Spirituality and Childhood

Spiritual Development

As we grow up we tend to experience and express our faith differently. Different things will be important to us. To a certain extent it is possible to generalise about the priorities we will have as we grow up. This is only a generalisation, however. Each child is unique.

John H. Westerhoff suggests that there are four basic styles of believing into which people progress. We do not abandon earlier styles as we grow, but each development is laid down on the base of the old one. We may move backwards and forwards between them as our needs change.

Westerhoff’s styles are;

1. Experienced faith.
The accepting faith of early childhood – responding to sights, sounds etc . but unconcerned about meaning.
“But trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God who is our home;/Heaven lies about us in our infancy! /Shades of the prison house begin to close /Upon the growing Boy.”

2. Affiliative faith.
The sense of belonging to a faith community, usually that of the parents, and uncritically assuming the beliefs and practices of that community. This is common in the primary years.

3. Searching faith.
The questioning and critical style in which accepted norms are challenged. This is common among teenagers and young adults – it is not a sign that something has gone wrong, and is vital if adult faith is to develop.

4. Mature faith.
Faith that has been explored and questioned and which is now owned – consciously accepted and acknowledged – with all the commitments to the lifestyle that faith demands.

Questions to think about later

Does Westerhoff's pattern fit with your experience of your own life?
What implications does Westerhoff’s pattern have for the way we nurture children and young people spiritually?


John Bradford, in a book produced for the Children’s Society (ISBN 0 907324 97 5), suggests that children (and adults too!) have five basic spiritual needs, which, if met well enough produce fruit in their lives.

Churches can help to meet these needs for;

Questions to reflect on and discuss later.

Do you feel that your spiritual needs were met when you were a child?
Who met them and how ?
Did the church meet them?
In your church’s worship, how do you meet these needs?

Childrens spirituality websites and other links

The Culham Institute
The Stapleford Centre
The Re Site
Praying with children

Email: Anne