Could God Love You Less?

Nov 07, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute
Now that my son is in fifth grade, I'm a volunteer in our church's Preteen Ministry.  I am loving leading a small group of fifth grade girls every Sunday morning.
We are working our way through the Old Testament and last week's topic was the Ten Commandments.  Because of our Sticky Faith research, I wanted to make sure that I framed the Ten Commandments in light of God's incredible, unending love for us.
So I asked the girls, "If we obeyed all of these all of the time, would God love us any more?"  None of the ten girls (I know, it's pretty large for a small group; we're still recruiting more leaders) thought that obedience would make God love us more.  So we talked for a minute or so about how God loves us unconditionally - no matter what.
Then I asked the inverse question, "If we disobeyed one of these commandments and murdered someone, would God love us any less?"  This time, four of the ten girls thought that murdering someone would make God love them less, even after we had just reflected on God's unconditional love.
While this is far from a scientific study, it's interesting to me that the girls in my small group thought that their positive behaviors wouldn't increase God's love for them but that their negative behaviors would decrease God's love for them.  
Dave and I are really trying to communicate to our own kids that God and we love them - no matter what.  When they score a goal, we tell them on the way home that we think it's great they tried so hard, but that even if they just ran in circles on the field and never touched the ball, neither God nor we would love them any less.
I'm always looking for ways to communicate God's unconditional love to my own kids and the teenagers/preteens in our church.  How have you tried to do that in your family or ministry?

Church as a Living Bridge

Nov 04, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today’s guest blogger is Mike McClenahan, senior pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church. Solana Beach was part of our 2010 Sticky Faith Cohort. This post originally appeared on Mike’s blog, and is reprinted by permission.

Each week in worship we bless our children.  First through sixth graders sit with parents or a trusted adult for the first 25 minutes of worship, then are dismissed with a pastoral blessing. We raise a hand or place a hand of blessing on "our" children as a way of physically extending ourselves to them. 

Last Sunday we baptized an infant. The couple professed their own faith in Jesus and committed themselves to raise their daughter in an environment where she might one day profess her own faith in Jesus. The congregation likewise committed ourselves to come alongside the parents and the child. I've said before, "'Their' children become 'our' children."

We want to be a place where children see their parents and other adults worship God, serve the world, meet together and love each other. We want them to have an experience of the church in organized and organic ways. Our hope is that one generation would "commend the works of God to the next" (Psalm 145) as a living bridge that lasts beyond the oldest generation. 

This video is a beautiful example of one generation passing on knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. What does our living bridge look like?




What keeps students from connecting with God?

Nov 02, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

This week we’re hosting a small group of folks helping us explore what it looks like to help teenagers develop faith rhythms that stick with them beyond our ministries and homes.  Thanks to a generous donor, we have a grant supporting this exploration over the coming year.  

One of the things we learned in our Sticky Faith research was that high school and college students don’t tend to have very robust prayer lives.  While we were not able to explore that very deeply, we did ask college students to share about some of the obstacles they faced in engaging faith practices.  From their responses, here were some of the primary themes we heard:

  • Time—making space for God in the midst of balancing other priorities and managing your own schedule is tough. 
  • Relationships—suddenly you don’t know other Christians and have to decide if you’re going to show up by yourself at a campus group or church.  You also may not have accountability relationships with people who remind you to stay connected in your faith.
  • God may begin to seem distant, uninvolved, or even irrelevant to college life.

When you think about (and ask) the college students you know what hinders them from connecting with God, what do you hear?  And what can we do to support them in ways that keep them connected to God across the transition? 

The Camping Church

Oct 31, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today's guest post is from Janice Ogoshi from Hawaii Kai United Church of Christ. Yep, they're in Hawaii.  Someone has to do ministry there, you know. 


Our church was at one time known as “The Camping Church.”  In the early years of our congregation, camps were a regular part of the life of the church.  Five or six times a year, the church family would pitch tents and spend time together at a campsite near the beach.

Susan, one of the organizers of these campouts, explained the reason behind these frequent excursions to the beach.  She told me that they wanted the children to develop relationships not only with their peers, but also with adults in the congregation.  “We wanted our children to feel comfortable talking to adults.  We knew that sometimes, teens can’t or won’t talk to their parents about things going on in their lives.  But they might talk to ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’ at church.  Camp provided the opportunity for those relationships to be built.”

This deliberate attempt to connect our children with the wider church family is bearing fruit as the children have grown into young adults.  Some have gone away to college and returned, now to take on responsibilities in church.  There are other churches in town that have large young adult ministries and have a worship style that is more appealing to twenty-somethings.  But our young adults are returning in part because of the relationships they have with the older adults. 

This is their church.  And they are now becoming the mentors to the next generation. 

Julie and Melissa lead the Hospitality Ministry Team.  They are recruiting and training our greeters, making sure our guests feel welcomed on Sunday mornings.  Aaron, Lauren and Julie are on the Music Ministry Team, leading singing during worship.  Dean, Lauren, Melissa, Mandy and Aaron have taught Sunday School classes.  Dean is currently serving as our church moderator.

