my calling. We as parents, grandparents, children’s pastors, youth leaders and teachers have a tremendous responsibility. It’s the same responsibility we’ve always had in every generation:

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
(Deut. 6:6–9)

Yes, we are facing unique challenges. But we also have access to amazing new tools and opportunities. I truly believe that this is a great day for us to engage young people with God’s Word in new ways.

Toddlers and teens have ubiquitous access to information, but they still need adults to help them translate knowledge into wisdom. We are to be the guardrails helping the next generation navigate this knowledge-rich world and the struggles that come with growing up. Scripture engagement, faith community and positive family experiences work together to develop spiritually vibrant children with resilient faith.

The need for Scripture engagement in the upbringing of today’s youth hasn’t changed; how they can access and experience the story for themselves has. We’ve seen an overwhelming response to digital Scripture-engagement tools like the Bible App for Kids and other programs. It’s our job to fully leverage all the great tools we have, once we know where our children and youth are, and meet them there.

To help with that, we believe research is revelatory. It holds up a mirror that allows us to understand our times and either reinforces that we are doing good, effective, fruitful ministry in the reality in which we are living—or lets us know what needs to change.

What you will find in the pages of this report is meant to give a glimpse into the current reality of the new generation, to identify gaps and to celebrate areas of growth. We are excited to share research that will prompt conversations around the most influencing factors in the lives of young people so that pastors, leaders, teachers and parents can unite and work together to nurture a deep, robust and lasting faith in the next generation.

O my people, listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying . . . We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord . . . so the next generation might know them— even the children not yet born— and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands.
(Ps. 78:1, 4, 6–7) 




U.S. adults who are the parent of at least one child ages 6 to 12 and identify as Protestant, Catholic or other Christian, who have attended church within the past month, agree strongly that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that Jesus was crucified and raised, have made a personal commitment to him that is important, and desire to pass along their faith to their child. All participants in this study qualified under this definition.


Engaged Christian parents who rank at least two media-related issues in their top three struggles related to their child’s faith formation. (Media-related issues include inappropriate internet searches, digital content such as YouTube and Netflix, video games and social media.)


Engaged Christian parents who say they rely most on themselves for their child’s faith development and do not rank their church’s leaders among their top two resources to rely on.


Engaged Christian parents who say they rely most on their church’s leaders for their child’s faith development, and do not rank themselves among their top two resources to rely on.


Engaged Christian parents who report using at least one of the resource types included in the survey and say they want training from their church’s leaders on how to talk about sensitive topics with their children.




Engaged Christian parents report their child spends 16 or more hours each week using media (TV, computer, mobile or gaming device) for entertainment. (Less media-engaged children consume fewer than 16 hours of entertainment media per week, according to their parents.)


Engaged Christian parents report their child engages at least weekly with the Bible in some form. (Less Bible-engaged children do not engage at least weekly with the Bible.)


Engaged Christian parents report their child attends church weekly or more often. (Less church-engaged children attend less frequently.)


Engaged Christian parents report their child spends over 13 hours a week with family in conversation or play, including mealtimes, family activities, etc. (Less family-engaged children spend less time with their family.)

Key Findings

  • The vast majority of engaged Christian parents are satisfied with their child’s spiritual development thus far (57% very, 40% somewhat).
  • Parents who bring their family to church weekly are more likely to be very satisfied with their child’s spiritual development (61%).
  • More than half chose their current church primarily because of the children’s program (58%).
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 parents want their church involved in some capacity in sensitive conversations with their child (88%).
  • 8 out of 10 parents say their child engages with the Bible on their own at least once a week (81%). This brings a host of benefits, according to the data.
  • 3 out of 4 parents are not yet using any digital resources to help their child engage with the Bible.
  • Engaged Christian parents report their children consume much less entertainment media each week than the general population: 8 hours on average vs. 42 hours.1
  • Even so, one-third are “media-stressed” (34%)—they name two or more media issues among their greatest parenting struggles.


In one of the best-known episodes of Jesus’ life, children were brought to him to be blessed, only to be stopped short by his disciples. Perhaps they were trying to keep the children out of his way while he was teaching, but Jesus’ response is one of the most beautiful statements about kids in all of Scripture: “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matt. 19:14).

In a literal sense, children are the future of our church and our culture, and few more strategic ministry investments can be made than in children. Christians who shape the spiritual lives of children are shaping the spiritual landscape of the future.

But there are challenges as we seek to lead children to Jesus. Today we teach, lead and parent children against the backdrop of a complex culture. Rapid social changes mean we must deal with hard questions at younger ages and earlier stages of development. The ubiquity of screens and everywhere-you-go technology has reshaped the experience of childhood, often in disturbing ways. There are high expectations and commitments of the time and energy of families, which impact traditional understandings of faith formation and shared life.

All of these factors combine to form a new reality for children and their caregivers—a reality characterized by rapid, ongoing change and often manifesting as tension. It can be exhausting to consider how to help a young person grow up today. How can we do it well?

Even in the chorus of opinion that surrounds us, we can find reliable guides—authoritative voices with wisdom for this moment. We have a broad community of Christians facing the same challenges and the timeless principles of Scripture—the ultimate guide to becoming the kind of grownups who guide kids to resilient faith.

After all, while many elements of childhood today feel dramatically different from previous decades, childhood itself hasn’t changed. Kids are still kids. They pass through the same developmental stages, experience the same joys, frustrations and longings to belong. They still need parents and guardians. They still look up to adults in their faith community. Are we raising them in new realities? Yes. But passing on the faith is an ancient calling—see the passage from Deuteronomy cited above—and it hasn’t changed as much as we might think.

With this goal in mind, three key dynamics emerge for Christians to understand and interact with: the changing landscape of tech and media, the vital role Bible engagement plays in spiritual formation, and the ongoing importance of church and communities of faith.

To better understand the dynamics shaping childhood faith formation today, Barna was commissioned by OneHope to study three groups with different viewpoints: engaged Christian parents, children’s ministry leaders, and an eclectic mix of experts in the fields of child development, education, toy and game design, and technology. Researchers define “engaged Christian parents” as follows: They have attended a Christian church service within the past month (other than for a holiday or a special event); they strongly agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and contains truth about the world; they believe Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death; they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today; and they desire to pass faith on to their child. In addition to qualifying under that definition, study participants are also the parent of at least one child age 6 to 12.

In addition to parent data and analysis, this report features insights from an array of church leaders and other practitioners and thinkers. They don’t always agree with each other, but their unique perspectives tease important nuance from the quantitative research among parents.

Some data points in this study will prompt ministry leaders and parents to pause and consider the implications for the kids in our orbit. But many findings also give us reason to hope. While the culture is changing rapidly, God is not. And he invites us through the Spirit of Jesus to continue raising up irreplaceable young members of his Kingdom.

The overall image that emerges from the research is that of a guided journey. Children need help, as they always have, to navigate the strange and sometimes forbidding landscape of growing up. And cultural changes mean that children must discover who they are in a setting that is often less childhood-friendly than we would wish. But they are not alone. With good caregivers around them—who also have wise guides—there is abundant hope that kids can navigate the journey of early life well, setting them up for long-term faithfulness and a legacy as agents of real renewal and spiritual faith.

Let’s explore the findings together.

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