Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sticky faith

Perhaps because I was a high school teacher I often notice research about the tendency of Christian young people failing to make the transition to a mature faith. There have been a depressing number of surveys indicating a falling off of faith just about as soon as young adults leave home for college or work. In "Sticky faith: What keeps kids connected to church?" Jen Bradbury, a youth minister, reflects on what might counter that trend and engender a faith that sticks:
.... I chose topics based on what I thought youth cared about, so we talked a lot about friendships, sex and alcohol. While I tied these topics to scripture, I rarely focused on Jesus. I assumed that the youth, who had grown up in the church, already knew the Jesus story well and were likely to be bored by it. Rather than help students cultivate a lifelong relationship with Christ, I focused on getting them to live a Christian lifestyle. I had zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior.

...[R]esearchers...conducted a six-year, comprehensive and longitudinal study from 2004 to 2010 called the College Transition Project. The study’s findings are found in Sticky Faith: Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers, a 2011 book by Kara E. Powell, Brad M. Griffin and Cheryl A. Crawford.

The term sticky faith is defined by researchers at FYI as faith that is “part of a student’s inner thoughts and emotions and is also externalized in choices and actions that reflect this faith commitment.” .... It is this kind of sticky faith that we want to develop in students, for it is this kind of faith that becomes a way of life, capable of influencing people’s everyday decisions as well as their interactions with the world around them.


One of the key findings from FYI’s College Transition Project is that when it comes to fostering sticky faith, nothing is more important than “students’ view of the gospel.” Ministries that foster sticky faith, the report says, are centered on Christ.

.... Consider this finding: when students involved in the College Transition Project were asked what it means to be a Christian, 35 percent “gave an answer that didn’t mention Jesus at all.” ....

As my own early efforts demonstrate, youth ministers have often tried to attract teens by doing anything other than using scripture to connect them with Christ. In order to be politically or culturally acceptable, we’ve often stripped Christianity of Jesus or transformed him into a character he is not. .... In lieu of discipling teens, we’ve attempted to entertain them; we’ve tried to make our ministries cool enough to compete with other community activities.

What every teen knows, however, is that the church is not cool. The good news is that the church does not have to be cool to be relevant. What the church has is Jesus, and he is enough. .... If the church matters because Jesus matters, then what youth ministries need more of are not entertaining activities but conversations about Jesus. ....

...[C]hurches should be concerned when young people abandon church even for a short time. When this occurs, “they are easily pushed by the shifting winds of their college culture.” Setting faith aside “affects the quality of their integrated thinking” and their ability to make “true-to-self decisions about their worldviews, romantic partners, career directions, or graduate school.” ....

To help teens form a lasting and consequential faith, I will continue pursuing the type of ministry the College Transition Project points us toward: one centered on Christ, infused with grace and built on intergenerational relationships and intergenerational worship. My hope is that in doing so, I will be able years from now to survey graduates of my youth ministry and find them still active in a church, committed to their faith and striving to live out their faith in daily life. .... [more]
Sticky faith: What keeps kids connected to church? | The Christian Century