What We Learn About Sticky Faith from College Freshmen

Kara Powell

My husband, who is just as committed to Sticky Faith as I am, sent me this interesting New York Times article about the Posse Foundation, a leadership development organization that selects about 600 high school students a year from higher-risk backgrounds and clusters them into small groups who receive training about college and then all attend the same college.

When it comes to building Sticky Faith in seniors, it’s important to note two of Posse’s keys to success for they seem to greatly parallel keys to success we’ve seen in seniors as they transition to college:

1.    The power of community.  This group knows others who are attending the same college as them and that community brings not only support but accountability.  As the article explains:

The posse was key. “It’s so easy to get lost. I couldn’t imagine going to college without a group of people I already knew. I don’t think I would have made it.” They were all studying different things, she said. They didn’t do homework together, but they held each other accountable for doing it. “If you needed somebody to get you out of bed and get you to the library, Antoinette” — a Posse member — “would get you to the library.”

Odds may be slim that a group of high school seniors from your church will end up at the same college, but what can you do ahead of time to create a sense of support and community that will last through college?  What online networks and what expectations for Thanksgiving and Christmas break can you set to help your students experience community that lasts post-graduation?  When can you talk with seniors about these questions? 

2.    The value of practical preparation.  Based on our research, we recommend that students gain a grace-based view of the gospel, feel free to explore their spiritual and life doubts, and be connected to an intergenerational church community.  Yet they also need help with less “spiritual” issues, which is part of why we’ve included day-to-day struggles such as time and money management in our new Sticky Faith curriculum

The Posse training includes additional skills in the following areas: how to write at a college level, how to negotiate the social world, how to deal with a diversity of race and socioeconomic status, and how to communicate with people who were very different.  These are very real issues for college students, so if you’re not equipped to do training in these areas, who can you connect with who is?

I have heard that a good therapist is one who acts responsibly but doesn’t take responsibility for their clients.  I think the same is true for parents and leaders wanting to set up high school seniors on Sticky Faith trajectories.  We don’t take responsibility, but we can act responsibly by providing practical preparation and hopefully being a catalyst for ongoing, supportive community.


Published Feb 29, 2012
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. As a youth ministry veteran of over 20 years, she serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women You Should Know", Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Sticky Faith, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

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