Because we are not a large membership church, our activities have always been family-oriented and multi-generational.  Camps, hikes, movie nights, service activities are all open to everyone.  During these activities, the children and youth are exposed to the rich faith lives of the many adults in our congregation.  It is not unusual to see the adults asking the youth how they are doing in school or on their sports teams or whether they have a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Adults will often tell the youth that they are praying for them.  Their interest in the lives of our children and youth show in their attentiveness and willingness to engage in conversations.  While giving his testimony, one teen shared that he had a committee of church aunties and uncles who were ready to screen any potential girlfriends.  Many other volunteers came forward to ask to serve on this committee!

While our camps are now held less frequently, the idea of building relationships among all the members of our church family across generations continues in the life of our church.  It is not programmed, but rather a natural part of church life.  God is using these relationships to enrich the faith of all our members.



Letter from a Mom

Oct 27, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

We recently received this email from a mom of two teenagers, and with her permission decided to open-source the response from our blog readers.  Here’s her letter:

I am a mom of two teenagers, and am incredibly blessed to find them so willing to attend church, Sunday school as well as maintaining open communication about their walk with God.  We have hit many rocky places and no doubt will face more, but they are actively exploring their faith. 

In recent months, I have been discussing with my children about how youth group is going, and I am rather discouraged by what I hear from them.  Both of them state, in one way or another, increasing frustration with a lack of intellectual interaction in their respective groups.  They have good rapport with their leaders who all are very well-trained, yet they are reaching for conversation on a deeper level.  In the words of one of my kids:  "I get tired of hearing how we need to 'love on people'.  I need to know deeper things." 

Both have come to feel that Sunday school is a continual rehash of "feel good" faith and this concerns me deeply. My kids are starting to feel marginalized and "talked down to" for wanting more critical thinking in discussions about faith.  I don't want to make this a critique on our student ministries but I am hoping you may have suggestions of how to address this issue. What do we do when the constructs in place are not moving young people forward?

At a loss,


Youth pastors and parents of teenagers, how do you respond? What insights do you have for this mom and her kids?

Talking to my own kids about faith

Oct 25, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

I recently heard a youth pastor say, vulnerably, “I’m great at talking to your kids about their faith; I stink at talking with my own kids about their faith.”  Another said, "I know how to be my son's mom. I don't know how to be his spiritual guide."

Painful words. Yet how many youth workers and other ministry leaders would echo them? 

We have had more than one conversation recently with great, thoughtful youth workers who admit to really struggling with caring for the spiritual journeys of their own children.  It turns out that what many of us are trained and well-seasoned to do with other adolescents (listen objectively, ask thoughtful questions, leave doors open for uncertainly and journey, care more about the process than last night’s bad decision), we find awkward, painful, or nonexistent in our relationships with our kids.  Of course, our kids need other adults to talk about faith with them in ways that sometimes we can't as parents. But perhaps too many of us stop there.

My own kids are still young (the oldest is nine), so I don’t pretend to understand what this is like with teenagers in my own family. But these conversations have me wrestling even more with what it means to open doors all along the various stages of my kids’ growth to talk about and listen for their (and my) faith journeys.   

This is part of what makes me excited that Adam McLane offered to host a free Sticky Faith book club for parents who are in youth ministry. The Chapter 1 and 2 discussions have already been phenomenal; some of the comments are encouraging, others gut-wrenching. If this sounds like something you could use, it’s not too late to jump in!

I’m also wondering what ideas and thoughts you have for others straddling the vocations of youth ministry and parenting. How do you talk about faith in your family, outside of your “job” at church? How do you pace with your own kids' spiritual journey without either ignoring or attemping to micromanage it? 

From Me To You

Oct 24, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today's guest post is from Josh Bishop and Jim Kast-Keat, pastors working with students at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids. Mars Hill was part of our 2010 Sticky Faith Cohort. They are also hosting FYI's Kara Powell for a "Students Collaborative" conference in February.

“How was church today?”


If this were baseball, we would call this a swing-and-a-miss. While parents have the best of intentions to talk about their kids’ experience at church and about their faith, they often don’t know how to start the conversation and don’t get much of a response when they try.

It is these good intentions combined with the utter importance of parents in faith development (found in the research from the Fuller Youth Institute, the National Study of Youth and Religion, and the Search Institute) that led us to realize that we had a Sticky Faith problem: Parents and their kids rarely had a shared faith experience that they could discuss together.

We narrowed our focus to our 5th and 6th grade students and their parents because this time of life is potentially one of the greatest—and probably one of the last—opportunities for parents and students to normalize discussions about faith. Fifth and sixth graders are old enough to begin engaging with abstract ideas about faith, yet young enough that they still want to talk with their parents about faith. Our programming separated 5th and 6th graders from their parents the moment they walked in the church door on Sundays, inhibiting any sort of discussion around a shared faith experience.

