stickyfaith

Parent

Photo by: Moyan Brenn

“My time with Colin isn’t going like I hoped. I keep trying to bring up big topics and he hardly responds.”

My husband Dave’s friend, Doug, was in a panic. To commemorate his son Colin’s sixteenth birthday, Doug told Colin he’d take him anywhere in the US for a three-day vacation. Just the two of them. 

Doug had visions of long conversations. Deep sharing. 

Colin was more interested in seeing movies and tracking down the best cheesecake New York had to offer. 

Doug’s text to Dave was punctuated with anxiety. For months, Doug and his wife had saved up for this trip. So far this vacation wasn’t yielding the relational R.O.I. that Doug had anticipated.

Or was it? 

Based on research we’ve done for The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, I suggested Dave text back this response: “Totally understand. Colin’s a good kid. More important than what you do or talk about together is the way Colin feels around you. He’ll remember how he feels long after he’s forgotten about the cheesecake.”

It’s not that family events and activities don’t matter. It’s that their value comes from being a platform for your kids to know you’re crazy about them. You really care. You care so much that even when your kids kick away from you, or rebuff your attempts to connect with them, you don’t withdraw. 

You stay present. 

Available. 

Even reaching out toward them. 

I’m guessing you want a positive, life-giving, long-term relationship with your children. Think about other relationships in your life that offer that to you. Most likely the magnet that draws you to those people is more about how they make you feel about yourself and less about what you’ve actually done together. 

In between seeing the sights or relaxing at the lake, your next family vacation offers all sorts of windows to let your kids know how much you value them: 

At mealtimes: Ask everyone to put away their devices (including you!) and give each other eye contact. If conversation lags, bring along a deck of cards or let one (and only one) cell phone be used for a family game (one of the Powells’ favorite cell phone apps to play together at mealtime is Heads Up!).

On car or plane rides: Look for tech-free and even book-free windows for family conversations and simple fun. The Powells have spent hours together in the car with the low-tech “alphabet game” (looking for letters on signs and license plates) or the higher-tech 94 seconds app. 

At bedtime: Take a bit of extra time to connect with each child. Ask them what they enjoyed most about the day, or what they would change about it. Pray more than your cursory “regular” (and often rushed) bedtime prayer, thanking the Lord for specific qualities you appreciate about your child.

On your next vacation, don’t make this mistake of focusing so much on what your family DOES together that you miss out on the chance to let your family know how much you LIKE them.

What other ideas do you have for building connection during family travel? 

Want more? Check out our Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, created to help you navigate parenting with insights from our Sticky Faith research. Summer is the perfect time to deepen your family’s exploration of faith!

Get Our Family Guide Here


Photo by: Moyan Brenn

“My time with Colin isn’t going like I hoped. I keep trying to bring up big topics and he hardly responds.”

My husband Dave’s friend, Doug, was in a panic. To commemorate his son Colin’s sixteenth birthday, Doug told Colin he’d take him anywhere in the US for a three-day vacation. Just the two of them. 

Doug had visions of long conversations. Deep sharing. 

Colin was more interested in seeing movies and tracking down the best cheesecake New York had to offer. 

Doug’s text to Dave was punctuated with anxiety. For months, Doug and his wife had saved up for this trip. So far this vacation wasn’t yielding the relational R.O.I. that Doug had anticipated.

Or was it? 

Based on research we’ve done for The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, I suggested Dave text back this response: “Totally understand. Colin’s a good kid. More important than what you do or talk about together is the way Colin feels around you. He’ll remember how he feels long after he’s forgotten about the cheesecake.”

It’s not that family events and activities don’t matter. It’s that their value comes from being a platform for your kids to know you’re crazy about them. You really care. You care so much that even when your kids kick away from you, or rebuff your attempts to connect with them, you don’t withdraw. 

You stay present. 

Available. 

Even reaching out toward them. 

I’m guessing you want a positive, life-giving, long-term relationship with your children. Think about other relationships in your life that offer that to you. Most likely the magnet that draws you to those people is more about how they make you feel about yourself and less about what you’ve actually done together. 

In between seeing the sights or relaxing at the lake, your next family vacation offers all sorts of windows to let your kids know how much you value them: 

At mealtimes: Ask everyone to put away their devices (including you!) and give each other eye contact. If conversation lags, bring along a deck of cards or let one (and only one) cell phone be used for a family game (one of the Powells’ favorite cell phone apps to play together at mealtime is Heads Up!).

On car or plane rides: Look for tech-free and even book-free windows for family conversations and simple fun. The Powells have spent hours together in the car with the low-tech “alphabet game” (looking for letters on signs and license plates) or the higher-tech 94 seconds app. 

At bedtime: Take a bit of extra time to connect with each child. Ask them what they enjoyed most about the day, or what they would change about it. Pray more than your cursory “regular” (and often rushed) bedtime prayer, thanking the Lord for specific qualities you appreciate about your child.

On your next vacation, don’t make this mistake of focusing so much on what your family DOES together that you miss out on the chance to let your family know how much you LIKE them.


I’ve never heard God speak to me audibly. But four years ago as I was praying about the research God wanted the Fuller Youth Institute to do after Sticky Faith, I was pretty sure he pointed me in the right direction.

