“Sticky Faith” is making waves in the youth ministry world, so we thought today we would interview Kara Powell, the person behind the movement, and get a little insight into what churches can do to help teens develop a “sticky” faith.
K&J: Explain where the Sticky Faith concept originated.
Kara: Actually, it originated in the mind and heart of a youth leader who was a Fuller student. As a youth pastor, she noticed how many youth group students from her church drifted from their faith after high school graduation. The Fuller Youth Institute worked with her to do an initial pilot study of just the students from her church, which raised provocative questions about the long-term trajectory of youth group graduates. From there, thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment, we were able to broaden our research team of Fuller students and faculty to study 500 students over a period of six years to try to figure out what leaders, parents, and churches could do to build faith that lasts.
K&J: What are some concrete examples of some first steps a church can take to get sticky?
Kara: As we’ve tracked with churches throughout the country, there seem to be three primary first steps that parallel our major research findings. First, leaders are trying to make sure that they are teaching what we call the “Sticky Gospel” of grace instead of the “gospel of sin management” (to quote Dallas Willard) of behaviors. So Sticky Faith begins with making sure that students know that their faith doesn’t revolve around behaviors, but rather an ongoing experience of God’s unconditional love for them. One of the messages our team is trying to spread to young people (including my own children) is that Jesus is bigger than any mistake.
While the first step focuses on the core of our faith, the second and third steps are more about relationships. We’ve seen that young people who are involved in inter-generational relationships and worship tend to have more mature faith in both high school and college. It’s been exciting to see churches take steps toward inter-generational relationships—ranging from periodically cancelling their youth group on Sundays so that young people are involved in one big worship service to specialized mentoring for high school seniors.
The final and third step relates to partnering with parents. So many parents are what we call “Dry Cleaner Parents” who think they can drop their kids off at church all dirty at 9 am on Sunday and pick them up 90 minutes later, with the youth or children’s ministry team doing the cleaning. That’s a far cry from the type of partnership between parents and churches that is best for Sticky Faith. So a big part of our research involves how to support and equip parents with ideas ranging from more training to involving parents more in youth ministry events and programs.
K&J: Are there tools and resources to help youth workers grow in this area?
Kara: Thanks to funding from amazing donors and foundations, we at the Fuller Youth Institute have been able to develop a host of practical resources, which can be accessed at stickyfaith.org. The Sticky Faith books and our Sticky Faith Cohorts have been two of the most powerful forces for change, and we also have a host of free resources available on our Web site.
K&J: What are a few other sites/books you would recommend to help students keep their faith after high school?
Kara: We are big fans of the reThink/Orange group led by Reggie Joiner and his team. Their “Orange” philosophy in which the “yellow” that is the light of Christ in the church combines with the “red” that is the heart of love in the family closely parallels our own research. We highly recommend their work, as well as the College Transition Initiative hosted by Walt Mueller, Derek Melleby, and the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding.
This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.