Sticky Faith | Notes & Review

Dr. Kara E. Powell & Dr. Chap Clark. Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. Zondervan, 2011. (222 pages)


What is Sticky Faith? (introductory video):

Kara’s talk at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church:

1. the not-so-sticky-faith reality

Kids’ Faith Isn’t Sticking (15), … College Students Gone Wild (17), … Christian Kids Gone Wild? (18), …

Defining Sticky Faith.

  1. Sticky Faith is both internal and external
  2. …is both personal and communal
  3. …is both mature and maturing

Parents’ Central Role in Sticky Faith. …your kids are more connected to you than you might think. (23)

But parental support, while important, is not the only way you influence your child. More than even your support, it’s who you are that shapes your kid. In fact, it’s challenging to point to a Sticky Faith factor that is more significant than you. How you express and live out your faith may have a greater impact on your son or daughter than anything else. (24)

Most teenagers and their parents may not realize it, but a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents. – Christian Smith

When it comes to kids’ faith, parents get what they are.

“Sticky Findings” and “Sticky Faith Made Practical”. As researchers who are Christ-followers, we are convinced that simply crunching numbers about students’ experiences will leave us splashing around in the shallow end. It’s when we pair our study of students with a thorough examination of theology and Scripture that we are able to dive into deeper waters. (25)

It’s never too late (26), … It’s never too early (26), …

Above the Research: A Loving and Faithful God. There is no Sticky Faith silver bullet. There is no simple list of steps you can take to give your kids a faith that lasts. (27)

We are full of suggestions. But our top suggestion is this: trust the Lord with your kids and continue to ask — maybe at times beg — the Lord to build in them a Sticky Faith. (29)

2. the sticky gospel

Many Kids are Unable to Define Christianity (33), … Many Kids Have Adopted the “Gospel of Sin Management” (33), … Kids Need to Discover What it Means to Trust Christ (34), …

Our kids are mirrors of our attitudes and beliefs. (34)

We may not say this outright, but it is so easy to slip into the kind of faith that says, “God loves you, sure … but he’ll really love you when you [fill in the blank.].” (36)

Our Role in Helping Kids Learn To Trust Christ. First, we help our kids learn to trust God and create the kind of environment where they are able to explore faith and trust while practicing their freedom to respond in love. Second, we model an unconditional, nonjudgmental, and ever-embracing love in which our kids can do nothing that jeopardizes or even lessens that love. (37)

Sticky Faith Made Practical. We suggest three ways to help foster this kind of faith: teach your kids that obedience is our response to trusting God, frame all family discussions and activities as opportunities to know and trust Christ, and respond with grace when your child misbehaves. (39)

Focus on Trusting God versus Obeying God (39), …Frame Discussions and Activities as Opportunities to Know and Trust Christ (40), …Respond with Grace When Your Child Misbehaves (45), … [Default with compassion; Don’t panic; Take the long view].

The greatest gift you can give your children is to let them see you struggle and wrestle with how to live a lifetime of trust in God. (46)

3. sticky identity

Identity Formation Is Affected by Brain Development (51), … Identity Formation Is a Long and Winding Process (53), … Students Often Shelve Their Faith for a Time, …

Remember Your Child Is God’s Beloved Creation (56), … Treat Each Child as an Individual (58), … Use Your Community to Develop Personal Identity (58), … Use Rituals to Reinforce Identity (60), … Help Your Child Grow through Hardship (62), …

Our kids grow not when we stand as goalies preventing pain from entering the net of their lives but when we are present and listen carefully when they feel beat up, confused, and defeated. (62)

People grow best when they continuously experience an ingenious blend of support and challenge; the rest is commentary. Environments that are weighted too heavily in the direction of challenge are toxic. They promote defensiveness and constriction. Those weighted too heavily toward support are ultimately boring; they promote devitalization … [T]he balance of challenge and support leads to vital engagement. – Robert Kegan

Use Extracurricular Activities to Explore Identity (63), … Affirm Character Growth More Than Academic Achievement (64), … Model a Relationship with God (65), …

Sticky Faith is not a faith that avoids struggle or even dormant seasons. Sticky Faith is giving our kids the very best we have to offer as they pursue who they are as a person in community and in Christ. (66)

4. sticky faith conversations

Most Parents Don’t Talk about Faith with Their Kids (71), … Students Whose Parents Talk about Faith Have More Sticky Faith (71), … Christian Parents Tend to Avoid Tricky Subjects (Two different sets of data indicate that the more important religion…is to parents, the more difficult it is for those same parents to talk with their kids about sex.) (72), … Parents Who Talk about Doubts Help Build Sticky Faith (72), … Students with Sticky Faith Have Parents Who Encourage Individual Thought (74), …

