Do you want the children you influence to have real faith that sticks throughout their teenage years and beyond? Can you recognize what is pulling them away from that? We live in a pull-apart world. Many teens who were raised in churched homes walk away from their faith when they leave home to go to college or beyond. I know you do not want that. To stay on the path to sticky faith, you have to make choices for yourself and for them.
Desiring Sticky Faith for Your Children
I loved being a mentor mom for a “Moms Together” group at a local church. I learned so much from these young women who are at the place I was 40 years ago when our children were small. One week we discussed the book “Sticky Faith” by Dr. Kara Powell. The book focuses on what we as parents can intentionally do to help our children have real faith that sticks throughout their teenage years and beyond the time when they live in our homes—what the author calls, “Sticky Faith.”
Of course, that generated lots of discussion at our table, especially the statistic Dr. Powell gave that 50% of children in churched homes walk away from their faith when they leave home to go to college or beyond. Several of our moms could relate to that in their own lives (and felt unnecessarily guilty). While we discussed, I became aware of the fact that some were not really sure about their faith when they went away from home; they were churched enough to take their “Christianity” for granted, maybe as an extension of their parents’ faith but not personalized faith yet. In later years, especially after having children, they returned to their faith and have embraced it wholeheartedly—following Christ devotedly now. And now they want “sticky faith” for their children.
The idea of sticky faith is not new or specifically coined by Dr. Powell. We desired such stickiness for our children’s faith as they grew up. I have shared about promoting sticky faith in children for years with women in Bible studies and other women’s groups. Here are a few more things I have learned.
Common Traits of Those Who Don’t Leave the Church
In an article released by a high school pastor in recent years, Three Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church, the author concluded that teens whose faith stuck throughout college and into their 20s had three things in common when they finished high school:
- They were born again and knew it.
- They were equipped, not entertained, as youth — so they could share the gospel, disciple someone, and lead a Bible study.
- Their parents lived the gospel of grace and dependent living before them.
I want to talk about these a bit more.
Common condition #1: They were born again, and they knew it.
That means they understood that at a specific time they had made a conscious decision to put their faith in Jesus Christ and to follow Him as His disciple. For our children, I noticed that this decision happened at different times for each of them ranging from early teens to late teens. Our son spent a summer in a cabin in northwest Arkansas without television or internet. He spent those three months studying theology and reading biographies of Christians he admired. He was testing what we had taught him to see if it was true. By the end of the summer, he was convinced his faith was real and true. Already a believer, he committed himself to being Jesus’ disciple and has stayed faithful to Him. Common condition #1: They were born again, and they knew it.
Common condition #2: They were equipped, not entertained, as youth.
The teens with sticky faith knew how to share the gospel. They also knew how to disciple someone and lead a Bible study. While our children were in high school, they all got a chance to lead small groups for younger children. One of our daughters had the best experience because she was the small group leader for a group of middle school youth for 3 years. By the time she got to college, she could do the same for her peers on campus. She was praying for them and discipling them and answering their questions about how to follow Jesus. That helped her to stay faithful to Jesus. Common condition #2: They were equipped, not entertained, as youth.
Common condition #3: Their parents lived the gospel before them.
More importantly, they lived out the gospel of grace rather than living by law. When you understand God’s grace and live it out for all to see, others can see that you are motivated to obey God because of love and gratitude for what He has done for you. This is catching so those watching will be motivated to love God and be grateful to Him, also.
The Role of Godly Mentors
Having godly parents is important, but so is having godly mentors. Sue Edward’s blog from April 24, 2015, How Mentoring Can Save Your Child From Walking Away From The Faith, spoke volumes about the influence mentors can have on our children. As we were discussing “sticky faith” at our Moms Together table last week, I related how godly mentors made a huge difference in the faith walks of our children. Our son had a sixth-grade Sunday School teacher who was passionately in love with God (beautiful young woman, now working with her husband as Wycliffe missionaries in Papua New Guinea). Over that year, I watched our son develop a love for God he didn’t have the year before and one he has continued to have ever since. He still remembers her influence on him. Godly mentors are a great support to parents.
What We Learned from Our Children
Several years ago we asked our now 30-something children who do have “sticky faith” what they thought we did right to encourage a walk of faith in them while growing up and to prepare them to be Christian adults. They already tell us what we did wrong! It’s nice to hear what we did right. Frankly, some of the things they mentioned, I don’t even remember doing! Probably because I was so busy managing family life at the time — just like the young moms at my table.
This is how our children responded, showing what really mattered to them:
“You encouraged our walk of faith and prepared us to be Christian adults by: 1) Making sure we were actively involved in church, prioritizing church involvement over other out-of-school activities. 2) Modeling your walks of faith in front of us (for the most part), which made a big impact. Seeing your desire to grow as Christians and your devotion to your churches made an impression on us. 3) Emphasizing prayer in our lives — before meals, before bedtime. Patterns and habits that, ‘I had ingrained in my life.’ 4) Discussing theological issues (developed deeper thinking skills in us, usually around the table or in the car) and rewarding us verbally for making “new” discoveries in our personal walks of faith. 5) Surrounding us with God-fearing people. 6) Getting us involved in helping out/serving church members in need or the church in general (housecleaning for a bedridden pregnant mom and chair set-up for church came to mind). 7) Modeling for us a response of gratitude for food God provided and church members who helped us out on occasion.”
I am so grateful to God for leading us as parents to do enough things right so that our children had “sticky faith” beyond their teen years. Even if I don’t remember the details.
Faith Is Personally Applied
But we knew, as every parent knows, regardless of how much we influence them in the right direction, each child must still respond to Jesus’ call on his or her life individually. So, we pray and trust in our God to capture the heart of our child as He has already captured our hearts. Then, we depend on Jesus to help us do our part and leave the rest up to Him. Once a child trusts in Christ as Savior, the best influence for “sticky faith” ever — God’s Holy Spirit — moves inside to impact that child from the inside out for the rest of his/her life! Thank you, Jesus!
Listen to “Sticky Faith in a Pull-Apart World“
The God-Dependent Woman Bible Study (download pdf)
Disciple-Making Resources (download pdfs)