That particular morning as I was praying and journaling about our future, I wrote these thoughts: “Sticky Faith studied young people themselves. Now we need to study congregations that are really good at reaching young people.”

Those fairly vague phrases penned on a yellow tablet on the navy blue couch in my living room evolved into a dream—the passion of which has startled even me.

I can think of no better way to change a country—any country—than through a reinvigorated church. I can think of no better way to change a church than infusing it with passionate young people.

I can think of no better way to develop passionate young people than to help them understand that God’s grace, love, and mission answer their deepest heart cries.
 

Telling A New Story


There’s so much bad news about churches today. Legitimately so. The best data shows that most churches are shrinking and aging.

But in the midst of this depressing landscape, there are amazing churches beating the odds. They are heroic. And they are bright lights in the midst of the all-too-often gloomy narratives and research about churches.

Funded by four amazing foundations, the primary goal of our last three years of research has been to understand how and why exemplary churches are effectively engaging 15 to 29 year-olds.

Put more simply, we studied churches that are growing, and growing young.
 

The Process


How did the Fuller Youth Institute team study these “bright spot” churches?

  • Nominations: We received nominations of 363 amazing churches from 35 highly respected leaders, ranging from denominational and national leaders to academic scholars.
  • Stage One: We received surveys from the senior pastor and youth and/or young adult pastor at 259 of those churches.
  • Stage Two: We interviewed 41 of the most noteworthy churches. Almost always by telephone, our research team conducted one-hour interviews with a total of 535 young people, parents, church staff, and volunteers across these congregations.
  • Stage Three: We sent teams of two or three researchers to visit 12 of these 41 congregations. By spending a handful of days at each congregation, we were able to experience both their congregational worship services and age-specific ministries, as well as conduct in-person interviews and focus groups with young people, parents, volunteers, congregational members, and leadership staff.

In total, these three stages of research helped us amass over 10,000 hours of research personnel time, 10,000 pages of data, and interviews or surveys with 474 young people and 799 adults.

To our delight, these congregations represented amazing diversity in size, geographic region, denomination/tradition (or lack thereof), and age. Particularly thrilling is that over half of the churches we studied during the project were not predominantly white.

In other words, there are no insurmountable barriers for a church determined to grow young.
 

Coming This Fall: Growing Young


One resource that showcases all we learned is a new Growing Young book that Jake Mulder, Brad Griffin and I wrote that will be released on September 20th with Baker Books. 

Growing Young walks through the six core commitments we’ve found to be most common in churches growing young, and also the ten things you don’t need to reach young people. (Spoiler alert: a super cool senior pastor in skinny jeans is on the “ten things you don’t need” and not one of the “six core commitments.” Some of you are exhaling a sigh of relief at that one.)

I care about books like this one because they change how people think. I care about changing how people think because that changes how we love and serve all generations, but in this case, teenagers and emerging adults.  

More than any other book project, Growing Young has expanded my vision for all God intends for every congregation. And our research has given me confidence that change is feasible for any church. Including yours.
 

There’s more to come.


Our team is spending all summer developing additional tools to help your church grow young. I don’t want to spill the beans yet (and in all candor, we are still figuring out exactly what those tools are), but we aren’t going to leave you alone in the change process. We are going to walk with you. And learn with you and from you.

It’s going to be a grand adventure. Journeying with you is going to make it even better.

 

I Want Updates On Growing Young


Photo by Jonathan Nardi

“You’re so addicted to that phone!”

“You can’t stop playing that game. It’s like you’re addicted.”

“Why are you such an addict with social media?”


Ever heard phrases like this from parents to teenagers—or maybe from your own mouth?

You don’t need us to tell you that mobile devices are pervasive in our culture, specifically among teenagers. Roughly 3 out of 4 teenagers own a smartphone today in the US, granting unprecedented access to and constant contact with their peers and indeed the entire world.

Last week Common Sense Media released a comprehensive research brief on technology addiction among kids and teenagers. Addiction has been a buzzword swirling around young people and digital media for a while.

We’re as concerned as anyone about this at FYI. So much so that recently we researched and developed a resource for parents called Right Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World. As parents and researchers, we agree that families need deeper understanding and more sanity around our digitally-connected lives. Or as one mom shared with us, we need more thoughtful things to say to our kids than just “Put that thing down!” 

That said, we all need to exercise caution before assigning language like “addiction” to technology use. Here are three reasons why calling your teenager a technology/cell phone/social media/gaming addict might not be a good idea:
 

1. It’s probably not addiction.


According to the Common Sense Media report, one out of every two teens “feels” addicted to their mobile device. But what does that mean? How is it defined? In particular, how do young people themselves understand addiction?

In the medical and psychological world, the term addiction refers to a behavior that is persistent, pervasive, compulsive, and that interferes with daily life on a regular basis. While we might nod our heads when we think about device usage in light of this, truthfully most of us are unqualified to diagnose addiction. Further, it’s telling that so few of us seek treatment for our kids for these “addictions.” It seems we’ve mainstreamed the term as something we don’t really take seriously.

