ReImagining the Church: Sticky Faith #1

Observations from the Sticky Faith Webcast: LINK

I was glued to my computer screen last Tuesday as I watched the hour-long webcast produced by the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) in conjunction with the release of their Sticky Faith books. While I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my copies from Amazon, I thought I would write up my nine observations that I tweeted during the webcast.

I am including this in my reImagining the Church series because I believe that the conversation coming out of the Sticky Faith research is born from the same Spirit that is moving through New Life Christian Fellowship, calling us to reImagine what it means to be the church in light of Jesus.

Observation #1: Having 5 adults invest in every child/teen in the church can change lives.

For me, it was this realization that started the entire reImagining process. The greater the number of adults from the church who invested in the lives of a student while they were in the youth group, the higher the likelihood that the student remained faithful and active after graduation. It seems that the Sticky Faith research is finding something similar.

Kara Powell is advocating for a flip in the ratio of adults to students in our churches and I think it make sense. It will require that people in the church reImagine what it means to be a part of the community in order for it to happen.

Traditional Wisdom–1:5

In the past, the idea of having a ratio of one adult for every five kids would probably seem to be great! If you had a youth group of 20, then you’d have four committed adult volunteers who were a part of youth meetings and sowing into the lives of the teens. You could picture it like this:

This is pretty much what we have at {2:42} and for the most part you can keep eyes on everyone and make sure all the students are engaged and building relationships.

But that’s not the point. We want to be building lifelong faith in Jesus that moves students closer to God long after they’ve left the group. Functionally, 1:5 might work to run a youth program, but I don’t think it works as well as it could for such an ambitious goal.

Flipping the Ratio–5:1

So the thought now is that we ought to flip the ratio. Instead of one adult for every five kids we have five adults connected to every student in our church. You might draw it like this:

…and that would be terrifying. Every youth pastor in the world would likely pass out at the idea of recruiting five adult volunteers for every student in their youth group. I would. Not only that, but finding that many adults to be a part of the youth ministry would radically alter the face of the youth group and really make for some interesting dynamics at things like youth conventions (“Yes, we need to reserve 9 rooms for our group – we have 6 students and 30 adults please). This is why the whole thing needs to be reImagined.

First let’s redraw the above diagram:

The idea isn’t that 5 adults will volunteer to be youth counselors and mentors for every student in the church, but rather that 5 adults will choose to invest on some level in the student’s life. Some of those adults might invest heavily, resulting in a closer relationship and mentorship role, while others might be less involved but still important to the faith development of the student.

To reImagine the church to this degree goes beyond just picking a teen and finding out what sports they like though, it calls people to understand the entire web of relationships in the church on a deeper level. If the church exists as a social network, or a charitable organization, or even a religious institution, then a 5:1 ratio will eventually dissolve into a fruitless effort to recruit extra volunteers and letter writers. It’s important to understand that the church is more than all of these things.

The church is an entirely new reality. 

Because of Jesus, a new reality has dawned and those people who have placed their faith in him now experience life in relationship to that reality, individually and corporately. Those people, young and old, friend and stranger, who gather in the name of Jesus do so now as family members. Brothers and sisters of all ages and backgrounds made one in Christ Jesus. This reality calls us not to voluteer for some program or trip, but rather to invest in the lives of those people who are now our siblings. Not every single one, of course, even in small churches this is done in varying degrees of intimacy, but young and old, big and small can still look at others in the church and ask, “Is God calling me to be one of the people who spends myself for the sake of that person, there?” This is how we get to a life-altering 5:1. Something that is far more likely to produce a “Sticky Faith.”

What say you? How does this challenge the way you understand your part in the community of the church? Who is someone outside your own stage in life who you could connect with in your church in the next month?

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