Are Family Devotions Still Relevant in 2015?

Did you grow up having family devotions all the time? Did you love or hate them?

Are family devotions even relevant anymore, especially if you’re already with your children all the time as you educate them?

A question worth asking, at a minimum… Especially if you were turned off by (or never had) family devotions as a child.

Our readers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and I realize that some will tune me out here. But I urge you to read on and, at a minimum, glean the importance of the concept.

Being intentional about developing a family culture where devotional time is valued, appreciated, and given priority may require a shift in how you spend your time together.

Maybe it’ll even require a shift in your personal view of God.

The generally accepted goal of family devotions is to raise children who remain devoted to God as adults. Naturally, that presupposes you have a personal “living” relationship with God yourself.

Children have mighty strong “B.S.” detectors – especially by the time they’re eight or nine years old. They can smell “fake” a mile away. I believe incongruence between parents’ talk and actions is one of the biggest reasons children get turned off to devotions. The other might be boredom.

George Barna’s book Revolutionary Parenting: Raising Your Kids to Become Spiritual Champions reveals his research into what works. Here’s a quick summary of his findings. Children who became “spiritual champions” had parents who:

  • Viewed parenting as their primary job in life.
  • Accepted their role as a spiritual mentor.
  • Considered their children a blessing from the Lord.
  • Wove faith into daily life.
  • Modeled transparency in failure and honesty in their own relationship with God.
  • Continually worked on their own character development.
  • Scaled the length of devotionals in an age-appropriate manner. Child development specialists suggest allotting one minute of focus for each year old a child is. A one-year-old can focus for one minute (or less), a 2-year-old for 2 minutes, etc. That might be a bit low, but you get the idea.

So if you want to succeed with devotionals, here’s how to tackle the challenge in six easy steps.

Step 1: Set a time.

First, pick a time when all your children will be awake and alert. And when you can do it consistently.

Whether at the breakfast table, after lunch, at dinner, or right before bedtime, choose a time when your whole family is (usually) home and not cranky.

If you schedule it during a meal, wait till most people finish eating before you start. This gives your kids time to talk about their day and loosen up.

Whatever time you decide on, be as consistent as possible.

Step 2: Start small & use age-appropriate time segments.

Set yourself up for success by taking baby steps.

No matter how old your kids are, you’ll have more success if you change their routine gradually rather than all at once. Start with 5-minute devotions every day if your oldest child is about age five. Work your way up to 10 or 15 minutes, tailored as necessary to your kids’ ages.

Dragging out devotions will usually cause your kids to dread them, regardless of age. Obviously, work hard to make them fun, relevant, and interactive, so both you and your children will look forward to this special time as a family.

It’s okay to start small. Just start.

And it’s easiest to start when your children are young; that way, when other things start competing for the same period of time, you’ve already developed a habit.

Step 3: Turn off all electronics.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you should make this a hard-and-fast rule.

You may be tempted to read Bible verses on your phone or tablet. Don’t. Use your actual Bible.

Electronics can easily distract you and your kids. Set the precedent that you silence your phones and use “old-fashioned” Bibles. Otherwise, your children may be doing other things on their phones or tablets instead of staying engaged and participating.

Step 4: Include everyone.

Remember: family devotions are about praising God together. Even your little ones should participate.

During the preschool years, children love stories. And if you ask “recall” questions at the beginning and throughout each day’s devotions, your children will be more engaged. With preschool and young elementary ages, focus mainly on the facts of the story. This lays a foundation for deeper understanding when they get a little older.

Give every child a role. Toddlers can help pray. Elementary-age kids can help read passages of Scripture. Teenagers can help explain stories and verses. Everyone should participate. These roles can (and should) change as your family grows.

Step 5: Create enthusiasm.

Your plan doesn’t need to be elaborate. But it should always be done with a blend of enthusiasm and reverence. Here are some ideas:

Pray together

At first, your kids may pray mainly for things like booboos and pets. Keep asking them to share prayer requests. Eventually, as they grow and feel more comfortable, they will start to share other deeper, more personal requests from their hearts.

To give your prayer time more purpose, consider one of these options:

  1. Focus on different prayer needs each day of the week (e.g. missionaries on Mondays, sickness on Tuesdays, friends’ salvation on Wednesdays, etc.).
  2. Pray through the Lord’s Prayer, focusing on a different verse every day.

Sing songs and hymns

Most kids love to sing. Choose songs they already know from church, and teach them new songs.

Remember to keep your kids involved. Let them pick the songs some of the time. Let them invent hand motions. Keep it fun and engaging.

Practice catechism

Choose a catechism book and teach your kids the questions and answers. Challenge their recall every day. Even the youngest will learn from hearing their older siblings give the answers. They’ll all learn through repetition.

Mom (or older kids) can help prompt answers, but each child must answer on their own before tackling the next question.

Be ready to explain what things mean to your child. But don’t freak out if you don’t know. Model what you want them to learn… digging to find answers to questions you don’t currently know. Then find out from your own spiritual mentor or do some research to find the answer, and get back to them on it.

Memorize scripture

Teach younger kids one verse at a time. Have them say the Bible reference both before and after the verse, to solidify it in their mind. Try these to start:

  • John 3:16
  • Ephesians 2:8-9
  • Romans 3:23
  • Romans 6:23
  • Ephesians 6:1
  • Luke 18:16

Challenge older kids to memorize an entire paragraph or chapter. Scale the length of the passage to your kids’ ages.

Incidentally, there are many brain benefits from rote learning and memorization… it’s mentally challenging, improves neural plasticity, keeps the brain quick and agile, aids focus and creativity, and more.

Act it out

Whether you’re talking about history lessons or Bible passages, a terrific way to get your child engaged is to periodically act it out. Let them choose the person they want to play. You might be surprised at the insight they bring to it when they act it out.

If you enjoy the dramatic arts, you could act out several scenes for grandparents or other family members or friends.

But the big idea here is to change it up. Keep them guessing as to what you have up your sleeve for that day.

Read a short devotion

This is not a substitute for the Bible itself, but can be a good ally.

My recommendation for a family devotional book is Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God. In it, Marty Machowski presents gospel-focused devotionals that help you teach your children those most important lessons from the Bible. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had this to say about it: “This is simply an outstanding book, and Christian families need it right now. I have never seen a devotional book that is so well suited to family devotions and to children, even as it is faithful in relating biblical truth.”

For additional devotionals specific to younger kids, try:

For ones geared more toward older kids, try:

Choose your group devotional based on your oldest child’s understanding. Don’t be afraid to challenge your younger kids. They’ll learn by listening to and participating in deeper conversations. The only caveat is if your discussion is going to tackle more adult issues and themes, and you have young children for whom that’d be inappropriate. That’s when you take the conversation to a one-on-one.

Step 6: Ask Questions.

Ask questions about facts when your kids are young, and about meaning as they get older. As your kids learn that devotions are safe and fun, they’ll start to open up.

They need freedom to discuss their questions and fears. They may push back or question their faith. Continue to faithfully share God’s word and listen to them.

This questioning is how they begin to make their faith their own. And it’s how we all continue to discover greater truth.

Let Your Voice Be Heard!