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