It’s possible that our over-naming and normalizing of addiction language could actually prevent us from seeing and treating true addiction. This is a problem. It’s especially problematic because some young people are, in fact, addicted to aspects of technological interaction. Compulsive gaming and online pornography use offer some of the most evident examples. But if we call everything addiction, parents and young people will grow less and less likely to seek help when it’s really needed.
 

2. Addiction language is stigmatizing.


If one out of every two teens feels addicted to devices, nearly two out of three parents feel the same way about their kids. This tells us that parents may be using “addiction” language as they talk with their kids about device usage. Especially since 66 percent of parents feel like their teenagers spend too much time on devices.

Further, about one third of both parents and teens report arguing on an almost daily basis about device use. We’re left to wonder how often that word “addicted” comes into play. When it does, how do young people feel? Have you ever been called an addict? Addiction carries a stigma, it’s shaming, and it can define someone by their behavior.

Young people are growing up in a world where digitally-connected media forms are all around them. This is the only world they’ve ever known. They are trying to figure out how to navigate that world, and they also happen to be drawn like sponges to most of what the digital world offers. The last thing they need from us is to be shamed for trying to stay afloat on the only waters they’ve sailed.

Most of the time our attention is more effective than shaming. Even when we suspect true addiction, opening with accusations is rarely effective.
 

3. We don’t know enough yet about how technological shifts are actually changing us.


This line from the Common Sense Media report sums it up well: “Research on Internet use and children is complicated and varied and, most importantly, woefully incomplete.” In our own research for the parent guide Right Click, coauthor and media researcher Art Bamford came to much the same conclusion after extensive literature review. We just don’t know enough yet.

First of all, very little in-depth research is conducted with teenagers or children. The vast majority of actual research on digital media has been done with adults over age 18. This is primarily because it’s much easier to get studies of adult subjects approved by research ethics boards, and parental permission is required before studying minors, so researchers tend to stick with adults when it comes to legitimate studies.

Second, this is all so new that there has not been enough time to research the long-term effects of most kinds of digital media use. Again, especially among children.

There are things we do know that apply to adults and kids—like heavy media multitasking doesn’t actually work for any of us (our brains aren’t wired for it, no matter what we might think). But there’s a lot we simply do not have research data to explore. Prematurely suggesting that technology use is going to cause any number of positive or negative outcomes in your child’s future is simply guesswork.

And like many areas of life, balance is emerging as one of the more helpful early indicators of navigating the digital world well. But you probably don’t need research to know that.
 

So how can we talk about digital media in our family instead?


If calling our kids addicts doesn’t help, what does?

For starters, parents can turn the mirror toward themselves and ask questions about what their own behaviors model for their kids.

According to the Common Sense report, nearly 80 percent of teenagers report checking their devices at least once hourly, but so do nearly 70 percent of parents. Kids agree something is amiss here. Nearly half agree that their parents are regularly distracted by devices when teenagers are trying to talk to them. Half of them also see their parents checking mobile devices while driving, and while two thirds say there is a “no device rule” at the dinner table, about a third say their parents are likely to break that rule during dinner. Finally, a third of kids ages 8-13 say they feel unimportant when their parents are distracted by their phones.

How can we begin to talk about and create healthy boundaries around media use in the home? Here are five quick tips and resources you can access right now: 

1. Set media boundaries … together.

As parents, we are both the gatekeepers and the empowerers of our kids’ media engagement. Sure, school plays a role in ways we sometimes can’t regulate. But we often have more purview than we realize over media choices. Of course we face the classic plea of “everyone’s doing it.” But ultimately? No, your fourth grader doesn’t “need” a smartphone. Or your eighth grader, honestly. That doesn’t mean you are a bad parent for giving them one. It does, however, mean we are accountable from the moment we allow our child to access a device, app, game, platform, or interface for what they are seeing, saying, doing, and sharing. That’s a big deal.

While we hold the bottom line as parents, that doesn’t mean we should dictate every rule and regulation in the home. The best boundary-setting around media use happens when parents and kids talk together about what a “normal” routine should look like, and then hold each other accountable. If that’s a tough conversation for your family, we’ve created a free downloadable tool you can use to have a fresh conversation with your family this week.
 

2. Learn how to review apps.

Or better yet, require your kids to complete this Request for App form and give you at least 24 hours to make a decision before they download anything. This brief form pushes them to do a little research on things like privacy, sharing, and personal information the app will collect. If you don’t like forms, the questions themselves can help guide a less formal conversation with your teenager.
 

3. Don’t let gaming game you.

Wringing your hands about the new games your kids acquired recently—or about how much time they’re sinking into playing? Here are ten things every parent should know about gaming to give you a leg up in this game.
 

4. Draw the age line.

Have a kid under 13 asking to use social media? Here’s an easy way to say no: the law. Read more about why, plus a handful of other tips on making age determinations and helping them join social media.
 

5. Have a good answer to the retort, “That’s not fair!”

Not all kids are ready for the same things at the same time, and that’s doubly true with technology. As your kids begin to use new technology, you might find that one takes care of their device while another is careless, or one makes good choices while another struggles. Here are some tips for navigating this dilemma.

