How do our closest relationships engage us in a thoughtful, transformative faith – the kind that holds up to and is passed down over time? It’s no surprise that research proves our homes have a lot to do with it.
A 2019 study conducted by Barna Group called Households of Faith explored what makes a vibrant household. Based on an extensive study of practicing Christians and their living arrangements and routines, they sought to discover the factors involved when homes produce residents of resilient faith.
One of the goals of the study, conducted in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, was to learn from households that appear to be exceptionally engaged in communal and consistent faith expression in the home. Barna developed a custom metric that sorts households by reports of collective, frequent engagement in key behaviors:
- Spiritual practices – defined here as praying every day or two and reading the Bible weekly all together
- Spiritual conversations – defined here as talking about God and faith at least weekly all together
- Hospitality – defined here as welcoming non-family guests regularly, or at least several times a month
Households that participate in all of these activities at this frequency are what Barna refers to as spiritually vibrant.
A quarter of respondents in the study describes a household environment that is vibrant. Others describe homes that we called Devotional (only participate in spiritual practices and spiritual conversations), Hospitable (only practice hospitality) or Dormant (participate in none of the above).
What sets vibrant households apart?
Vibrant households stand out in that they have meaningful, fun, quality time with both their housemates and extended household members. These are practicing Christians who know the meaning of play – and indeed, half call their home life “playful.”
Every day or so, members of Vibrant households come together for games (32 percent). They share meals (63 percent eat breakfast together and 75 percent eat dinner together) as well as their feelings (59 percent) on almost a daily basis.
Vibrancy also correlates with group discipline, like working on the house or yard together (34 percent every day or two) or hosting household or family meetings (68 percent).
Given that welcoming others is part of the definition for this group, it’s not surprising that friendships play a great role in Vibrant households, with close friends (56 percent), as well as neighbors (28 percent) coming over several times a month. They lead the way in claiming friends who are so close as to feel like family (91 percent), with whom they might share deep conversations (55 percent) or prayer (58 percent).
They are also more likely to depend on others (especially moms or grandmothers) for help with finances, childcare or other household needs. Members of Vibrant households learn positive spiritual lessons and behaviors together through intentional, reverent moments between household members.
Spiritual coaches are remarkably consistent in Vibrant homes. Among this group’s distinguishing traits is the presence of someone who shares about God’s forgiveness (76 percent), the Bible (73 percent) or traditions (69 percent). More than seven in 10 have a household member who sets a spiritual example (73 percent) or encourages church attendance (71 percent). And though somewhat defined by their spiritual behaviors as a household, respondents in Vibrant homes are also highly involved in other personal spiritual practices, like reading the Bible on one’s own (76 percent) or attending small groups (51 percent) each week.
Factors like ethnicity, location, and faith history do not produce significant differences among the spiritually Vibrant (or Devotional, Hospitable and Dormant groups), suggesting that, for the most part, spiritual vibrancy is not determined by unchangeable characteristics, but by things any Christian can improve. This is encouraging news for church leaders and for the households that make up their congregations.
Good things happen when those who share a home also share everyday liturgies with one another. Good things happen when those who share a home habitually share their lives with others. And all of these good things – a support system, shared regimens, recreational and creative time, spiritual discipline – are amplified when both Christian devotion and hospitality become part of the ethos of a household.