Provide Space and Time for Quality Conversations (Our goals in this time are twofold: to have fun and to talk.) (75), … Learn to Listen and Ask Questions, Not Lecture (Let’s be honest: parents lecturing kids hasn’t worked.) (77), … Create the Right Venue for Meaningful Conversation (78), … Don’t Avoid the Touchy Subjects (81), … Be Creative If Your Kid Doesn’t Want to Talk to You (82), … Share Your Own Faith (84)

Because your child already knows what you think and what you would say, they will likely close their mind as soon as you open your mouth. (78)

As your son or daughter enters adolescence, “planned spontaneity” is often more effective. (78)

Most kids love hearing about when their parents met, when they fell in love, and what their wedding day was like. Why don’t we do the same with our faith story? Maybe one of your Sticky Faith steps is to share with your kids how you became a Christian. What led you down that path? What did it feel like? What surprised you about those early days as a believer? Then talk about what Christ has done in your life. How has he guided you? How has following him changed your behavior? What do you think you would be like if you were not a follower of Christ? (85)

Seek Out Sticky Faith Ideas from Other Parents (86), … Talk About Your Doubts (88), …

Our research suggests that doubt doesn’t have to mean the end of faith. In fact, it can inaugurate a whole new richness in your and your kids’ relationships with God. (88)

Develop Conversation Rituals (89), …

Faith trajectories (along with other life trajectories) are often set in early adolescence. Sadly, most youth ministries are long on fun and fluff and short on listening and thoughtful engagement. The former produces a million paper boats; the latter produces a handful of seaworthy ships. Launching a million paper boats is an amazing spectacle on a clear summer day, but only a ship can weather storms and cross oceans. – Tim Clydesdale

5. a sticky web of relationships

…”balance is something we swing through on our way to the other extreme.” I’m afraid that’s what’s happened here. In an effort to offer relevant and developmentally appropriate teaching and fellowship for children and teenagers, we have segregated — and I use that verb intentionally but not lightly — kids from the rest of the church. (95)

We Need to Welcome Children as Jesus Did (95), … Involvement in All-Church Worship Is Linked with Mature Faith (97), … Teenagers Who Serve Young Children Build Sticky Faith (98), … High School Seniors Crave Support from Adults in Their Congregations (98), … Contact from Adults in the Church Makes a Difference to College Freshmen (100), … College Freshmen Have Difficulty Finding a Church (100), …

The current chasm between kids and adults in church is greater than we had expected. (99)

It’s no wonder students have a hard time finding a church. Those who have been sitting at the youth ministry “kids’ table” don’t know church. They know youth group, not church. (100)

Many children’s and youth ministries say they want to have a 1:5 ratio of adults to kids (meaning they want one adult for every five kids) for their Sunday school class or small groups. | What if we reversed that? What if we said we want a 5:1 adult-to-kid ratio — five adults caring for each kid? We’re not talking about five Sunday school teachers or five small group leaders. We’re also not talking about five adults to whom you outsource the spiritual, emotional, social, and intellectual development of your kids. We’re talking about five adults whom you recruit to invest in your kid in little, medium, and big ways. (101)

In Creating a Sticky Web, Be Intentional (102), … Be Explicit (105), … Encourage Mentoring (105), … Develop a Ritual (108), … Develop Diverse Friendships (109), … Ask your Kids Who They Want to Spend Time With (109), … Send Your Kids to Work with Friends (110), … Ask for Experiences, Not Gifts (110), … Exchange Prayer Requests (110), … Ask for Special Advice or Encouragement (110), …

At Church, Integrate 5:1 Thinking into Existing Church Activities (112), … Include Youth in Corporate Worship (113), … Find Compromise If Your Kid Doesn’t Want to Go to Church (116), … Develop Rituals for Your Church (117), … Add Intergenerational Activities to Your Church Calendar (119), …

…our research doesn’t suggest that kids need to replace adults in leading worship. Our vision is that kids and adults experience worship together. (116)

…while your long-term goal is intergenerational connection primarily in and with a church family, the first hurdle is to help your kid to feel like they are part of something they are choosing and enjoy. Forced friendships do not work very well for adolescents. (116)

6. sticky justice

In many ways, that’s what this entire book is about: how can we be parents who love and serve God and others, and who raise kids who do likewise? (124)

Service Is Stickier When It Hits Close to Home. The top five reasons kids are not involved are:

  1. It’s just not for me (18%)
  2. I like to hang out with friends (15%)
  3. I don’t have enough free time (14%)
  4. I don’t know how to get started (14%)
  5. I want to see concrete results (8%)

The top two factors that would motivate kids to be more involved are:

  1. If they could do the activity with their friends.
  2. If they had more time to volunteer or more convenient volunteer activities.

