Healthy & Thriving Christian Families
Taking a look at two key factors that help Christian families thrive.
According to a recent study conducted by the Barna Group, there are two key elements that are present in Christian families that are flourishing: Devotional Practice and Hospitality. Interestingly they found that many of the families that they studied had one of the two elements but often didn’t have the other. They noted that families with only one of the elements were still spiritually more healthy than families who had neither, but they were far behind the families that were practicing both. Today we are going to take a look at the characteristics of devotional and hospitable Christian families and talk about what it takes to thrive.
The devotional life of Christians, or sometimes referred to as spiritual disciplines, is integral to a deep and rich faith. It is in the time that we set aside to spend with God where we tend to grow the most. There are many different spiritual disciplines to employ and even in each discipline, there are different emphases that can be focused on. I recently read a book called The Sacred Enneagram that has encouraged me to practice solitude more, that I may be alone with God and just rest in the truth that I am loved not for what I do, but because my identity is rooted in God. I am loved because I am a child of God. It’s these practices that help us prioritize our relationship with God over the other things in life that demand our attention and time.
Families that do this well practice spiritual disciplines together and create consistent time to pray, study, read the Bible, and share about their experiences of God with one another. The Barna research highlights three things that devotional families tend to have in common. First, devotional families have a spiritual coach. The image of a coach couldn’t be more appropriate for the role that this person plays in the family. The spiritual coach comes up with a game plan as to how the family is going to make their priority of devotional time together a reality, is the leader that speaks from experience, and the one who helps the next generation, the new players, understand their faith and how to navigate a relationship with God. Spiritual coaching is often shared amongst parents and/or grandparents in a household and is an integral part of a devotional home.
Second, devotional families practice personal spirituality. This means that even though there is a high value placed on gathering, there is also an emphasis on independent pursuit of God. This often looks like parents leading by example and creating space in their day to pray, journal, and read their Bible, preferably in a common area where it can be observed. Spiritual coaches may aid younger children in their pursuit of personal spirituality, but often these practices are actually caught instead of taught. Young children often long to be like the ones the respect the most, they copy behavior that they witness, and they put into practice that which they see. Families with older kids may practice communal, yet independent devotional time before breakfast or bed, where everyone is pursuing a discipline on their own, but maybe in the same space.
Lastly, devotional families have a spiritual rhythm and participate in consistent God talk. As was hinted at in both sections above, devotional families find time to gather regularly to talk about God. But often it’s the improvised conversations about God that are most influential. Maybe a conversation in the car or at the dinner table about a way that God was at work in your life today. Other times it might look like sharing a challenge or hardship and asking your family to pray for you. It’s not about what is said, but rather a willingness to talk about God often that makes devotional families strong and helps them to continually keep Christ at the center of their family.
One of Jesus’s favorite things to do was to participate in table fellowship. Jesus ate meals and shared life with everyone around Him. It didn’t matter where Jesus went or who He encountered, Jesus was always looking for opportunities to talk about God, eat, and hang out with others.
Jesus was also always looking for ways to serve, heal, care for, and love those around Him. Jesus provided food and drink for thousands, loved the unlovable, and dignified the marginalized. When we talk about hospitality, we are talking about replicating the fellowship and fun that Jesus enjoyed and also the care and love that He extended to all.
Christian families that practice hospitality well know the joy that comes with a full home and a packed table. The Barna research highlights three things that hospitable families have in common. First, they regularly (3+ times a month) invite non-family members into their home. Whether it be for a meal, a game night, or to create space for neighborhood kids to grab a snack after school, hospitable families regularly open their home to others.
Second, hospitable families tend to prioritize eating together. While this often takes place with non-family members, hospitable families understand the value of sharing time around the table with one another. This often becomes an important time to catch up and make sure that everyone has a chance to come together once a day.
Lastly, hospitable families tend to prioritize fun. Maybe it’s because they focus on gathering people together or maybe because the gathering of people naturally leads to stories, jokes, and communal activities. But hospitable families know how to have a good time.
The bottom line goal for the hospitable family is to share life generously with others. They embrace the fun and fellowship, but also the care and love that Jesus exhibited in His own life.
Devotional + Hospitable = Thriving
Devotional families are experts at keeping Jesus at the center of their family and hospitable families are experts at expressing Jesus’s love to those around them, which are both equally important parts of participating in a God-focused life. However, what the Barna group found in their research is that the Christian families that were thriving the most were families that equally prioritized both. Thriving Christian families both cultivate deep devotional lives and share their time and resources with others.
In each of the sections above, we talked about three highlights of devotional and hospitable families. If your family tends to favor one of these two key characteristics over the other, a great way to begin to move towards flourishing is to implement the practices of the other. In addition, here are three more ideas to help your family truly thrive.
Share Christ with Others
Thriving Christian families tend to pray together daily, read and discuss the Bible regularly, and keep an eye out for the ways that God is at work in the world. But they also make a point of inviting others into these practices. Praying before meals in the company of non-family members is a great place to start. Continuing on in your spiritual rhythms while others are present shows children that the adults in their life really believe what they say. Other great practices include inviting non-family members to participate in bedtime Bible readings or discussions about God-sightings around the table. Thriving Christian families share their devotional life with others.
Play with Others
Thriving Christian families know how to have fun. The Barna research shows that Christian households that are the most spiritually vibrant also are most regularly setting aside time to play together and with others. Whether it is time exploring outdoors, walking in the neighborhood, or playing with legos on the floor, regularity is key. Thriving Christian family also share their fun with others. A great way to do this is to have a game night. More and more research is coming out all of the time that talks about the generational benefits of analog tabletop board gaming. One of the most impactful benefits is structured community time. For adults, gathering for a game night takes forethought. For kids, board games give clear rules for interaction and a concrete goal which helps with social development. For all, playing games together provides a shared experience that leads to camaraderie and encourages deep and meaningful fellowship to flourish. Fellowship around a table is the main way that Jesus ministered and grew in community with others. Thriving Christian families spend much time at the physical or proverbial table.
Serve with Others
Finally, thriving Christian families depend on others and serve with others. According to the Barna group’s research, spiritually vibrant households reach out to others in times of need more regularly than other Christian families. Thriving families understand that as Christians we are called to belong to a community of believers that loves and serves one another. When we depend on others, even when it’s for that cup of sugar or a night of childcare, we are expressing their importance to us, implying that we trust them, and allowing them to bless us with their time and resources. All of which leads to relational growth. Thriving Christian families also participate in community service with other families. Again it is in the way that we live our faith out in the presence of peers that communicates to our kids that we truly believe, that we are willing to walk the talk. Depending on others and also serving with others, helps our children to understand a holistic value of community that isn’t founded in what we can give others, but what we can do if we all work together.
Thriving Christian families don’t happen on accident. Anyone who has implemented the majority of the practices above will tell you that each step takes work and intentionality. But it’s worth it. Spiritually vibrant households exude joy, produce well-rounded and faithful children, and lead our churches by example as they seek to be more like Jesus Christ in every part of their lives.
Keep an eye on the blog over the next couple of months as we talk about practical ways and ideas to help your family dive deeper into devotion and hospitality.
Barna Group Research Source: Households of Faith (affiliate link)
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