Sticky Faith

Tonight it was great to host 45 leaders coming together to hear from Brian Spurling of Urban Saints and Sarah Smart from Scripture Union on Sticky Faith:

Consists of four major studies over 2004-2010. Based on American family and church life and culture. We’ve never undertaken this research in the UK, although there are some similar studies from Australia.

Key facts

  • 40-50% of older teens who went into further/higher education failed to stick at their faith.
  • Only 20% of those who leave their faith actually planned to do so. The other 80% intended to stick with their faith but didn’t. Interesting how many were staying in church just to please parents or enjoy the free chocolate and doughnuts.
  • For the 50-60% who do stick with their faith, their life-styles often become very similar to those of their non-Christian contemporaries.
  • Between 30-60% of teenagers who abandon their faith and their church do return to both in their late twenties. However, the damage has been done in terms of the consequences of ‘bad’ lifestyle choices.
  • The research shows little difference in the above between the genders.

What does it look like in the UK?

  • In 1980 almost 12% went to church at least once a month, in 2005 it was down to 7%. Recent research suggests this might level off, mainly due to immigration from countries with a strong catholic and church tradition.
  • Average age in 1980 was about 37 years old, now in 2015 it is aged 56 years old. We have an issue with an ageing population, but the church has an even bigger issue.
  • % of church goers who were aged 15yrs old and under in 1980 33% of the church was 15 years old and younger, in 2020 Peter Brierley expects it to be 5%.
  • The difference to the American church is that in the UK we struggled to keep children, whereas in the USA they kept them through to teenage years.
  • We were seeing 1,000 children aged 15 and under leaving the church every week in the 1990s – half-a-million a year.

There are two fundamental things that had been miscommunicated to teenagers by adults in their churches:

  1. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what it means to be a Christian. 66% thought it was just about living a life of good works that loves others and that please God and then he would be interested in you. 33% didn’t mention God and 33% didn’t mention Jesus. If you work with young people you might like to ask them this question. The key is relationship with a living God, who made us. Young people in the UK equate God as creator more than anything else.
  2. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what the gospel is too.
    1. The ‘gospel of sin management’: faith is reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts and focuses on the unpleasant consequences of ignoring the don’ts.
    2. The ‘Red Bull gospel’: a performance-led view of faith that believes staying on a treadmill of good works’ is what really counts. It is almost impossible to keep it up.
    3. The ‘Pharisee’ gospel: a view of faith that believes inner righteousness is achieved by being seen to do the right things on the outside. No need for personal holiness.

History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned with only how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being, and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is presented at the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally … The current gospel then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’

Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy

The core of Sticky Faith is developing a clear and honest understanding of both the gospel and biblical faith.

At the heart of Sticky Faith is a faith that trusts in God and understands that obedience is a response to that trust, in everything.

Dr. Kara E. Powell & Dr. Chap Clark

Sticky Faith is

  1. Both internal and external: part of the inner thought and emotions together with lifestyle choices and actions that reflect the inner faith commitment.
  2. Both person and communal: celebrating God’s love for the individual, but always locating faith in the wider community.
  3. Both mature and maturing: showing some evidence of maturity but recognising we are all on a journey.

Developing Sticky Faith

Consumer Gospel: Mike Yaconelli’s, Contemplative Youth Ministry, is a critical book to read. Outside In by Mike Green as you are turning young people into religious consumers through the youth ministry programmes. Mark Yaconelli said we have done it, we’ve

  Consumer approach Content (Sunday School) approach Contemplative approach
Rooted in Anxiety & fear We’ve always done it this way Love for the individual
Theology Faith is fun Faith is conformity Faith is an on-going relationship of trust
Leader Programme director Teacher Spiritual director pointing to God
Volunteers Chaperones Classroom assistants Seekers and mentors
Teaching Life skills/issues Religious information Way of Jesus/Christian living
Practice Passive entertainment Memorisation & reiteration Action rooted in prayer and reflection
Young people Religious consumers Potential church members Spiritual seekers

Key thoughts:

  • Expose young people to real-life examples of others learning to trust God.
  • Contrast ‘good things we should do’ with ‘trusting in a good God.’
  • Focus on trusting God before obeying God.
  • Teach about recovery and repentance.
  • Don’t dodge difficult questions about trust, but do avoid ‘pat’ answers.

How do we view young people:

  • Empty containers ready to be filled with knowledge.
  • Sinners in need of repentance.
  • Prisoners waiting to be freed.
  • Growing plants needing to b carefully tended.
  • Pieces of clay ready to be moulded.
  • Spiritual beings made in God’s image.

The last is the most challenging and yet rewarding.

What is the top issue that tweenagers need to sort out in their lives?

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I?
  • Why is there so much brokenness in the world?
  • How can I find a pathway to wholeness?
  • What does the future hold?

The Bible answers the questions in order beautifully from Genesis to Revelation. Things need to be grounded in the meta-narrative of God’s story.

Sticky Identity

From a survey of 7,000 11-16s from a wide variety of backgrounds, carried out between 2011 and 2014 by the New Philanthropy Capital.

  • Emotional wellbeing for boys is static aged 11-18 and above girls; whereas the girls drops down significantly and is always below boys.
  • Self-esteem matches this.
  • Overall life satisfaction the boys dips as well, but again the boys drops less than the girls.
  • Satisfaction in your community produces the steepest drop for both of them.

Key thoughts:

  • Develop rituals and rites of passage, and celebrate milestones reached or passed. (It works in family life too.)
  • Help your young people identify their passions and gifts. Affirm character growth more than academic achievement.
  • Help your young people to reflect more on their experiences, and grow through hardship.
  • Pay attention to ‘trigger moments’ that promote identity growth.
  • Aim for a diverse youth and children’s leadership team
  • Support your teens for at least an extra year when they leave home.

Sticky Church

Know your young people and involve them fully, not treating them as separate entities:

  • Involvement in all-age worship for teenagers is more consistently linked with mature faith than any other church-based activity.
  • The more teenagers serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is that their faith will stick.
  • Teens in the survey said that the best way they felt welcomed was when the congregation showed an interest in them.
  • Sticky faith encourages churches to develop ‘Sticky Webs’ where at least 5 adults (of all ages) speak into the lives of every young person. Teenagers said they wanted MORE interaction with adults, not less!
  • Mentoring is a brilliant, biblical model for growth!

Quiz

  1. Why do young people go to youth group?  Because they want to be with their youth leaders.
  2. What % of teens said they felt their youth leader really knew them?  20%
  3. What did they want their youth leaders to help them with the most? Applying the Bible teaching to everyday life, especially suffering, why is the church so full of hypocrisy, and what does the bible say about sexuality, creation & evolution.
  4. What was the number one thing the teens said they wanted more of in their youth groups? More time for deep conversations, whereas more time for fun stuff was bottom of the list.
  5. Who had the stickiest faith in the end? Those that often talked about having doubts – especially does God exist, does God love me, is Christianity the only way to God.
Chris
cskidd1983@gmail.com
Married to the amazing Sarah and raising Jakey, Daniel, Amelia, Josh & Jonah in our blended family. Passionate for Jesus, social work & sport.

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