The Story: Two recent surveys reveal how educating students at religious schools can have positive effects for them later in life.
The Background: A survey conducted by the University of Notre Dame’s sociology department looked at comparative life outcomes for adults aged 24 to 42 who were educated in one of six school segments or types (public, private secular preparatory schools, Catholic schools, evangelical Protestant Christian schools, religious homeschools, and classical Christian schools [schools affiliated with the Association of Classical Christian Schools [ACCS]), and gauged them on seven life outcomes: college and career preparedness, life outlook, Christian commitment, Christian lifestyle, “traditional and conservative” outlook (i.e., know God, authority of church, science and faith compatible, no errors in Bible, less likely to accept LGBT lifestyle), independence of mind, and influence (i.e., volunteer and lead non-church org., obliged to take action, believe they can impact, give to any organizations). Using a computer model, the outcomes were isolated to the school effects themselves rather than family factors, demographics, and so on.
The results show that if the goal is to foster a Christian life, students do better if they attended a theologically conservative Christian school environment, whether homeschool, evangelical private school, or a classical Christian school. In the area of “Christian commitment”—which reflects a person’s practices in their church and their involvement in a church community—classical Christian school ranked highest, followed by evangelical schools and homeschooling.
Similarly, almost 90 percent of graduates of classical Christian schools attend church three times a month, compared to about 70 percent of homeschoolers and former evangelical private school students. About 70 percent of classical Christian school alumni read their Bibles on their own, compared to 53 percent to 55 percent of evangelical and homeschool students. Classical Christian school alumni were also much more likely to choose a vocation related to their religious calling.
Another new study, this one from the Christian think tank Cardus, found that graduates from private religious colleges and universities also has a lasting effect. Almost 60 percent of graduates of such institutions report having regularly attended religious services at least once a month, a rate that is about twice as high as for graduates of public or private nonreligious schools. About 65 percent of alumni from the private religious sector also report being married and never divorced. This is about 16 percentage points higher than the rate for alumni of the other two sectors.
When it comes to caring for the environment, participating in politics, and addressing injustice in the workplace or elsewhere, respondents from private religious and nonreligious institutions are more likely to agree that they view these as moral obligations. Similarly, when asked about how important it is to have jobs with particular features, about two-thirds of graduates of private religious schools agreed that it is very or extremely important to have one that “directly helps others,” a rate that is 10 percentage points higher than the response of graduates of the two other types of institution.
What It Means: Students who went to evangelical Christian schools, religious homeschools, classical Christian schools, and Christians colleges are likely to have parents who had an above-average interest in the faith. If we control for the intensity of a parent’s religious beliefs and also control for their specific denomination, how much does a greater level of family religious activity influence the odds that a teenager stays in the faith at age 30?
That’s a question considered in another study by Lyman Stone, research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. Lyman finds that a higher frequency of family religious activity for a child is associated with greater odds of remaining Christian, remaining within a broad religious tradition, or remaining within a given denomination family.
“The size of the effect varies and is not enormous, but nonetheless the major results are still statistically significant,” Lyman says in an article for Christianity Today. “More than being statistically meaningful, however, they are spiritually meaningful: They show that what happens in the family really does matter.”
As Lyman adds, “Families who pray and worship together tend to continue praying and worshiping together. The key to successful transmission of Christian faith across generations is not more youth groups or hipper pastors but the Holy Spirit working through the vocation of parenthood as parents take the time to share their faith with their own children.”
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” While this is a probabilistic statement rather than a promise, these new studies confirm how often this claim still holds true. By encouraging habits of faith in the young, we can help ensure they’ll maintain a lifelong relationship with Jesus.