Finally, keep in mind that teenagers still typically prefer face-to-face interaction with their friends. They use social media and devices because they can, and often because they feel like they have to, but they’d rather be hanging out in person most of the time.
 

In other words, most teenagers aren’t addicted to media; they’re obsessed with each other. Just like always.

We can affirm the positive sides of social interaction among teens, and as parents we can work to facilitate it. That might mean intervening at times to take a text conversation to real life (“How about we invite her over to hang out with you?”) or restricting device use when kids are together in person (“For the next hour, all devices in this basket. We’re going for ice cream phone-free!”)

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about the insights and strategies we’ve shared in Right Click, go ahead and download a free chapter now. We’d love to help! 
 


Photo by dejah greene

This guest post is from Dr. Dave Zovak. A Fuller grad, Dave is a Christian leadership coach and educator in Asia, helping leaders and educators bring their best to their missions. He’s also the father of a college student and a high school student.


“Where are you going to college?” is one of the most frequent and emotionally-loaded questions faced by high school seniors during second semester. For Christian students, it may be their first big “discerning God’s will” decision. So many expectations (from parents, teachers, friends, themselves) are attached to the answer of that question that it can be completely overwhelming. Especially for those who are fortunate enough to have options among which to choose.

It’s no wonder many students just shrug and try to change the subject.

At a time in life when these young people are just beginning to discover who they are, they are presented with the challenge to make a decision that seems to carry the weight of the rest of their lives. While adults know that college choice does not determine a young person’s fate, our questions and expectations can sure add to that feeling. So as parents, youth leaders, and adult friends, we have the opportunity to encourage students to approach this challenge with grace, faith, and wisdom. Here are some suggestions that may help you point them toward God as they wrestle with this big decision.
 

Frame it as a stewardship decision
 

Stewardship isn’t just about money; it’s about seeing our whole lives as resources to be directed toward God’s purposes and priorities. Students need to ask themselves, “What has God specifically entrusted to me?” The answer will include their strengths, passions, bodies, minds, family backgrounds, weaknesses, and limitations. The better they know themselves, the better they will be able to be effective stewards of their lives. Similarly, they might ask, “What values does God want me to live by?”

Once young people begin to discern this big-picture stewardship, we can encourage them to ask God how he wants them to invest their time, energy, and resources in the next season of life. This includes where they go to college and what major they choose.

It also includes financial stewardship, which is a major consideration for most college students today. Hopefully, students and parents have already talked and developed a plan for paying for college. However, the details of financial aid and scholarships are frequently not known until the last stages of the application process, so families need to revisit this critical dimension in college selection. Student debt impacts graduates in significant ways, creating financial stress and limiting life choice options as “paying off school debt” becomes a ever-present reality.[1] For most students, financing college without incurring crippling debt will require making some difficult and uncomfortable choices. However, wrestling through these challenges offer students (and parents) real-life opportunities to seek God’s guidance, provision, and wisdom. 

The good news is that God is generous with his stewardship and we’re all invited to share in what’s been entrusted to us.
 

Help young people learn to exercise wisdom
 

Wisdom is knowledge applied rightly. In this era of abundant information, wisdom remains of great value, because too much information can be just as limiting as having too little information. So what wisdom is most critical to college-bound seniors and their families?

  1. Make “learning to learn” the goal. It’s been estimated that more than half of the jobs and knowledge required for employment in four years hasn’t even been discovered or invented yet.[2] Gone are the days of learning a single trade and staying in that role for decades. Becoming an effective learner is the best preparation for present and future success. This includes identifying one’s preferred learning styles and leveraging them well.
     
  2. Develop self-control. Research has shown that those who learn to delay gratification (i.e., deny a momentary pleasure for a long-term gain) are significantly more successful, happy, and healthy.[3] This is developed by exercising one’s body, mind, and spirit. Saying “yes” to health and “no” to excess is a skill nearly everyone needs strengthening.
     
  3. Explore new realms. For most, the college experience is about expanding horizons and discovering potential. Students grow by taking risks, stretching themselves, and learning from the struggle of integrating new information with established beliefs. Therefore, making friends with people who are different serves to both expand their worldviews as well as solidify their own convictions. Additionally, finding “safe people” with whom to process is critical for healthy identity development. God created each person to grow and mature, so when choosing a college, students should look for one that will help them explore diversity in a supportive environment.
     

Remember to Rest in God
 

Lastly, encourage students to remember that as they seek to honor God with their decision about college (and all the other decisions that follow), they have a Father in heaven who loves them and wants good for them. Their identity as a beloved child of God is secure, and God is eager to lead them forward into the odyssey of adulthood.

 

[1] Student Loan Debt: The Best and Worst Debt to Have, Robert Farrington, Forbes, April 21, 2014. Life Delayed: The Impact of Student Debt on the Daily Lives of Young Americans, http://www.asa.org/site/assets/files/3793/life_delayed.pdf

[2] “By one estimate, 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet.” Cathy N. Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, p. 18.

[3] Jonah Lehrer, “Don’t! The secret of self-control,” The New Yorker, Dept. of Science, May 18, 2009.


