A New Way of Thinking About Children of Divorce and Your Church

Children of Divorce and Your ChurchLast week, we began a new series called “A New Way of Looking at the Spiritual Impact of Divorce on Children.”  In that series, we started looking at a new report from Melinda Lundquist Denton of Clemson University titled, “Family Structure, Family Disruption, and Profiles of Adolescent Religiosity.”  Last week, based on this study, we talked about how divorce impacts a child’s spiritual development.  Today, we will look at a new typology used in the report when thinking about children of divorce (or anyone else) when it comes to their faith and religious practice and how it impacts your church.  On Wednesday we will look at the results from the study based on this new typology.  

In order to test the spiritual impacts of divorce on Kids, Denton first sets forth a framework that acknowledges that when it comes to religion, teens (and people in general) fall much more along a spectrum than they do in one or two groups. So, she proposes that we think of religious adherence and spirituality along a spectrum which includes five distinct points known as the Five “A’s.” Each of these A’s represents one point on the spectrum, and teens for purposes of this study were grouped into one of five categories:

  • Abiders
  • Adapters
  • Assenters
  • Avoiders, or
  • Atheists

Respondents were classified into each category based on their responses to multiple questions in the areas of:

  • Religious belief (beliefs about God and religion)
  • Religious practice (regular practice of religion); and
  • Religious importance (how important religion and God are).

The classifications are presented in the chart below:

Let’s have a little closer look at each group as they provide a good framework for thinking about children of divorce and for thinking about all children who come through the doors of our churches.

  • Abiders These can be characterized as the “yes” group when it came to religious belief and practice. They believe that religion is important and have an exclusive view of their religion. They believe that the church is important and their actions bear that out. They have a close relationship with God and pray frequently. The report explains that members of this group “reflect high levels of conventional measures of religiosity.” This group is known as abiders because they “seem to be living a rather conventional, institutional form of religiosity with expressions of organized religions that are mainstream in the United States.” This group tends to have a relative stable lives compared to other groups. Their parents are most likely to have a college education and higher than average income levels. As children, this group is most likely to have parents who are also highly religious and who regularly attend church and engage in personal activities and practices based on their religion. As youth, it is abiders who are mostly likely to live with both of their biological parents for their entire lives.
  • Adapters Adapters could be described as Abiders who don’t believe in organized religion. This group is sometimes broadly classified as the “spiritual but not religious” group. They believe in God and classify Him as important, but they are less likely to engage in the community of a local congregation. The report explains that, “They also are the group most likely to be engaged in less conventional forms of religious expression, such as helping others or thinking about the meaning of life.” They are also more likely to hold a non-exclusive view of their beliefs than Abiders. This group has the largest representation of minority youth in their population. They also tend to have lower levels of parental income and education. They are also the group least likely to live with both parents in a stable home environment. They are given the name Adapters because they “appear to be living out their religiosity in adaptive ways.”
  • Assenters Assenters are described in the report as “middle-of-the-road” religiously, and they fall in the middle of the spectrum reflected in this report. While this group is likely to say that they believe in God and do engage in some level of religious practice, it does not play a central role in their lives. They aren’t likely to say they are close to God or rate the importance of religion to their daily lives as high. As youth, this group is also “average” in terms of parental income and education in relation to the general population. Like Abiders, this group tends to follow the religious practice of their parents. They tend to be affiliated with a religious organization but not engage in the activities and practices of those organizations to the same extent as Abiders.
  • Avoiders Avoiders are “nearly disengaged from religion.” Avoiders tend not to be exposed to organized religion through their family and friends. For example, one-third of kids in this category have parents who never attend religious services, and their parents tend to be unaffiliated with a religious organization at a level twice the national average. However, they tend to maintain some semblance of believe in God (in some form) which keeps them from being in the next grouping (Atheists).
  • Atheists Atheists are the opposite of Abider’s. Whereas abiders are across-the-board adherents to their religious beliefs and practices, Atheists completely reject all facets of religion including belief and practice. They are non-religious in all aspects. In terms of youth, atheists do not differ significantly from other groups in terms of living with both parents. Like Abiders, Atheist youth are characterized by families with higher than average income levels, and abiders and atheists share the highest percentage of parents with a college education.
For more resources and information on divorce, family disruption and modern families please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Divorce and Modern Family Help Center.

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on April 01, 2013.

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Written by Wayne Stocks
Wayne is the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. He is a happily married father of four kids with a passion for helping young people who are going through rough times. In addition to Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne previously started I Am A Child of Divorce and Divorce Ministry 4 Kids to help kids who are dealing with the disruption of their parents' relationship. These are now part of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. Wayne speaks frequently at conferences and churches on issues related to helping kids learn to deal with difficult emotions and life in modern families. Wayne lives with his wife, three youngest kids, three dogs and an insane collection of his kids' other pets outside of Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his work with Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne is a partner in a local consulting firm, an avid reader, coaches his son's soccer team and is a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club (and yes, for those in know, his affinity for the club does predate the 2016 championship). You can reach Wayne at wayne@hope4hurtingkids.com.