Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

5 Ways to Encourage New Faith Habits This Summer

5 Ways to Encourage New Faith Habits This Summer

To a parent, nothing says “summer,” like the smell of sunblock, the sound of the ice cream truck, and the perpetual touch of sticky fingers. (Or, as my friend suggested, mildewy bathing suits balled up in a Target bag.)

With school out for the summer, many of us feel desperate for new summer routines and ways to occupy the kids during those long stretches of unstructured time between breakfast and dinner. This annual shakeup of the “normal” rhythms of daily life is an excellent opportunity to evaluate your family’s routines and habits - including your spiritual habits. So before you fill every empty moment with activity, consider how your family could take advantage of this change in routines to go deeper with God - and each other.

Here are five tips for introducing new spiritual habits to your family routines this summer:

1. Think Short-Term

Don’t try to introduce a “forever” habit. Go for small wins by defining a doable timeframe. For example, consider introducing a new daily routine for two weeks or a new weekly habit for one month. If you love it, you can always keep going. But if it’s not working for your family, you won’t feel any tension giving it up and trying something new.

2. Pick the Right Practice

Especially if you have very little ones, it’s helpful to think outside the box when it comes to spiritual habits. Think about a practice that will mitigate some barriers to engaging God as a family (e.g., your toddler can’t sit still) and maximize what you already have going for you (e.g., your kids love to draw or write, or your entire family is musical).

Here are three of my favorite spiritual practices for families:

God Hunt. Like a bear hunt, but for God, this is a modification of an ancient spiritual practice called the “examination of consciousness,” or “examen.” During a God Hunt, each family member takes turns looking for where they saw or experienced God throughout the day. Maybe it was through someone embodying one of the fruits of the Spirit. Maybe it was through the beauty of God’s creation. Perhaps it was an intangible sense of His presence. If anyone is unable to “find” God, others may help - because, rest assured, he was present all day.

Prayer Walk. This practice is great for anyone who gets the wiggles (adults included!) because it takes place while moving around your neighborhood - walking, biking, rollerblading, scooting, etc. The goal of this practice is to use your senses to find things to talk to God about. As you explore your surroundings, ask each other: What do you see, hear, smell, and feel as you walk? What can we thank God for? And where can we invite His help? This can either be a stream-of-consciousness conversation with God as you walk, or you can walk and observe for a few minutes and then pause to discuss and pray.

Prayer Journaling/Drawing. This is an excellent side-by-side practice to try with older kids, especially those who may not want to divulge every single private thought. Simply set a timer (10 minutes?), put on some worship music, and invite everyone to write (or draw) anything they’d like to share with God in their journal. One modification I love is to use two different color pens: one for your voice and one to record anything you hear from God - a picture, a word, a Scripture passage - as you connect with him. Note: kids can absolutely learn to recognize God’s voice, so don’t be afraid to let them try! At the end of the time, invite family members to share anything they’d like to about the experience - but don’t require it. (It may help if you share first!)

For more family-friendly spiritual practices, you can visit my site here.

3. Stack Those Habits

One of the most effective ways to introduce a habit that sticks is to “habit stack,” the practice of attaching the new habit to one you’ve already mastered. For example, I attach taking my daily allergy meds to my evening tooth brushing routine - otherwise, I end up a sneezy mess this time of year.

The same goes for spiritual habits. When we attach a new spiritual habit to a routine that already works well, we are more likely to stick with it. For many families with young children, bedtime routines are the most consistent time of the day and a great place to introduce a new daily habit. My kids are in middle and elementary school, and we find dinnertime to be the best rhythm for spiritual habit stacking. All it takes is three intentional minutes for a God Hunt, and bam, we’re in the middle of a spiritual conversation. And it’s not just “intentional” family routines that work for habit stacking - don’t overlook the more mundane routines like car rides, bath time, and even tooth brushing. All can be excellent choices for habit stacking.

4. Know Your Habit Style

In her book Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin identifies four “tendencies” when it comes to habit formation. These tendencies are based on whether we resist or respond to inner expectations (from ourselves, like keeping New Year’s resolutions) and outer expectations (from others, like meeting deadlines). You can pick up her book to identify your exact style and corresponding tips for habit formation, but you probably already have a general sense of whether you are more of an internally self-motivated person or someone who thrives on outside accountability. I am unquestionably the latter. I have never been able to keep a consistent exercise routine, for example, without a workout buddy. So when starting any new habit, it’s helpful for me to share my intentions with someone else so that I feel that extra boost of expectation and motivation.

What kind of support will you need to introduce new spiritual habits this summer? Maybe simply committing to it is all you’ll need, or perhaps you’ll want to gather some friends and agree together to add one new practice to your respective family routines this summer.

5. Evaluate and Repeat

Finally, once you’ve reached the end of your chosen timeframe, reflect honestly on how it went. Were you able to stick with the habit as planned? If not, what were the primary barriers? Is there anything within your control that you could tweak for a better experience next time? How well did this practice “fit” with your family culture, personality, and routines? Does it feel worth continuing? Or would it be best to let it go? Once you’ve done some evaluation, head back to Step 1 and repeat the process - either with the same habit or with a different one.

Summer can be so much more than a hot, sticky, sometimes-fun, sometimes-exhausting break in the action. It can also become a season of spiritual growth and fruitfulness for our families and us. So, as you bust out the sunblock and flip-flops, allow the disruption of your normal rhythms to become an invitation to something more. And may your humble offering of just a little bit of intentionality bear more fruit than you could possibly imagine.

Sarah Cowan Johnson's new book, Teach Your Children Well: A Step-by-Step Guide for Family Discipleship, releases on August 2, 2022. Read more about her book here.

Teach Your Children Well by Sarah Cowan Johnson

Half of Christian high school students walk away from their faith after graduation. But parental involvement is the most influential predictor of a child's spirituality throughout their lives. How do we parent our kids in ways that lead to lasting faith?

Sarah Cowan Johnson unpacks how parents can have an active discipleship role in forming their children's faith, with age-appropriate insights and strategies for different developmental stages. She shows how we can identify God moments, facilitate spiritual encounters, clarify emerging beliefs, and encourage new faith habits in our children. 

Filled with exercises and activities for families to do together, this handbook is an essential resource for discipling children with confidence and creativity.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Halfpoint

Sarah Cowen JohnsonSarah Cowan Johnson is a ministry trainer, consultant, and coach who works with church planters, pastors, and ministry leaders across the United States. She leads seminars for parents on family discipleship to help their children walk in the way of Jesus. She served with the Evangelical Covenant Church as the executive pastor for Sanctuary Church in Providence, Rhode Island, and previously was a staff trainer and an area director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She is the author of the forthcoming title Teach Your Children Well (8/2022) and the co-host of The People of the Way podcast.