Photo by Amanda Tipton

Just in time for your spring break service trips, The Sticky Faith Service Guide offers practical and field-tested exercises on how to translate short-term work into long-term change. Whether it’s a half-day local service project or a two-week trip overseas this summer, this resource will benefit both your students and the communities you serve.


When I heard about FYI’s research among high school students revealing the three BIG things they are hoping for in their youth ministries, I thought, wow, the things they want and the things we can provide are really within our reach.

Students responded by saying they wanted more:

  • Meaningful relationships
  • Opportunities to serve others
  • Mission trips[1]

I wondered what it would take to make the latter two happen more often? Honestly, we’re pretty good about making meaningful relationships a priority. But the other two can feel more like seasonal experiences rather than part of the DNA of our weekly ministries.

Serving others in compassion is something God has called all of us to care about, but it can be a difficult thing to make a priority when ALL OF THE 5,008,983 other youth ministry tasks need our attention.

I had to look at what we hoped for, and begin to make choices out of that hope, instead of making choices out of the fear of missing out on something else. If serving is important (God says it is, high school students say it is), then we may need to make some adjustments to reflect its importance.


For me it started with two questions:

“How do we use our resources (time, leaders, ministry dollars, and focus) to influence our ministry program and relationships to deliver the things teens long for most?”

And the equally important question: “How do I do all of that sooner?”

The answer is to the second question is MIDDLE SCHOOL MINISTRY. The answer to the first question is LEADERS.


Why we need to help middle schoolers serve

If we want something to exist in high school ministry, then we need to begin to build the culture and framework in middle school ministry. Starting sooner supports a rhythm we want to see exist later.

Developmentally, we’re working with students who are asking big questions. Who am I? Do I belong? Do I have anything significant to contribute? Even though much of their time during middle school is spent looking inward, giving them opportunities to look outward also affirm their identity, belonging, and feelings of significance. If you want a kid to feel significant, give them something significant to do.

Looking out also widens perspective. A teenager may feel alone, confused, or in need of help. Seeing the needs of someone else can serve as a source of comfort. When they can see that everyone has needs, they realize that being needy doesn’t make a person less valuable.

But how do we go about doing it? How do we build relationships that collectively value serving the poor, oppressed, the sick, or anyone in need? Especially when middle schoolers are in a developmental phase that needs so much personal affirmation and support. How do we get a kid who’s saying “I NEED YOU” to also say “I’LL HELP OTHERS”?

In the early days, I leaned on curriculum and creative programming a lot. I thought passion + good resources + a mission trip = students motivated to serve.

While all of these are catalytic, good, and needed, I think there’s something else that needs to be in place. Without it, it could take away any opportunity to provide what students look for most in a youth ministry.

That something is actually a somebody, many bodies, humans who volunteer in our youth ministries.

There’s a correlation between what they want and who is around them.

They want to serve.

They want to explore.

They want to discover.

But they want to do it in the context of affirming relationships.

Before the plan, we have to build the team, even if it’s small, like one parent leading one kid, and even if it’s a big team, like one dozen leaders leading one hundred students.


Building a team of adults to lead middle schoolers in service

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Which leads us to ask, What does a leader look like? What kind of person helps us launch kids into significant opportunities to serve (and walks them through those experiences)?

You can begin by looking for big-hearted, justice-minded, service-oriented volunteers who are willing to walk with middle schoolers as they are taking their first service steps, as they are learning how to look out, as they are experiencing new emotions. These are also the people who will celebrate the smallest discoveries and see the unique contribution that every kid has in an environment. Middle schoolers often feel like there is no one to sort things out with, no one to bounce thoughts off of, and nobody to notice what is happening in their world. Give them more of those kinds of adults in their lives.

I’ll never forget the time I took a group of middle school students to a nonprofit to do some outdoor maintenance work. The job was to break the concrete from the bottoms of uprooted fence posts.

The smallest middle school guy on the team wanted to swing the sledgehammer. Our leadership team wasn’t so sure he could pick up the equipment. Swinging it may be complicated. But his energy trumped his physical strength and he started killing that post. Concrete was flying everywhere, and his eye goggles fogged with dust and particles. On his final upswing he yelled out,

“I FEEL SO ALIVE!”

It was awesome.

Not only was seeing him find joy in serving awesome, but it was also awesome to have a conversation later about why it made him feel like he was truly living, and how that is different from other days.

In meaningful conversations like this, we find the places where we can take students deeper in their journey toward serving others and sharing God’s love and justice in the world. That’s when I realized that it’s not so much about what we do in this life as it is about who we get to do life with. Middle schoolers need a person, someone who can process things with them, someone who can walk with them, grow with them, be there for the highs and the lows.


Six characteristics to develop in yourself and other middle school leaders

There’s a classic list found in Wayne Rice’s Junior High Ministry used to describe the best middle school volunteers. I love this list. It has been a guide for me since my first day in youth ministry. If you take this list and align it with the priority to create meaningful experiences to serve, you’ll find something really cool happens.

Middle schoolers will feel liked, loved, affirmed, and motivated to do incredible things out of hearts being formed in a culture of love and possibility.

