Sticky Faith: Developing Faith That Will Last a Lifetime | Notes & Review

Posted on June 10, 2009


Thanks to Menlo Park Presbyterian for the seminar and complimentary breakfast.

Below are my notes and then a review with some reflections:

kara powell, sticky faith

40-50% of graduated high schoolers are “struggling with their faith;” (the rest are “excelling”). Of the 50%, 80% never intended to leave. This is, according to Powell, an “unacceptable” statistic.

Tim Clydesdale has proposed an “identity lockbox” in which kids tend to “lock [their faith] up off to the side. Faith becomes separated and segregated from all that they are.” (may not be an exact quote…was writing fast)

What we are learning is that these trajectories are set long before high school. “It’s never too early to begin.” A FAITH THAT STICKS asks the question, What can we do NOW to develop sticky faith?

Clydesdale also said,

It is striking how haphazardly most congregations go about preparing students for college.

Enter FYI (Fuller Youth Institute) whose mission is “to leverage research into resources that elevate leaders, kids, and families. The research for this particular project is…

  • 222 high school seniors from different regions across the U.S., all involved in church youth groups
  • 56.3% female, 43.7% male
  • White/Caucasian (78.0%), Asian/Asian American (11.0%), Hispanic/Latino (5.0%), African-American (1.4%), and Native American (1.4%).
  • Median GPA 3.5 to 3.99.
  • 83.8% live with both their father and mother
  • Median youth group size was 51-100 students, while the median church size was reported to be over 800 members.

Their response?

1. Intergenerational Relationships

We have “segregated” (intentional use of the word) our kids and because of that (through having their own affinity ministries) we have lost an intergenerational vision of the faith.

The more students are involved in intergenerational worship before graduation, the better they did in college.

We also need a new 5:1 ratio. That is to say, instead of thinking 1 leader for every 5 kids, we need to be thinking 5 adults to every 1 kid. We can do that through various means such as a) teenagers serving with children, b) joint Sunday school classes, c) canceling youth group and involving students in the “main services” with adults in creative ways, d) “new Christian Birthday parties,” which celebrate new believers of all ages in the whole church, e) Junior/Senior (as in the older people) dances/banquets, and many other options. There needs to be a vivid message to the church regarding the generational gap.

2. Parent/Child Faith Conversations

These include devotions, somehow mentioning God every day in everyday conversations, share prayer requests, and “creating a DNA of dialogue” where we ask and solicit questions of faith.

3. Service and Justice Work

Powell defines these as,

“service” is giving someone a glass of water. “Justice” is asking why that person can’t get their own glass of water and how to create a system where they can.

When we do service projects, we often focus on the “M&M’s” (money and medical releases). However, we’re missing the great opportunity for “intergenerational relationships” through various projects. (MTV published a statistic that said that 70% of 1400 kids surveyed said that parents’ encouragement was a “major factor” in their own involvement. What do high school seniors want more of?

1. Deeper Conversations
2. Missions Trips
3. Service Projects
(notice “games” are not on the list)

What we are also finding out is that STM (Short-Term Missions) hardly make any real difference in life change over the long run. What is needed is a more comprehensive approach “Before,” “During,” and “After,” a plan that looks like this:

FYI Service & Justice Work graphic— VIA —

I really appreciate Fuller, Powell, and MPPC for their continual striving for excellence when it comes to youth, and for their attention to good research and intentional follow-up so that their work meets hands-on practical application in the real world. I am also hopeful that as more messages get out about the need for all people to recognize the value of youth in our culture, things (specifically attitudes and practices) will begin to change in radical ways.

The findings and the message was of little surprise. I’m a bit taken a back by how “research” and “funding” and “grants” are needed to come to conclusions such as these, and I am more surprised at how all of that adds any credence to the findings. I suppose much of this just seems obvious (which makes me want to say “duh,” but I do recognize that that would sound deprecating and demeaning, so I’ll resist). However, I will say that much of this ought to behoove us to really examine why we have strayed so far from valuing the young in our communities.

Now, I am also aware that the culture in which we live limits us to the binding nature of our perceived uneducated inhibitions and novice hesitancies. By that I simply mean that we live in a world of “experts,” and much of the population, consciously or unconsciously, is slow to really be “sure” of anything unless we have good “funding,” and “professionals” telling us what is. And, I do have an appreciation for that kind of approach. I would simply add to that and suggest that this is excellent commentary on how far we really have distanced ourselves from valuing the young among us, that we need “experts” to tell us that this is important.

I was also disappointed at the demographics of the sample group. Powell did mention that they “worked really, really hard” at getting a more diverse sample set, but the numbers and the demographics they ended up with are really too biased to be a generalization in “America.” Given our context and setting, though, I extend grace, and again, Powell did admit the bias in the research. Now with that, given my very diverse context, the practical helps she offered were also inapplicable, but I concede that my community is quite distinct and different from their context.

Perhaps my biggest inquiry is along the fundamentals of the research itself (which I understand as being along the lines of merely tracking faith development as an isolated piece of the developmental picture), and the overall focus given to the general value system as a whole of our culture.

Allow me to elucidate.

1. While we have segregated the youth from the adults, we have also, perhaps more to our detriment, segregated faith from the entirety of our whole lives.

The solutions of prayer, service, talking about God in everything, etc. highlights for me how we have as a general whole and culture, compartmentalized faith. So, Clydesdale’s “identity lockbox” makes absolute sense to me. As goes the culture, so go the young. Why is this a surprise? And why are we not more concerned about this in our general adult culture? And why is our focus only on the young regarding this observation? It seems to me that we are expecting something of our kids, as they go off to college, something that ought first be challenged in us (adults) as we live every day of our lives. And, I wish this was addressed more by institutions such as FYI and others.

2. If we are to address the problem as a whole, we must address the whole.

The solutions offered, in my opinion (and in my bias), lacked an exhortation to the parents and adults to change their lifestyle and their way of thinking about their faith, life, kids, development, etc. One gentleman in the seminar actually stood up and asked the question, something like this:

Aren’t you really asking the parents to change their value system?

Powell’s response was that affirming, head-nodding, lip-purshing, “that’s what I’m trying to say,” “YES. Exactly. This is what we’re trying to do.” I suppose my hope was that there could be more focused discussion at the core of the issue, which is the fundamental value system we are subconciously operating under; that kids have less value in our community because they are not “wise, learned, educated, and mature adults.” The “identity lockbox,” the “segregated” youth, the “haphazard” nature of preparing kids for college — all of that, in my view, are merely symptoms, but they are often addressed as the “problems.”

I write all this because I’m in the process of pondering what it could look like to radically revolutionize the fundamental value system of our culture around the “idea” and “concept” of “youth” (infants through adolescence). And as more people do fantastic work like FYI, Powell, The Search Institute, (and thousands of others), I’m wondering what kind of new approaches are needed to accomplish this gargantuan task.

Powell mentioned in the seminar that to get this to change in your church, you really need to get the Senior Pastor on board. I wonder. This puts the onus on those who are already convinced to persuade the underconvinced, hence the perpetuation of the problem. What resources are being given to that gap?

OVERALL, while I am posing critical questions, I am thankful for the redemptive movements that Powell and others are taking, and again my thanks goes to Jim Candy (the Family Life Pastor of MPPC) for hosting the event, to MPPC for continually providing these fantastic resources, to Powell and FYI for their passion and dedication to youth, and for the couple hundred or so people in the room with me this morning.