03 Shared Activities & Rituals

Shared Activities & Rituals


In many Christian circles today, you’ll hear people talk about “doing life” with others. What does that phrase entail, especially when it comes to the individuals we are most likely to “do life” with: our housemates?

In a practical sense, time use surveys give us somewhat of a glimpse. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, on a daily basis, the average American adult with a full-time job will spend about nine of their 24 hours on sleep. After a night’s rest, work (6.45) and various forms of leisure (5.24) each take up several hours.20 Beyond that, there are precious few hours left to divvy up for meals, household duties, caretaking and so on. Of course, this list from the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t account for prayer, Bible-reading, contemplation or other spiritual disciplines. It also can’t speak to some of the intangible ways people might view or invest their hours—not as measurements of time, but as opportunities to enjoy someone’s company, to learn something new, to impart wisdom, to confront or maybe even to reconcile. One study by health insurer Cigna suggests these more relational tasks aren’t well prioritized; half of Americans say they have meaningful daily social interactions, like a heart-to-heart with a friend or quality time with family.21

This chapter will focus on the ways in which practicing Christians are truly present and interactive in their homes, shaping not only their everyday rituals but their household roles and spiritual growth.

Regular Activities

Typically, if household members are all together, they are gathered around the table (though, as the Wall Street Journal reports, some research suggests mealtimes could stand to be a little longer).22 According to this Barna study, dinner, every day or every other day, is the most common group activity (68%) in Christian households. Half (49%) also include shared breakfast in their routines.

Fifty-three percent of respondents say their housemates regularly come together to watch TV. But they still connect beyond screen time: Nearly half (47%) have discussions about how they are feeling every day or two. Work (such as house projects and yardwork) and play (such as games) are less consistent group activities. Meanwhile, reading books, playing sports and singing are activities that respondents say they never share in their homes (42%, 42% and 38%, respectively).

The data show many household categories strive for some kind of structure or formality. Forty-four percent of respondents mention holding household or family meetings. This occurs most when there are minor residents (59%), especially in nuclear families and multi-generational and single-parent households. Further, a quarter of households (26%) has an agreement about behavior in their homes, such as a roommate contract—which, by the way, a third of roommate households (34%) uses. Such an agreement is uncommon among couples (7%), perhaps because communication is more direct between the two spouses and there are fewer variables than in, say, a multigenerational (40%) or single-parent (38%) context.

Beyond the home, food is also the impetus for togetherness. Three-quarters of respondents (76%), and couples in particular (90%), go out to eat at least once a month as a group. Roommates are least likely to take a trip to a restaurant together (61%).

Spiritual Activities

There is another activity that housemates prioritize venturing out for: worship services. Keep in mind, respondents in this study are all practicing Christians, a categorization that requires them to attend church at least once a month. But respondents report that members of their household, usually their spouses (39%) or kids (31%), attend church on a weekly basis as well. Accordingly, the household types most likely to attend church together are nuclear families (94%) and couples (84%).

What about other forms of faith engagement on their own time at home? The majority of respondents (85%) participates in personal prayer, and two in five (40%) attend a small group. Most also have spiritual interactions with their housemates, such as talking about God or faith (92%), group prayer (89%) or reading the Bible (78%). Four in 10 respondents (39%) say spiritual conversations occur every day or two.

The data can’t truly assess the depth or quality of these actions, and given that even a majority of nominal Christians says talking about God or faith (89%), group prayer (88%) and reading the Bible (74%) are the norm, it’s good to remember that faith being commonplace isn’t a guarantee that it will be robust. However, these spiritual practices could also be regarded as outcomes on their own—that is, as signs that a household is actively nurturing Christianity. What’s more, feeling a sense of responsibility for sharing faith with non-believers correlates with having more spiritual conversations at home—nearly three in four (73%) who hold this belief talk about God or faith weekly in their household—so we can assume these interactions are neither isolated nor absent-minded. Many of these respondents would likely qualify as what the Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age study defined as Eager Conversationalists (Christians who have had 10 or more conversations about faith in the past year), more than three-quarters of whom (77%) feel a responsibility to evangelize.23

