Getting your child’s faith to stick

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We’ve all heard the stats about children drifting, walking, and even running away from God when they reach adulthood. Is there a solution? A magic bullet even?

Let me introduce you to Sticky Faith, a book written by Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark after years of research into the topic. They isolate several significant factors which families with children whose faith “stuck” seem to have in common. I’ll give you a brief overview, but, of course, I’d encourage you to read the book yourself!

The key factors are as follows:

1) Sticky faith – the firm foundation

“At the heart of Sticky Faith is a faith that trusts in God and then understands that obedience is a response to that trust, in everything.” – p 34

This type of faith is much more difficult to pin down than a faith that is based on morals or sin management, but is also much more likely to stick. When children begin to realize the mystery of who God is, that he is more than a set of rules and that he desires so much more than good character traits from them, their imaginations and hearts are more likely to be captured by him.

2) Sticky identity:

Children with Sticky Faith are children that have developed an individual identity based on being a beloved child of God, and an identity in the context of the spiritual community.  A key way to help them develop this strong identity is to help your children develop intergenerational relationships with other believers, whether they be the children of your friends, extended family, or other another Christian community. Every child will struggle with their identity, but if, as parents, we have helped to instil in them the truth that they are God’s chosen and cherished children, it appears they are less likely to have a crisis of identity once they have left home.

3) Sticky faith conversations:

We all want to have our children “catch” our faith by observing how we live it out, but talking about it is also an important aspect of their spiritual formation. Living our faith is, of course, crucial, but if we never actually talk about it with our kids, they are left to depend on others to assign words to their feelings, to answer their questions, and to address their doubts. Talking allows them to process their questions and doubts in the safe venue of the family. I found the following quote to be incredible truthful and valuable in this context:

“If our kids can’t externally express these tough questions, they may internally fester and become toxic.” (p74)

Can you imagine? We would never knowingly allow a wound to internally fester and become toxic, but if we don’t allow our children to talk about their spirituality, it may happen on a level from which they are unlikely to recover.

4) A sticky web of relationships:

I grew up in a church that had Sunday School classes for every age group, even for high school students. In the middle of junior high I abandoned those classes and started helping with the kids in one service, and attending the “adult” church service in the other. Earlier, I referenced a silver bullet. You wanna know what it is? Better buckle your seatbelt for this one!

“The closest our research has come to that definitive silver bullet is this sticky finding: for high school and college students, there is a relationship between attendance at church-wide worship services and Sticky Faith. “ p97

Now didn’t that just blow your socks off? In our culture of “a class for each age group”, it seems that might only have limited benefit to their faith! (BTW, they’re not suggesting with do away with all age-specific teaching, they’re just reporting their findings!)

Do you want to know what else they discovered? Young adults with Sticky Faith often have spent time serving younger children (like in Sunday School). They also have adults (aside from their parents) that truly take an interest in them. The short version is that a young adult with Sticky Faith has a true faith “village” around them – not only older people taking an interest in them, but younger children learning from them. They matter in the greater Body of Christ. 

The authors spend a good deal of time going into this idea of having other adults caring about and investing in your child. In their research they have found that a helpful number to work toward is 5:1 – 5 adults for every child. These could be coaches, extended family, family friends, or actual mentors, but they are all believers who actually care about your child.

“The point is to build ‘social capital’ into your child’s life, creating a network of caring believers who will pray for, mentor, and bless your children with their presence over the course of their lives.” p 59

A key aspect to this is that “sticky social webs don’t happen by accident.  You need to build those relationships with regular contact. As with most aspects of parenting, we have to be intentional.” p102

Intentional. Who is already in your child’s life today that you can invite to speak truth to her? If there is no one, perhaps it’s time to dive deeper into the faith community yourself, cultivating true friendships with people that will also love your children.

5) Sticky Justice:

Families that serve together, grow together. When our kids are younger, we can choose justice projects based on our kids’ abilities and interests, and when they are older, we can help them find justice issues that make them passionate. Helping our children connect their faith to making real change in the world will help them realize that God actually wants to use them. As with the sticky web of relationships, they will realize that they matter in the greater Body of Christ. 

“Our best shot at helping our kids in this is by modelling our own care for others – not just the poor, but also the different, the hurting, and the weak.” p 146

6) A sticky bridge out of home

The authors have also found that children whose parents made an intentional effort (but not an annoyingly obvious effort) to continue in relationship to their children after they leave have noticed greater faith-stickiness. The key at this point is not to be a helicopter or velcro parent, but to simply find little ways to open up natural conversations and continue to help them on their faith journey. One mother told of driving the 30 minutes to her son’s school once a month to pick him up and take him for a haircut back in his hometown. During that drive, he would often talk to her about things never mentioned in phone conversations.

This sticky bridge out of home may include equipping your child to find and choose a new church during their senior year, since in the overwhelmingness of life away from home, choosing a church can easily be put on the back-burner. The authors give many more ideas and options, so I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out the rest!

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One of my favourite aspects of Sticky Faith is that the authors provide many different ways of accomplishing each goal, ways already being lived out in real families. They don’t tell you to start a faith conversation in a certain way or which type of people should be in your child’s sticky web of relationships. But they do give oodles of examples that encourage and motivate both parents and church staff. I highly encourage you to read it! I ploughed through it in only a few hours, so obviously it’s not a heavy theological text that will take years to read. (I’m still not finished The Divine Conspiracy, and I started that one before my kids were born!) One other aspect I love is that the six main ideas feel like a natural fit with our family. They’re things we’re doing already, and with a little more intentionality could be done better. There aren’t 47 new things I need to add to my daily routine, which is a relief!

In the end, Sticky Faith is about trusting God. Even if you put every one of these ideas into action, there’s no guarantee that your child will graduate with Sticky Faith. But in combination with time spent in prayer, these 6 areas will give your child’s faith the best chance of surviving the rocky trip to adulthood.

Want to find out more about the book, and see their free online resources? Check out www.stickyfaith.org.

Want to order a copy of the book for yourself?

Buy Sticky Faith at Amazon.com

Buy Sticky Faith at Amazon.ca