What Do Millennial Parents Think About Virtual Church for Their Kids?

In the first post on our findings from our Millennial Parents of Faith (Post-2020 Update) research study, we shared some introductory information about the results. In addition to the goals and key questions of our study, we shared some core information like:

  • 92% of the parents of faith who participated in our study expressed their faith is important to them and it influences how they parent.
  • 99% of these parents expressed it was important to them that their child grow to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ.

What does this tell you about our sample? They’re the core and moderately engaged young families still valuing and participating in the local church. Let me introduce you a bit further to our sample of parents:

  • The majority of them are located in the USA and Canada, with some representations from Europe and Asia
  • 94% are married
  • These families averaged 2-3 children per home
  • Their child’s ages primarily fell in early childhood and elementary
  • The majority of these parents work full-time or part-time
  • Their primary birth years fell between 1980-1989 (*This indicates this group of parents primarily identifies as “Older Millennials.” This is an important point to note as older Millennials have a distinctly different approach to life than younger Millennials)
  • 71% shared they grew up in a home that valued faith in God
  • 89% describe themselves as a devoted follower of Jesus
  • 90% would say they regularly attend church (either online or in-person)

Now that we have a better sense of who is talking to us through these responses, let’s dig into one of the key questions we explored with these parents. That question was: What happened during the height of the pandemic and how did they view virtual church for their kids?

In order for their answers to really land accurately, it’s important I share a few things you likely are already aware of. About a decade ago, Barna released their research study focused on answering the question of why Millennials were leaving the faith community – it is summarized in their book “You Lost Me.”

We learned in their study that one of the challenges Millennials have regarding the Church is connected to a desire for authenticity and genuine community… and coming up short. They value and long for community. This has not changed, and we’ll see that in the answers to our question.

As of April 2021, 68% of these respondents were attending church services in person. If a church was open, 20% would attend online; however, many indicated there was a crossover.

A common statement was, “We do both, but mostly in person,” or “We attend online some weeks, as well, depending on other factors.”

If a church was not open, only 7% were attending online services.

We asked if they regularly engaged the virtual children’s ministry programming made available to them from their church, and their responses were:

  • 56% regularly engaged virtual children’s ministry
  • 36% did not engage it at all
  • 9% indicated nothing was offered from their church for virtual children’s ministry

Why did almost 40% of respondents not engage at all? Was it the quality of what was offered? Or was it something else?

“… While online church existed for us, it didn’t work for us. In person, or not at all,” said one respondent.

The main deterrents to engaging online children’s ministry programming were:

  • They had children too young to engage it
  • Attention spans did not hold up with a virtual option
  • Their kids (and the parents) were tired of screens and concerned about how much time their kids were in front of screens
  • A general and repeated statement of: “It’s just not the same.”

So if a family wasn’t engaging online offerings regularly, was it about the content? The overwhelming response indicates content wasn’t the issue.

Millennials still value and long for community when it comes to their relationship with the church, and they want that for their kids. Online children’s ministry wasn’t a replacement for what they really value about church for their kids.

Though they appreciate the opportunity to have virtual flexibility on days when kids are sick or something goes awry in their schedule, the physical and relational experience of in-person church is what most parents really want for their kids.

We asked about what parents at the time (April 2021) feel comfortable with when it came to their child’s participation in VBS and summer ministry. Most families said they were:

  • Watching what schools, daycares, and local mandates were recommending for safe gathering
  • Considering the protocols their church was putting in place for safety

However, all things considered at the time, almost 70% shared they were ready for their kids to participate in an in-person Summer VBS or ministry program.

Come the fall, well over 80% of parents are indicating they’re ready to be back to full in-person children’s ministry for their kids. These results should encourage us that:

  • The engagement or lack of engagement we experienced throughout the height of the pandemic was not necessarily about the content offered as much as the lens through with Millennials view church for their kids.
  • The desire and value for genuine community makes the return to in-person gathering critically important. We need to continue to prioritize the safety of our communities and offer the flexibility of online, yet we can be confident that the in-person experience truly cannot be replaced.

Continue to stay tuned to the INCM blog as we unpack more of this research study. If you’re an INCM member, you can access exclusive resources related to this study in myINCM!

Interested in learning more about INCM Membership? Click here!

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