If you want to build a solid serving ministry in your middle school group, you’re going to want to build a solid group of volunteers who are committed to doing that together with you. Here are 6 things I adapted from Wayne’s list to help you be the type of leader that leads students to justice, to serving, and to having missional hearts.

  • A desire to understand middle schoolers. If you can understand a middle school kid, you can create better experiences for them to serve others. You will better know what will make sense to them developmentally or what will frustrate them. You’ll be more creative and able to think with their shoes on, think with their backpacks on, and think with their need for affirmation and exploration in mind.
     
  • A heart that likes middle schoolers. Middle school students can tell if you like them and they’ll be more likely to say “yes” when someone who likes them asks them to serve. How many of us wanted to do work for a grumpy teacher who had a passion for teaching but was missing the ability to like their students? The kids who feel most connected in small groups, or with an adult leader, are the first ones to jump to their feet when we ask for help putting away chairs or volunteering for a project.
     
  • A patient spirit. Things take time. Regardless which age group you are working with. But you can be sure that with middle school students you will not finish most of the projects you begin. You will not usually raise all of the money you hope to raise. You will not have more kids show up for serving than you do for the sugar. If you let frustration defeat you, you’ll give up before the good conversations can happen. You’ll give in and miss a chance to go deeper. Persistence guarantees results. Your commitment to working with squirrelly middle school kids will help them grow into people who believe that no matter how chaotic or slow serving or seeking justice is, it matters, and is worth the time it takes.
     
  • An awesome listener. Never miss an opportunity to talk to kids while serving. Start at church, or in your home. What are you thinking about? What valuable things are you learning while you’re serving? What special gifts do the people you’re serving give back to you? How do you feel when you do something without needing anything in return? Sometimes middle schoolers get frustrated when they serve because they see a mirror image of their own life (my family is broken too, we don’t have much money either) or they feel such empathy for something so different than their life (they see the contrast and wonder why). Let them ask questions and be good about encouraging them to form answers.
     
  • A positive perspective. There was a time when our youth group showed up to serve and we weren’t quite early enough to get a spot serving the food, passing out waters, or greeting. There were simply way too many volunteers and we had missed the chance to be on the frontlines. Instead we walked around the neighborhood and talked. We prayed a little, but mostly talked and tried to keep everyone’s spirits high. We didn’t get to do the thing they had been hoping to do, share a meal with friends who needed one. But we had a chance to learn about a neighborhood, learn about each other, and at the end of our walk someone thanked us for being well-behaved kids in the street. It was a little thing, but I was so proud. They had set an example. That was their act of worship, their opportunity to serve, on that day. When nothing seems to get done. When everyone spends five minutes each working and the rest of the time is spent goofing off. Think about how many chances you get in a year to spend time showing you care and be positive. Kids have enough negativity in their lives. Try to overwhelm them with the good you see, camp out in that, and let the times you do have be the tools you need to share what it’s like to serve as a lifestyle.
     
  • A flexible posture. What if you’re too busy to serve? How will you convince kids with homework that weighs more than they do that they can make time? If we want to lead students to serving, we need to take a look at our own lives and ask ourselves how flexible we are being. What can go from your life in order to make room for the priority of loving others? Make time in your family or youth ministry calendar for serving others. If you do it as a team, family, or as a leader, your ministry will reflect the priority. It’s one thing to say you want something in your ministry, another thing to go after it.

Pablo Picasso did some nice things in his lifetime. Some would even say he was inspired; okay, maybe a lot inspired. He was rejected a lot, but persisted until his art made an impact. He was known to say, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

I believe the same is true for us as we try to balance the youth ministries (in our homes or in our churches) to reflect God’s care for the poor and for those in need. We can’t ignore it if we believe there is a pathway to doing it. So we need to show up. We need to build a team of people who like middle schoolers so much that they are willing to sweat with them and stay with them, no matter what happens. And that team begins with us, and with who we are becoming as leaders who love our students and lead them well.

Literally being willing to sweat together, ask questions together, understand each other, and making time together will change the landscape of your middle school ministry. Maybe even the landscape of your own life.


Action Steps
  1. Ask a question. Is serving others a priority in my life? Checking your heart and making serving a priority will give you credibility when you ask others to join you. You’ll be able to empathize with others as you reflect during the times when you don’t feel like serving. You’ll be able to share both the joys and lessons learned. But most of all you’ll be able to set an example for the kids and adults in your ministry.
     
  2. Help your team listen by providing great questions. Sometimes finding out how your students would like to serve is as easy as asking a question. “What kinds of things would you like to do to help others? Is there something that really blesses you that you’d like to give back to?” If you use small group material, add an additional question about how the lesson can help everyone look outward. Get small groups serving together. Make it a point to connect with leaders and get feedback.
     
  3. Make a list of 100 things you like about middle schoolers. Start an email with your team and keep replying until you have 100 things. You’ll be amazed at what your team comes up with! It’ll also serve as a double win for your team on those days when it’s easy to be negative. If you have someone with a design mind on your team, capture the list in a PDF and make art for your walls, include it on your ministry website or social media page. (100 things we like about middle school people”) Keep the positive vibes in front of you!

