This afternoon I had the privilege of sitting in on Kara Powell’s seminar: Sticky Faith. As someone who is sold out to developing students to have a vibrant faith after high school, Sticky Faith is hands down some of the best consolidation of research and practical help that I have come across. Kara Powell is a great communicator and has found the perfect balance between the integration of theoretical ideas and boots on the ground information. Kara Powell has her PhD and is currently serving as the executive director of Fuller Youth Institute, faculty at Fuller Seminary and has authored several books. This post is basically a cleaned up version of my notes. I hope you find them challenging and helpful.
The Sticky Faith team has consolidated all the most recent information and research and have found the following:
6 out of 7 seniors don’t feel equipped with faith that prepared them for college
40-50% of seniors will drift from their faith
80% of those students intend to stick to their faith.
The Sticky Gospel:
Tim Clydesdale says that students have a vault or an identity lock box where they put the things that are important to them. When students go off to college they take off their faith, like they would a jacket, and put it away in this box. Because some part of them value their faith, they do keep it, but put it away, out of site. While 50% of these students ultimately will find their way back to church, we can not be satisfied with that. Statistically these are numbers, the truth is that real people are making real choices that are just destroying them. And if we want students to have faith’s that stick and not get decimated in the process we need develop a sticky gospel.
Too often we simply give our students a Red Bull version of the gospel. It isn’t a gospel of transformation and power, but something to just barely get them through their teen years. In the same way we might grab one to get us through youth group, this version of the gospel just helps them survive. And like a Red Bull, the result is a crash, and the same happens to our students. But instead of needing a nap, they crash spiritually and make awful choices that wreck them.
The gospel of sin management has become so much part of the DNA of the church. And the result is a gospel that lacks power and transformation. When the controls are taken off and students go away to college it is too easy to go with the flow and get into some really messed up things. They have no deeper understanding of why they make the choices they make. Instead of this surface level understanding of the Gospel, they need to have a 4G gospel.
The 4G gospel is rather simple and not rocket science. But it is a gospel that is understandable and opens the door for reflection and transformation.
We are created in God’s image and therefore we are Good.
Guilt comes because of sin and separates us from God.
Grace is what we experience when we come into relationship with Jesus.
Then, as a response to this grace, we live and serve out of gratitude.
This 4G gospel is what is seen over and over again in the Epistles. As youth workers we love getting to the practical applications found at the end of all of Paul’s letters. But when we have rules and to do’s without relationship we are doing sin management. When we paint the picture that the rules at the end are at the end because we need to understand that we are good, we have guilt, we now have grace, and then we live and serve out of gratitude.
70% of kids doubt their faith in high school, but few of them actually fell like they have space to talk about their doubts. Through their research, the Sticky Faith peeps have found that most of the questions students wrestle with can be summed up in these four questions:
Does God exist?
Does God love me?
Am I living the life God wants
Is Christianity true?
Our kids are wrestling with worldview issues and personal issues. They have real doubts and need to know that the God we are talking about can handle these doubts. And the research has shown that the freedom to express and explore their doubts actually results in a more mature and deeper faith. Jay Giedd’s research has shown that if we do not use our brain, we actually lose some brain capacity. Our students can fully digest Shakespeare, so let’s stop feeding them baby food. We need to go after it!
The Sticky Church:
Students were asked to rank the relationships in their lives an put them in the level of importance. What was interesting is that most people thought that parents would be at the bottom and friends would be at the top. But the research has shown that parents are still at the top of influencers in the lives of kids. At the bottom of the list are other adults in the church community. This is the biggest and best area of growth to develop sticky faith in the hearts of our students.
It is deep in our psyche that we go to church. However, we have to retrain our brains to the biblical truth that we go to a building, and the people gathered there are the church. And how we have been doing church has, unfortunately, been part of the problem of students abandoning their faith when they leave for college. We have segregated our kids from the life, love, and wisdom of the larger body. We have taken the kids table at Thanksgiving and put that on the church.
It is always nicer and easier and cleaner to put the kids at their own tables, away from the adults. But the research has shown over and over again, that the students who are connected to the entire church are the ones who have the easiest time connecting to a church after graduation. Having kids around is messy and difficult, but it is by far the better choice.
While it is hard to move toward intergenerational ministry, ministry as an entire church, it is not impossible. There is not a program for this. The truth is that most of you are already doing things at your church that with a little bit of thought and intention can be made into an intergenerational ministry setting to maximize the chances to make faith stick. Some churches have canceled the youth service on sunday am, have kids participate alongside adults in church, do ministry of compassion and justice together, and one church even had a group of dads who go paint balling, simply invite students to join them.
It is not rocket science. The Sticky Faith people are asking that churches rethink how we do our ratios. As a youth worker we think of 5:1, 5 students for every 1 adult. This is great for safety and driving. But what would happen if we inverses those numbers and had 5 adults for every 1 student. While this seems impossible, it is really just being intentional with how we tell our stories.
One mom took a picture frame with several slots for pictures. She would add photos of men who had played a significant roll in the life of her son. Some are still blank with the intention and expectation that there will be more adults who will fill in those slots. This ratio cannot be done by youth workers alone. A great, untapped resource could be the seniors in your church. Whatever model works for you in your context is fine. We can’t get paralyzed by what one church does and what we do or don’t do. We just need to do it.
The Sticky Family:
Sticky faith is not something that rests upon the youth worker to pull off, or the gazillion adults we recruit to get to 5:1. Sticky faith’s best chance for survival happens in the family. It is about being intentional with the conversations that happen in the minivan.
So often parents simply interview their kids and think that this is helping their child develop spiritually. And while this is very important, it is just as important that parents share their faith story with their children as well. Our kids need to know how we became Christians, how Jesus has and is transforming us, and how our faith is informing our choices and decisions today.
There are two simple things that people can do to make their families more sticky:
Family Devotionals: Kids are kids and family devotionals are chaotic. So these need to be done in age appropriate ways with true expectations. But making intentional space for the family to gather, pray, and learn together in invaluable.
Dinner Questions: Using meal time for intentional conversation is so important. While questions like High? or Low? are great. We should also include some spiritual questions as well. By adding questions like, “Where did you see God at work today?” and, “What was a mistake you made today?” your family has a structure that models sin, forgiveness, God’s action and alive. And this faith is expressed by everyone in the family, not just in the kids.
Like I mentioned before, this is not my work, this is simply my interpretation of my notes from an outstanding seminar taught by Kara Powell. Make sure you check out Fuller Youth Institute and get on their blog and twitter to keep up with all this great research. Thank you again Kara for bringing really challenging information with helpful ways to incorporate it. Blessings!
There are so many ways to put this sticky faith into practice. I would love to know what are some things you do with your students, with your church, or in your family.