About a year ago, we decided to make a change. Fifth and sixth graders now join their parents for the entire Sunday worship service twice each month. They follow along with a resource we call “From Me To You”, which guides students through the service, giving them creative and fun ways to interact with the songs, sermons, and other elements, and inviting them to talk with their parents about the shared faith experience. (It literally says “show this to your parents” or “ask your parents this” on every page.)

It’s called “From Me to You” because we believe faith formation goes both ways: from child to parent and from parent to child. Instead of just asking what their child learned, the parents also share what they learned. As the Sticky Faith research points out, “The best discussions about faith happen when parents don’t just ask questions, but also share their own experiences.” 1

This type of programming doesn’t always fit the conventional models of church, and helping everyone (students, parents, leadership, etc.) get a glimpse of the meaningfulness of this kind of thing hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.  It’s rare to hit a homerun every time you’re at bat, but our goal is simply to give families a base hit. Instead of being segregated when they walk in the door, families experience and talk about faith together. And that’s a base hit if I ever saw one.

  1. Powell, Griffin, & Crawford, Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition, 118.

Growth Plans

Oct 20, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today's guest blogger is Matthew DePrez, Now Generation Pastor at Frontline Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Matthew is part of the 2011 Sticky Faith Cohort.

It wasn't until we were connected with the Fuller Youth Institute that we realized we may have been looking at student ministries all wrong!

For years, we had been looking at "success" in student ministries based upon the amount of students attending a weekly program night. As we wrestled through the statistics from FYI's research, we were compelled to see "success" from a new point of view. At Frontline, we believe that the "success" of our student ministry is based upon a student's faith retention after high school, rather than hundreds of students sitting in seats during a program. 

This has caused us to shift our entire emphasis on programming and seek one-on-one mentoring relationships with adults and students rather than simply herding students into the doors of our building. As a result of our connection with FYI, we've also realized that true discipleship doesn't just happen on a program night, but everyday throughout the week. We've always said that individual students were more important than programs, but our actions weren't backing it up. This is why we instituted individual personal growth plans and student profiles for every student attending our program. Students (Christian or non-Christian) have the ability to prioritize the ways they want to grow spiritually throughout the year. It gives students a sense or personal ownership and they are able to proactively take steps closer to Jesus while building a relationship with their adult leader as they keep them accountable throughout the year. 

Overall, through FYI and the Sticky Faith Cohort we've participated in this year, it has forced us to evaluate everything we do as a student ministry and ask if it is the most effective way to build faith retention in students. I believe it is the more important thing we've ever done as a student ministry.

A Rite to Community

Oct 18, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Today's guest blogger is Jason Herman, High School Student Minister at The Hill Church of Christ in Richland Texas.  Jason was part of the 2010 Sticky Faith Cohort.

Our typical promotion from 8th grade to high school has been filled with hype, loud music, and silly games.  Having been a part of the Sticky Faith Cohort, and after reading this article, we knew that we could do better.

So the question turned from “how can we make promotion fun?” to “how can we turn this into a communal rite that will assist our 8th graders in transitioning from the world of middle school to that of high school?”  I’d like to share one of many great stories that developed because of the changes we implemented.  Some of the critical elements of our changes included various symbols and liturgy being experienced by adults and students of all ages, which brings me to John and Dustin.

John is the guy you see in the church directory and say, “now there’s an interesting character.”  In ours, he’s holding a violin.  He’s seventy years old, written two books, has taught Biblical Greek and he LOVES teenagers.  John has played fiddle for Summer Spectacular (VBS on steroids), is one of our small group leaders, and he connected with Dustin during 9th grade promotion. 

Dustin shared with John how he struggled with anger and that his family has called the police several times because of it.  In that moment of mutual sharing, two members of the same body became vulnerable, became transparent, became one.  It was in this moment, created by a simple rite of passage, that John simply looked Dustin in the eye and said, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  I was speechless.

What a Lit Candle Can Mean to Students

Oct 17, 2011 Fuller Youth Institute

A few months ago, I spent some time with some great folks from the United Methodist Conference in Tennessee, unpacking our Sticky Faith research.  As is always the case when I get to rub shoulders with youth leaders, I came away both inspired and impressed.

One of the really great ideas I gleaned came from Julie, an experienced parent and youth leader.  She mentioned that in the midst of Prom season, she takes time during youth group to light a candle and pray with students for the choices they will be making during Prom festivities.  Not only does she do this at youth group, but she also takes the candle home and lights it on the night of her students’ Proms.  She lets it burn all night, and as she wakes up periodically in the middle of the night, that candle reminds her to pray for her students. 

If that isn’t cool enough, get this:  her students KNOW she is lighting this candle and praying for them.  How would you like to be a high school senior at Prom, knowing your youth leader is thinking about you? 

Events like Prom and Homecoming give us as parents and leaders the chance to let our students know we are praying for them.  In the midst of those windows when important decisions are made, how can you let kids you care about know that you are praying for them?