As noted before, hospitality is also correlated with spiritual habits in the home. Households that have regular visitors other than relatives show a slight but statistically significant lead in their engagement in Bible-reading (86% vs. 73% of those who don’t receive regular visitors) or prayer together (93% vs. 87%) or to discuss God and faith (94% vs. 90%). This is understandable given that household activities of any kind are somewhat more common in homes that frequently welcome non-family guests. Sociable atmospheres could be more open to both individuals and interactions, including those related to faith formation, or it’s possible that having external influences beyond one’s family spurs shared interests and habits even after the guests have gone.

Kids Are a Catalyst for Any Household Activity

Houses with kids around are typically bigger and busier, and likely require adults to involve or instruct children in a range of tasks. So it’s probably not a surprise that most regular routines or rituals, whether recreational, practical or spiritual, are more common when minors are present. Even activities rarely done as a group, like chores, sports, taking walks or going to the park, increase when children are present.

Similarly, statistical modeling shows that—more than relationship status, age, household type or any other influential factor—the presence of minors is a major driver of spiritual interactions in a home, such as group Bible-reading (87% vs. 68% of homes without minors), prayer (95% vs. 83%) or conversations about God and faith (95% vs. 88%).

Naturally, kids provide opportunities for housemates to spend more time together, often thoughtfully so, whether cooking a meal, completing homework, participating in athletics or, yes, growing in faith. Spiritually, to a certain extent, we’re observing some families in the process of modeling or “passing down” faith to their children. As the previous chapter explains (page 40), that alone does not lead to rich, lifelong belief, and extended housemates and outside influences appear to be crucial players in spiritual formation as well. But kids don’t just require much of us; they quite literally ask much. Their curiosity and impressionability in all things, including faith, could incite earnest spiritual discussions and disciplines in the Christian adults in their vicinity as well. These are teachable moments for both adult and child that could do them a lot of spiritual good.

For couple households, roommate households or other environments without children present, it’s possible that spiritual development is less of a shared, in-house endeavor—or perhaps even stalls.

Of course, this data set alone can’t speak to the nature or strength of spiritual interactions beyond one’s household. But it does pose questions for faith leaders: As you consider the long-term spiritual formation of young people, how do you also encourage today’s adults toward a strong faith in every season of life? What is there to learn from the presence or mindset of children that can be replicated in any household context? And what is each church member’s duty in shaping the faith of the next generation, regardless of when or whether young people are in their direct care?


Generally Active Households Are Spiritually Active Households

If we’re regarding any effort toward faith formation in the household as an outcome on its own, and if we’re seeking to understand what distinguishes the people who prioritize these efforts, it’s instructive to know that they are the same people who appear to make any activity a priority. Welcoming guests, watching TV, sharing breakfast and other routines and rituals are also common in households that carve out time to read the Bible, pray or talk about God together. Conversely, households that do not engage in faith-based group activities are much more likely not to do anything together (31% of those who do not have spiritual conversations, 23% of those who do not pray or read the Bible together).

In short, practicing Christians who intentionally cultivate a spiritual environment in their household are simply intentional to begin with. Barna has seen a similar correlation in some of its other reports, where positive tendencies are not exclusive, but hang together: In a study of perceptions of global poverty, the more someone cared about one issue, the more they cared about any injustice;24 in a study of vocation, the more someone was attuned to faith, the more they were attuned to their work.25 Similarly, in this study of Christian households, the more housemates engage in general activity, the more they engage in spiritual activity.


One-on-One Interactions in Households

Group activities aren’t the only engagement that defines a practicing Christian household. Particularly when there are more residents, it’s safe to assume dynamics in individual relationships contribute to the overall mood, routines and spiritual climate of the home. In this respect, roommate households are the least interactive. But many members of households and extended households engage with one another in a number of dimensions, a diversity of interactions that can have a positive correlation with the overall atmosphere and spiritual nourishment of a home. Good fun, good work and good faith seem to go hand in hand, indicating spiritual growth is yet another way of being present, interested and engaged in the lives of those around you, or vice versa.

