One of the statistics that has always troubled me was the studies showing that somewhere between 64 and 94 percent of Christian teens leave the Church within a few years of graduating high school. Most of these are coming out of the Catholic and Evangelical Christian sects. What is further troubling is that most of these kids came from great homes, churches and were actively involved in their faith as teenagers.
Recently, I was asked to sit on a steering panel to interview potential youth pastors and youth programs, and to prepare for this I wanted to look at which youth programs and churches were beating these overwhelming odds.
Enter the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and youth experts Kara Powell and Chap Clark whose mission is “to leverage research into resources that elevate leaders, kids, and families. Powell and Clark spearheaded the “College Transition Project,” which is a six-year research study of over 500 graduating seniors, “To better understand the dynamics of youth group graduates’ transition to college, and to pinpoint the steps that leaders, churches, parents, and seniors themselves can take to help students stay on the Sticky Faith path”
Simply, how to create a faith in kids that lasts beyond college. Or Sticky Faith as Powell and Clark’s book is titled.
Here are a few of the practical things Powell and Clark found in their research about Sticky Faith:
- Kids who left the faith report having questions about faith in early adolescence that were ignored by significant adults (parents, pastor, teacher).
- A factor causing kids to shelve their faith is the segregation of kids and adults in church. Kids who attend church-wide services are more likely to keep their faith.
- The more kids serve and build relationships with younger children the more likely they are to hang on to their faith.
- Short-term mission trips seem to have little impact on the lasting faith of young people (they are not more likely to give to the poor or become long-term missionaries).
- The more students feel prepared for college the more likely their faith is to grow.
How do we accomplish this? Read on…
1. Create an atmosphere of unconditional love and grace – See This In Depth Post
2. Plan and Develop Social Capital – Everyone who interacts with adolescents play a critical part in shaping them into adults. Therefore we should surround ourselves and our children with other positive adults and kids. We should also spend some time seeking other adults who are willing to invest in our children in the form of teaching, leading, and conscious care. This can be grandparents, coaches, youth pastors or even other kids.
3. Make God A Part of Daily Life – Faith is not just for Sunday. Children should see faith played out in the real world everyday. This includes praying and encouraging children to take some of their concerns and issues to God. Also, openly give God credit when something positive happens or prayers are answered. Children should see faith lived out in their home daily.
4. Avoid Lecturing – It didn’t work for our parents so why do we revert to this tactic? Lecturing at kids or talking down to them will never get our points across. Life lessons are caught not taught, therefore we need to spend less time lecturing and more time focusing on asking questions to elicit responses which open up meaningful conversation with our children. And once they start talking, resist the urge to interject and lecture, give them honest answers and expectations versus dictating. Sometimes just listening and not saying anything is the best thing we can do.
5. Integration versus Segregation – Many churches have moved to segregating the children from the adults. This is done through Sunday School, Children’s Church or separate youth services. While these are fine for other nights of the week or early morning, Church services should be integrated between adults and youth, ideally with the youth taking an active involvement in the service. The younger generations are much more apt to stick if they are involved in the process of Church. Plus, they are interacting with multiple generations and seeing faith working for adults other than their parents.
6. Teaching Biblical World View – As David Kinnaman points out in UnChristian, one of the reasons we are losing a generation is that we are not teaching them how to think with a biblical world view. Kids are having fun at youth group but are they learning the pillars of the Christian Faith and how it compares to the secular/humanist world? Atheism and Humanism spend a good deal of time developing logical, researched arguments against faith which resonates well with college aged adults. The church should use this same approach to solidify faith and equip kids to understand why they believe and defend what they believe. Youth-based apologetics, Confirmation classes and Faith In College classes can work wonders and children often site that they wish they had more of this. I’ve even seen these classes taught by college aged students which further made them fun and resonated well with teens and tweens.
7 . Service and Justice – The younger generations have a drive to be involved with service and social justice. The Church should be leading the way to involve kids in being apart of service and justice programs. Ongoing, frequent out reach and service programs should be apart of our children’s activities. Also noted in the research was that teens that taught and mentored younger children in the Church, had a higher sticky rate than those who did not.
8. Allow Questions and Have Answers – Questioning faith should be encouraged and an integral part of our children’s faith journey and should lead to answers which further solidify their beliefs. Answers can come from parents, mentoring, books and of course the Bible. The best approach is to point the children in the right direction but let them answer their own questions through positive-based research. Debating faith issues should be common practice and the family can work them out together.
Finally, we must realize that as parents sometimes we have to put our faith in God and simply resort to prayer. We must seek authentic walks with Christ and model these for our children, we must teach and surround our children with faith but do not force or try to circumvent the timing and efforts of the Holy Spirit. While there are certainly no guarantees in life or with children, creating an atmosphere that encourages sticky faith is one area that we can control. As I move forward this year, I am going to spend a considerable amount of time trying to incorporate and enrich these sticky faith principles in our home and our children’s lives.