 

 

[1] See Kara Powell, Brad M. Griffin, and Cheryl Crawford, Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 141.


This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?


“Someday, someday soon, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn to have a conversation.”[1]

This is just one of a number of eye-opening statements made by high school and college-aged students in the new book by renowned MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Turkle provides a sprawling and insightful analysis of how digital media are reshaping our lives as individuals, in relationships, and as a broader society. But unlike other commentators who have explored these same trends, Turkle builds a compelling case for what really seems to be at stake: as we lose conversation, we lose community.

Turkle addresses this crucial connection between conversation and community by describing how “We have moved from being in community to having a sense of community.” A digital “sense” of connectedness is replacing or impeding our ways of “being” incarnate (“in the flesh”) with one another.[2]

The result adds up to something we might call phantom community.

Like the phenomenon known as a phantom limb, Turkle describes digital media as producing a sensation of attachment and connection that dully feels like the real thing but is not. It is something that persists as a person acclimates his or herself to living without what had once been taken for granted as always available.

For adults, digital media has disruptively demanded our attention away, like a stubborn toddler tugging at a sleeve and crying, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” But what is fascinating about Turkle’s latest research is how she sees this adult distractedness having an increasingly noxious effect on today’s young people. Whereas digital media seems to have damaged the way adults interact with one another, it is now making it seemingly impossible for young people to learn how to have relationships in the first place.

Perhaps most importantly, Turkle argues, we are in the midst of a “crisis of empathy.” Middle schools are now adapting their curricula to try to teach emotional intelligence at a very basic level. As one teacher describes it, “[student] friendships seem based on what students think someone else can do for them … kids have a sense that friendships are one-sided. It is a place for them to broadcast. It is not a place for them to listen. And there isn’t an emotional level.”[3]

Similarly, Turkle describes a study that found “a 40 percent drop in empathy among college students in the past twenty years … a decline its authors suggested was due to students having less direct face-to-face contact with each other.”[4]

This is important because—as scientific research, the arts, and philosophy all agree—empathy functions as the fundamental distinction between a group of people and a community. We form into communities not by means of proximity or mere connectedness but rather because we know each other and care about one another. We have done the self-reflective work of deciding that we belong and are invested in the lives of a particular group of others. Riding on a public transit bus is belonging to a group of people; riding in a bus on the way to a church youth group retreat is belonging to a community.

Reclaiming Conversation presents us with both an invitation and a challenge as Christians who place special value on the importance of community and communion with one another. The type of phantom community described throughout the book is an alluring but ultimately unsatisfying (not to mention unhealthy) substitute for the kind of table fellowship we find in scripture—and that so many of us have experienced and enjoyed together. Turkle’s research and reflections challenge us to consider how we might safeguard our church communities from weakening or decaying like so many other facets of life addressed by the book, including education, work, romance, and even family relationships. That is our challenge.

Our invitation comes from the many young people interviewed as part of Turkle’s research. Summarizing these conversations, she writes: “Recently I see an encouraging sign: young people’s discontent.”[5]

As staples like authentic community and invigorating conversation seem to become more and more elusive, young people are beginning to crave, if not covet, these remnants from a pre-digital world. One 2015 study on young people’s digital media usage found that just 36 percent of teens enjoy using social media “a lot,” which was significantly lower than listening to music or watching television.[6] There is an increasingly noticeable disconnect between how much young people are using digital media and how much they actually enjoy using digital media. 

So often our approach in churches, particularly in youth ministry, is to grasp at the latest trends in an attempt to be relevant. But what seems abundantly clear in Reclaiming Conversation is that today’s young people are searching and yearning for something radically countercultural against their world of phantom community. They want to feel and experience true community for themselves.

As a group of fourteen-year-old girls explains: “memories don’t happen when you get a text. It’s the stories you can tell … the best stuff is friends making mistakes together. That’s how people bond. … It’s not like everything is made to be perfect. It’s like you should make mistakes and you should—well, with friends, it’s good to see their faces.”[7]
 


[2] p. 173

[3] p. 8

[4] p. 171 (See also: Sara Konrath, Edward H. O’Brien, and Courtney Hsing, “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students over Time: A Meta-Analysis,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 15, no. 2 (May 1, 2011): 180-98, doi:10.1177/1088868310377395.)

[5] p. 110

[7] p. 174


Photo by blindbeth67

I’m a hard-core goal setter. Perhaps to a fault. Note that I don’t necessarily accomplish all my goals, but I do relish in setting them.

So Dave and I huddle together with our kids on January 1st every year (often during the handful of hours after the Rose Bowl Parade and before the football game) and set family goals. Some missionary friends staying at our house over the holidays wondered more about our family goal setting process so I thought I’d explain what works best for us.

We provide treats for our kids. This year it was Starbucks. Sometimes I make brownies. The youth leader in me finds that treats create a more positive environment. As our kids have become teenagers, they sometimes groan at our attempts at family intentionality. Sugar helps.

We review last year’s goals. Which is adorable. My favorite from 2015 was fourth grade Jessica’s desire to “stop creasing my papers at school.” You’ll be glad to know that goal was accomplished.

We talk about why we set goals. That it helps us be more thoughtful. And mindful. And prayerful. And support each other.