As mentioned in chapter two, the TV screen acts as a hearth for house-wide gatherings, and this also tends to be true of one-on-one interactions; in most household relationships, watching a movie or show is a main activity in any dynamic.

Regular one-on-one interactions occur most between spouses. Respondents speaking of their husband or wife describe the daily activities of a partnership, both mundane and meaningful: keeping in touch, eating meals, confronting one another, watching TV, praying together and, importantly, having fun .

The data also show that relationships between husbands and wives could be complicated when kids enter the picture. Even though couples generally tend to orbit each other at home, that connection isn’t quite as prominent in households with minors present. If kids are in the home, adult practicing Christians’ responses show the relationship between spouses becomes less dominant. Interactions between children and their parents—primarily mothers—become the heart of household routines and activities (explored more on page 105). Given that older couple households in this sample are less socially connected, spouses may begin to lean on and enjoy each other’s company in a new way once they have finished their child-rearing years.

For those who have never married, including teenage respondents, most one-on-one household interactions are less frequent, but primarily occur with mothers and siblings. Those who are no longer married (widowed, divorced or separated) intersect most with their children. Across the board, children become the go-to housemates for having fun or playing sports, categories in which siblings also jump in the ranks.


How Households Feel

Practicing Christians Describe the Atmospheres of Their Homes


One of the major aims of this project was to evaluate the perceived emotional climate of Christians’ households. Roughly two-thirds of practicing Christians say the atmosphere of their households are comfortable (69%), loving (67%) and safe (65%), which are the top descriptors overall. Respondents who have spiritual conversations or worship with household members typically say their homes are loving, safe, peaceful, joyful, nurturing and other attractive characteristics.

Hospitable homes are more likely than those that don’t regularly welcome guests to be nurturing and joyful, as well as intellectual and artistic, perhaps a sign of being stimulated by frequent guests.

Some of the adjectives one might assume are generally positive don’t always pop up in environments that carry other key markers of a healthy, faith-centered household, such as hospitality or spiritual conversations. For instance, couple households have an array of good feelings about their home atmosphere, and this category’s predominant age group, the Boomers, are mostly comfortable—but we also see that these are less interactive households with more limited communities. In this case, perhaps, comfortable has also led to some complacency in the bounds of familiarity.

Meanwhile, households with minors, in which respondents also claim a variety of close outside relationships, tend to be joyful, messy, playful, nurturing and even old-fashioned, but less likely to be peaceful, casual and comfortable.

Barna’s Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age report offers some interesting emotional parallels: Christians who have had at least 10 conversations about faith in the past year often associate these spiritual discussions with peace and joy, or even report that laughter was a part of their last spiritual conversation (70%).26

Comfort and safety are nice, but not always conduits for growth, which often requires a certain stretching outside one’s comfort zone. Developing authentic faith and sharing it with others appears to be a little looser, messier and more human.

Connecting via Technology

Even in this digital era, in-person activities are still at the core of practicing Christians’ individual relationships and interactions with housemates. However, respondents do sometimes connect with household members—usually their spouses or children—through devices.

Of a few forms of tech-based communication, social media is the one household members rarely use to keep in touch, probably because they are regularly in the same space. People tend to have more contact with Mom than Dad in their texting, calling or commenting. Respondents freely text and email their friends and siblings, but less often actually place a call to them.

Just because devices aren’t the primary tool for nurturing in-household connections doesn’t mean devices aren’t restructuring our home lives. According to Barna research conducted for Andy Crouch’s book The Tech-Wise Family, a lot of parents feel it’s harder than ever to raise kids, and in their view, the main culprit is technology and social media (64%).27 On the other end of the equation, most adults say they never take time away from social media. So while this study analyzes the many in-person interactions that housemates and families share, we should assume that people are often accompanied by glowing screens and perhaps digitally interacting with those outside the household at the same time.


