Worship in the Womb? Exploring when and how children begin learning about faith

Worship in the Womb? Exploring when and how children begin learning about faith

When does learning begin?

This is the question posed by Annie Murphy Paul, in her 2011 TED talk titled, What we learn before we’re born.

She posits that we’re actually learning in utero through the body of our mothers.

We will be hard wired at birth for preferences in food, language learning, familiar people, and music we have heard repeatedly.

If she is right, could we (children) also be hard wired for faith or at least religious participation?

How might this change the way we view children’s ministry?

Perhaps instead of beginning our children’s ministry with kindergartners or preschoolers, we would instead begin with the expectant parents in our faith communities.


It never ceases to amaze me about the vulnerability of the human fetus or infant and how they grow and develop so quickly.

So much is learned in these early years even before children can verbally express their faith.

They observe everything going on around them and those things that families do regularly get engrained in their long-term memory as what it is like to be human.

Even as children regard parents and caregivers as superhuman in their many abilities and freedoms, they may also see these same individuals worshipping something greater than themselves.

This is powerful learning that will impact the child’s own faith in a God they cannot see.


The other way that children come to believe in things they cannot see is through the power of testimony.

Do the adults around them talk about their faith in God and/or Jesus Christ?

What kind of language do they use?

Are parents and caregivers trustworthy sources of information about the divine?

These are some of the questions that authors like Paul Harris from Harvard Graduate School of Education address in their research.


During the month of August a group of us will be looking at recent research completed in the area of children’s faith formation as part of an online series on Contemporary Readings in Christian Education.

We will explore such topics as the difference between faith development and spiritual formation of children.

We’ll attend to the contexts of home and church or school as potential sites of children’s faith formation.

I invite you to become part of the conversation by joining us during this self-paced study.

You’ll have many opportunities to choose what most interests you around this topic and to share with others who have a heart for children’s ministry.

I hope your work with children and their families continues to flourish and that you’re attentive both to what children see and hear about the God who loves them and invites them to be part of the community of faith.


To register for the upcoming online course, Contemporary Readings in Christian Education: Children’s Faith Development, click here

Dr. Kathy Dawson is an Associate Professor of Christian Education. Her interests revolve around spiritual development, creative teaching methodologies, curriculum theory, and children’s ministry. Her current research explores how parents and the church can have faithful conversations around fantasy literature for children and youth. Dr. Dawson was chosen 2015 Educator of the Year by the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.

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