Bring Faith Home – Development Stages

Bring Faith Home – Development Stages

Week 1 was all about learning how we relate to our kids as parents. If you didn’t attend our session for that, you can read up about it here.

For week 2, we looked at the stages of faith development our kids go through. We had two key takeaways along with these stages, but we’ll go over those at the end of the post.


These stages come courtesy of Dr. James Fowler. He modeled his list similar to the well known stages of moral development created by Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg.

While ages are given for these stages, keep in mind that age does not equal development when it comes to faith. There are plenty of seniors in the late seasons of life that only understand God through his character revealed in stories. Likewise, there are young children who desire a personal relationship with God in a way that goes beyond their expected age-development.

Stage 1: Primal Faith

Primal faith is not about cavemen and stone tools. Primal faith is the faith of instinct.

Think of an infant. He doesn’t have language understanding or emotional intelligence. But he has faith that mommy will provide and keep him safe. So when he rests in her arms, he sleeps quietly.

For our children, they understand the love of God by the love we show them. The more connected we are to Christ, the more evident his love will be to them (more on that later).

Stage 2: Intuitive-Projective

This is the faith of early childhood, when language and emotion is being grasped.

Here, story and reality blend together. Abstract does not exist for our kids yet at this age, and as such metaphors in faith can be tricky.

Story becomes the best way to communicate faith in Christ at this stage. But don’t be disappointed if your child doesn’t grasp the ‘moral of the story’ when you read the Bible to them. That’s a rather abstract thing to ask of them.

What’s more important here is that they hear the stories, retain that information, and have you interpret for them. So instead of asking them why God saved Israel from Pharaoh, you tell them about the Exodus and then add to the end of the story that about how God frees his people; first Israel from slavery to Egypt, then us from slavery to sin.

They may not see how God’s freedom is connected to the story, but that’s okay. It becomes clearer as they grow.

Stage 3: Mythic-Literal

Here, stories take on added meaning. Reality and imagination become more distinct. Because of that, morals start to form.

This begins in middle childhood (about 2nd-4th grades) and allows for children to start to see the importance of the character shown in the story.

Not only do the people become more reality-based, but also kids begin to understand the character of God through these stories.

Your child will begin to identify people in the story as representative of God. So when Moses leads Israel out of Egypt, they start to understand God as a leader. When they hear about Noah bringing animals on the Ark, they hear about God being a preserver of life.

Stage 4: Sythentic-Conventional

As your kid moves from childhood to adolescence, he will start to develop the ability to think abstractly.

This is a huge developmental milestone, as it allows for him to start to flesh out major aspects of faith. What was once a series of beliefs he was simply told becomes a coherent system.

Along with this development comes the desire for greater intimacy in all parts of life, and faith is no different. Around this point is when your child will want to have a closer, personal relationship with God.

Stage 5: Individuative-Reflexive

The stage commonly associated with young adulthood is stage 5 (don’t make me try and say it out loud).

Here, your child internalizes his beliefs into a personal system. Because of this inward anchoring, he will beginning to push back and question external pressures like community-held beliefs that don’t match his own newly formed belief system.

This is why there is a nearly universal theme of late-teen/early 20’s rebellion. Questioning the content and purpose of common beliefs is normal for this stage. This is all part of figuring out exactly what I believe and how I reconcile that with the fact not everyone agrees with me.

Stage 6: Conjunctive Faith

This isn’t a stage people exist in regularly. In fact, few of us ever reach this stage of faith development. Period.

That said, this is the point where a person becomes comfortable living without all the answers. Paradoxes like being 100% sinner and 100% saved are not an issue. Here, ambiguity and mystery is embraced rather than feared or questioned.

This is not a stage of blind faith, but rather this stage is an admonition that God is God and we are not, therefore we are okay with him taking the driver’s seat.

Again, it’s something few of us experience and almost no one (certainly no one I know) fully lives in.


With these stages in mind, we can takeaway two key things to help bring faith home to our kids.

1st – Our Kids Will Develop

Like it or not, our kids are going to experience at least some of these developments.

That means we need to be ready to help them through the transitions from one stage to another, which is not easy. Developmental jumps come with friction, questions, and shuffling priorities.

2nd – It’s You Versus The World

Like it or not, our kids are going to development into what they see.

If you have a vision of the type of faith you want to see in your kid, you better make that your own faith. Everything you do and say is going to model to your kids what faith is all about.

When we choose to let a topic slide because you’re uncertain of the answer or it feels uncomfortable to talk about for some reason, know that the world will fill in the gaps. Slacking on our call as parents is allowing our children to grow up into the exact average of the rest of the world.

I don’t know about you, but I want a better-than-average life and faith for my son.

Take Action

Because of all this, we should take our own faith seriously.

This means looking at our habits, our words, our actions, and our surroundings.

Are we in a church that promotes growth through these stages? Does it allow for disengagement, where I can come in and go out on Sunday morning with zero interaction? Does it promote enmeshment where we all must think the same and there’s no room for variance?

Do my actions follow my words? Am I saying God’s word is important, but only reading the Bible on Sunday when it’s on the screen? Does my child understand me saying lying is bad even though I fudge his age to get the kid price?

If my kids grew up with the exact same faith and confidence that I have, would I be okay with that or wish they had grown more?

This should be helpful for us in assessing where we can personally grow, which is the greatest way to help our kids grow.