Growing Up but Not Moving Out

A Peek at the Modern Rise of All-Adult Nuclear Families


As of 2015, U.S. Census Bureau data reported that a third of young adults ages 18 to 34 lived with their parents.28 Even a year later, nearly all of this group (88%) continued to crash with Mom and Dad. Many of these Millennials went to college only to boomerang back to live in their parents’ homes. A number of economic factors may contribute to this and other distinctives of Millennials’ early adulthood experience: increased housing costs, lower post-recession wages, high student loan debt and more.

The surge in this type of all-adult or “grown-up” nuclear family has been dramatic, so much so that the U.S. Census Bureau recently identified it as the most popular living arrangement for young adults in the U.S. In the decade between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of young adults living with their parents increased from 26 percent to 34 percent. Commentators may lament “freeloading” Millennials and their extended adolescence, and indeed, among Americans between ages 25 and 34 who lived with their parents in 2016, a quarter was not actively working or in school. But overall, independent living of any kind has become less common among young adults, dropping 10 percentage points during that same period.29 The motivations for either moving in with peers or moving back in with parents appear to be a mix of both cost-cutting and cultural shifts. The Atlantic notes in one article about roommate relationships that even “a recovering economy hasn’t led young people to change course.”30


In this research study of practicing Christians, Barna singled out nuclear family households made up entirely of adults—as in single adult children (usually Millennials) living with both of their parents (usually Boomers)—for closer examination. They make up a small proportion (5%) of the total sample, as young practicing Christians who don’t live alone appear to favor roommate households. We find that the behaviors of this family unit differ from the average household and the traditional nuclear family category in some notable ways.

The biggest difference may be that grown-up nuclear families aren’t quite as interactive and fun. They are less likely than nuclear families with kids to play sports, read books or sing together. Gathering, in general, is less common, whether for hosting guests or having household meetings. Further, mothers with adult children at home also seem to step back from some of the spiritual coaching that is typical when minors are in the household—perhaps one reason why nuclear households with young children are more likely to come together to attend church or pray.

The nature of the parents’ marriage also shifts when only adult children live with them. It’s reasonable to assume these spouses, similar to those in couple households, spend more time together; Barna sees this is especially true of mealtimes. But these interactions, though consistent—and, as 80 percent of married respondents in grown-up nuclear families tell Barna, even fun—may not be as purposeful as when parents are in a season of raising children. For instance, when looking at the grown-up nuclear context, we see a dip in spouses participating in everything from encouraging one another to working on house projects together.

In short, the all-adult nuclear family is less engaged than the bustling standard nuclear family. In some ways, they take on the qualities of a roommate household (or of a couple household with a beloved extended household member). Naturally, adult offspring have a level of independence that minor children don’t have, cultivating more of their own life, career and community outside of the home and requiring less involvement from their parents. It’s also possible that, because this living arrangement carries a certain amount of stigma in modern Western contexts, its occupants are prone to treat it as impermanent. With no clear roles, the responsibilities and activities that ordinarily strengthen the bonds and faith of housemates seem to fall by the wayside.


What do we make of this familial but not familiar context? It depends on who you ask. In 2018 alone, two different studies in the UK offered conflicting conclusions about the effects of boomerang kids, one showing a decline in parents’ well-being, the other showing improved relationships.31 Further, popular understanding of what is “normal” or healthy for families is always shifting and depends greatly on the resources and motivations of a particular society and time. After all, the concept of the American nuclear family now regarded as “traditional” is a fairly recent invention of the 1950s, and multi-generational family households play a more central role in other regions.32 It remains to be seen how long U.S. adults will find this grown-up nuclear family an appealing option, but in the meantime, practicing Christians within these households have an opportunity to set a precedent. If the findings of this Barna study are any guide, some universal recommendations apply: Spend intentional, enjoyable time together, and open your doors to others.


Connecting Old & Young in the Family of God

A Q&A with David Meggers

David is the unit executive for adult and older adult ministries at Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Missouri. Previously, he has been a teacher, athletic coach and church planter, and he spent 24 years serving and pastoring at Christ the Rock Lutheran Church in Southeast Rockford, Illinois. He holds a BS in Education from Concordia University St. Paul and an MDiv and STM from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

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