In my ten years of working with teens, I have found several great resources that are made available through Christian or religious organizations. These newsletters, blogs and website do a phenomenal job of tracking teen trends and having a pulse on current teen culture. Over the last few months, several of these sites have mentioned new research by the Fuller Youth Institute called Sticky Faith. The study followed teens who graduated from a church or youth group (involved/dedicated teens) into their college years. They found that 40-50% of youth fail to stick to their faith in college. Interpreted: these youth were not prepared to live out their faith, which they learned through their church and families, once they entered college.
I have been reading snippets here and there about this study recently and contemplating the thought that if close to 50% of youth back away from their faith in college, who is to say the same is not true for youth who belong to other groups. That youth who belong to school or afterschool programs that focus on positive character traits won’t toss out all of what they learned once they face their first tough situation? I personally have seen this play out. I have seen teens make great strides in high school, turn their lives around and begin making positive choices, teens who we thought are going to be the exception and “make it out.” Only to watch them make poor choices just months after graduating high school that drastically alter their course. Often I have had the thought, what more could we have done?
It is with these thoughts bouncing around in my head that I jumped at the chance to hear the author of Sticky Faith, Dr. Kara Powell (Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute), speak about the research and what we can do to make a larger impact in youth. Now I will say that I have not read the book yet, and the talk I attended was geared towards parents. So my thoughts are still very initial in nature. But I am going to focus on some of the take-a-ways I had of what we (youth workers, youth ministers, parents) can do to intentionally to impact our youth and teens on a deeper level.
Dr. Powell introduced the 5:1 ratio. In youth programs there is typically five or more youth to each adult. They are recommending the opposite, that there be 5 adults investing in the life of every youth. They found that those youth who had a connection to several adults in regards to their faith growing up were more likely to stick with their faith in college. To me this reminds me of the wrap-around approach used successfully by many social service agencies. Having multiple adults speaking truth into a teens life, being there for them, holding them accountable, being a role model for them. This has a greater impact than just having one caring adult speaking into their life. Now that does not mean each youth serving organization now needs to hire more staff. These adults can be extended family members, teachers, coaches etc.
The second big piece I took away, and have already implemented with my own daughter, is being intentional about your conversations and allowing youth to ask questions. She gave an example from her family where they ask each other, “How did you see God at work today?” A hope her is that rather than religion begin a set of rules to teens, they begin to see how God is apart of their daily life. This concept might be a little too much for my four-year old daughter, but she does understand good and bad choices. So today I asked her about what good and bad choices she made today and we talked about it for a couple of minutes. Then I encouraged her to ask me and her mother the same question. Which of course she did with a big smile on her face. To me it is about being intentional with the character I am trying to instil in my daughter. Taking time daily to reflect on our choices, our motives and how those impact each other. I don’t want her to be good because someone told her too, I want her to make good choices because she sees the positive effect it has on her and others.
Those are just some of the initial thoughts swirling around in my head based on the short seminar I attended. I am excited to dive into the book, read a few more articles and reflect more on how we can be more intentional with the youth we serve and our own children so that they will have faith and character that sticks once they enter the real world. Be on the look out for more on this topic in the weeks and months to come.
For more information check out the Sticky Faith Website.