Modern ways to teach spirituality

Apr 18, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. ET

Religion in the U.S. has shifted away from a formulaic Sunday school approach and toward more individualized expressions of spirituality, regardless of the faith.

Children praying |
Photo credit: Christopher Futcher/Vetta/Getty Images

Here's how six families have engaged their faith traditions in a manner fit for the modern world.

According to a 2013 Pew Research survey of 35,000 Americans, religion and religious practice in the U.S. has morphed dramatically in the past generation. Pew Research notes that religious commitment in the U.S. is down, with decreased attendance at religious services, less affiliation with specific religious traditions and fewer Americans stating that religion has influence in their lives.

And yet, faith traditions are still passed down to children. Many American parents want to impress upon their kids that faith and spirituality are important, but they've found that the typical cookie-cutter Sunday School approach to religion is no longer working for them. Here's how six American families have sought to teach their children about spirituality for the modern world.


Teaching the tradition of family

Sarah Griffiths-Briggs states that she's making spirituality work in her mixed-faith family by thinking outside the box with family traditions. "My husband follows no organized faith and I came from a Jewish religious tradition," she says. "Instead of celebrating the Sabbath with religious enrichment and attendance at synagogue, we celebrate each other by telling stories of faith and enjoying family time." For Griffiths-Briggs, religious attendance is far less important than oral tradition and family togetherness.


Making it work with careers

"We're probably a little more traditional than some families," reports Dr. David Farman. "We try to go to church on Sundays but my work schedule precludes attending every weekend." Since career sometimes stands in the way of formal religious attendance, David and his wife Tanya supplement the spiritual teaching of their girls by watching webcasts and praying together every night before bed.

Sarah Griffiths-Briggs and family |

Photo credit: Sarah Griffiths-Briggs

Encouraging self-reflection

Justin Marler is a single father of two young girls, and has chosen to raise them in an Orthodox Christian tradition, even though this was not his spiritual background as a child. He reports that self-reflection was key in his own spiritual development, which is why he sought out the Orthodox church. "I've raised them to understand their thoughts, feelings and desires, and how when they are ordered they can experience true happiness and connection with God," he says.


Unplugging for the sake of presence

Carla Birnberg was raised in a liberal Reconstructionist Jewish family, but approaches spirituality differently as an adult. "I knew I wanted my daughter to be religiously educated, but I also wanted to integrate her cultural heritage into an eclectic training, since she's adopted from Guatemala," Birnberg says. Although Birnberg ascribes to an eclectic approach, she reports that the most important thing is that the family "comes together, unplugs and focuses on being present" on the Sabbath. She adds that her family attends Sunday school together to make crafts, sing songs and play, so that the spiritual education they receive is an opportunity for family time, too.


Infusing spirituality into everything

Carla Birnberg and family |

Photo credit: Carla Birnberg

In addition to attending Catholic Mass, Dr. Regina Aguirre makes a point of infusing spirituality into every moment of every day with her two young boys. "If we are walking and my boys are enjoying a good time in the sun, I remind them that Jesus gave them all they see and teach them to say, 'thank you, Jesus,' for those small, everyday moments." She reports that by teaching her boys these habits, their family traditions are just an extension of what her family learns at church.


Finding solitude in nature

"We decided not to pass on our families' faith traditions after leaving the churches we grew up in," says Laura Flynn Endres. Instead, Endres and her husband chose to raise their kids in Unitarian Universalism, which "honors each person's own path toward spirituality." She reports that she and her children easily find solitude in nature, since they live in the country and the kids are homeschooled. They find peace by observing nature and enjoying the quiet.

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How do you teach your spirituality to your kids?

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