Find Sticky Causes That Matter to Your Kids (131), … Serve Together As a Family (135), … Make Justice Work not an Event but a Process (136), …

…unlike family service, individual projects can actually be a strain on family life, pulling family members away from one another rather than together in shared activity. – Diana Garland

We carefully listen and look for doors that might be open. We push very gently and if they open, we walk in.

Develop Ongoing Relationships with Those You Serve (141), … Make Justice Part of Everyday Life (143), … Guide Your Kids toward Caring (146), … Be Creative in Your Pursuit of Justice (146), …

7. a sticky bridge out of home

Most Kids Do Not Feel Prepared for College (151), … The First Two Weeks of College Set the Trajectory (151), … Finding and Connecting to a Church Is Difficult (152), … Managing Daily Life Is a Major Challenge (152), …

Advice from College Students to Seniors

When we asked college students what they would share with a group of high school seniors about going to college, their answers clustered into the following categories, listed in order of importance:

  1. Find a faith community at college and get connected.
  2. Engage with your faith, including emerging questions and doubts.
  3. Be prepared to be challenged.
  4. Practice personal spiritual disciplines.

Contact with Parents Helps Kids (154), …

Trust God with Your Child (155), … Let Your Child Know Your Unconditional Love (156), … Don’t Do for Your Child What They Can Do for Themselves (158), … Give Your Child New Freedom (159), … Prepare Your Child for College (160), [Visit a Variety of Churches, Think about Spiritual Life When You Visit Colleges, Talk about Life after High School, Prepare for Loss, Talk about Time and Money, Create a Two-Week Plan, Celebrate a Few “Lasts” Together, Process Your Empty-Nest Emotions] Prepare for the Transition through Group or Church Events (166), [Plan Periodic Senior Gatherings, Create Mentoring Partnerships, Transition into Servant Leadership, Celebrate Seniors in a Worship Service, Celebrate a “Senior Barak“, Connect with Other Parents]

8. the ups and downs of the sticky faith journey

Children Need to Own Their Faith (177), … Children Who Experience Unconditional Support Are More Likely to Have Sticky Faith (178), … Growth and Change Are Necessary and Often Messy (181), … Your Faith Impacts Your Child More Than Any Other Factor (184), …

Foster a Lifelong Friendship with Your Child (185), … Rely on God’s People for Support (186), … Give Your Child to Jesus (187), …

appendix 1 The College Transition Project Research Overview

The preliminary results suggested a link between a college student’s current spiritual state and the quality of key relationships during the high school years, including the youth group environment itself. (193)

— VIA —

I’ll reserve a more robust review and additional reflections until after I complete the Youth Worker Edition which is either an expanded version of this book, or this book is a distilled and simplified version of the Youth Worker Edition, a distinction I cannot yet discern. Either way, I confess that I’m a bit put off that I bought both books when it appears that they share about 60-70% of the exact same material. Ah, the publishing industry.

However, I will say at this juncture, anything that helps students, parents, youth workers, etc., pursue the goal of spiritual maturity is greatly welcomed. It is welcomed, because so many pursue indoctrination (usurping a child’s ability to think and process on their own cognizance), spiritual cloning (a dysfunctional distance cousin to discipleship), generational co-dependency (living out one’s life through their child, to the child’s detriment), or even oppression (using religion against a child).

If one reads enough on the subjects of leadership, educational theory and philosophy, youth work and ministry, social psychology, and a myriad of other related subjects, we continually and consistently find the same values and characteristics throughout (in no particular order): autonomy, mastery, community, love, safety, freedom, fun… and Sticky Faith has all of these. It is no surprise, then, that these same values for effective spiritual growth would also apply to parenting. It is an additional affirmation, throughout every study, that a) there is a triangulation of data that confirms each study, and b) there are consistent things to which we can all focus and apply to make our world a better place.

The final step in the dissemination process are translators, people who study, read, opine, and then bring the information to bear in ways that are palpable, attainable, and applicable. Powell and Clark have done that in Sticky Faith.

About VIA

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