We spend a few minutes thinking individually about our goals. A few of our family members are introverts. They need time.

We each write or draw our goals on a sheet of paper. Dave’s a drawer. I’m a writer but use colorful crayons. The kids vacillate. But markers and crayons let each of us personalize our own sheets of paper.

We each share our goals, explaining why we chose those goals. I think it’s especially valuable for our kids to hear Dave and me explain why we’re choosing to read the Bible, work less, or work out more.

We close in prayer.

Afterward, we make copies of the goals so I keep a copy in my prayer journal, and each person gets a copy of their own goals. To be honest, the kids often misplace their own copies of the goals. I often lose sight of them also. One of my hopes (maybe it’s a goal) this year is to take a few minutes every few months to review our goals together.

There are other flaws in the process, or areas we’d like to improve. Perhaps one year we’ll set collective goals as a family, instead of only individual goals for each family member. Maybe 12 months is too long for our kids and we should think in terms of smaller chunks.

But in the meantime, it’s a new year ritual that we dig. And it’s not too late in 2016 to try this with your own family!


This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?


If your families are anything like ours, the first few weeks of January can be a brutal awakening. Kids are heading back to school, parents are back at work. And while it was great to let your kids indulge in some extra hours watching movies, playing games, and poking around on devices over the holidays, the game changes quickly.

This post-holiday season can be a little disorienting and headache-inducing, but don’t worry. We have a few free tools and ideas you can put to use this month to help get your family rebalanced and back on track for the new year. Here are five quick resources you can access right now:

1. Set screentime boundaries … together. Families everywhere are wondering, “How do I know how much time to allow my kids to be on their devices when they’re at home?” The new year is a great time to establish (or re-establish) healthy family media practices. We’ve created a free handy downloadable tool you can use to have a fresh conversation with your family this week.

2. Learn how to review apps. Or better yet, require your kids to complete this handy Request for App form and give you at least 24 hours to make a decision before they download anything. This brief form pushes them to do a little research on things like privacy, sharing, and personal information the app will collect. If you don’t like forms, the questions themselves can help guide a less formal conversation with your teenager.

3. Don’t let gaming game you. Wringing your hands about the new games your kids acquired this Christmas—or about how much time they’re sinking into playing? Here are ten things every parent should know about gaming to give you a leg up in this game.

4. Draw the age line. Have a kid under 13 asking to use social media? Here’s an easy way to say no: the law. Read more about why, plus a handful of other tips on making age determinations.

5. Have a good answer to the retort, “That’s not fair!” Not all kids are ready for the same things at the same time, and that’s doubly true with technology. As your kids are using new technology in this post-holiday season, you might find that one takes care of their device while another is careless, or one makes good choices while another struggles. Here are some tips for navigating this dilemma.

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about the insights and strategies we’ve shared in Right Click, go ahead and download a free chapter now. We’d love to help!

What tips have you found helpful to navigate the post-holiday digital tech hangover?


This post is part of a series celebrating our newest parent resource, Right Click. Feel like your kids are drowning in a sea of new questions, apps, and devices? Want to talk about digital media more with your kids, but aren’t sure how? Focused on helping parents think and talk differently about digital media, Right Click equips families like yours to approach this new connected world like a team. What’s your #rightclick?


Is an Apple Watch on your teenager’s wish list this year? Don’t be surprised.

Following an initial launch aimed at adult techies with money to burn, Apple has begun aggressively marketing their new [digital smart] Watch to a much younger audience this Christmas season. If the recent ads are any indication, Apple is intent on making this new wearable device as ubiquitous as smart phones and MP3 playing pods have become over the past few decades.

But in a world full of teens who already seem glued to digital screens, the thought of yet another glowing device, and one that is literally attached to them, has many parents wishing they could turn the clock back to when a Mickey Mouse timepiece would suffice. 

Although the Apple Watch is still way too expensive for many of us to even consider buying for our kids (not to mention ourselves), we thought it might be helpful to begin thinking about how to discuss this; with each other as adults who care about the young people in our lives, as well as with teens who might be considering, asking, or begging for an Apple Watch this Christmas.
 

1. Is it time for a watch?

Wearing a wristwatch, in and of itself, is a responsibility. Remembering to put it on each morning, being mindful to avoid scratches and damage, and knowing when to take it off all requires an adjustment period. A helpful starting point for conversations about the Apple Watch might be, “Can you handle wearing and caring for a wristwatch on a daily basis?” There are way cheaper options on the market with which to teach your kids ‘Watch Wearing 101.’

One recent study found that roughly 66% of college students currently own and wear a wristwatch; 35% reported wearing theirs’ everyday, 32% wore one on occasion, and 34% said they never wear a watch. Interestingly, when the same study asked if these young people were interested in wearable tech like an Apple Watch, just 44% said they were very interested.[1]
 

2. How many hands do you have?  

Earlier this year a friend who had been using a pre-release version of the Apple Watch told me his favorite thing about the watch was how it allowed him to put his phone away, but still casually glance down to be sure he wasn’t missing urgent messages from his spouse or kids.

Adolescents are biologically hardwired to be more hyperconnected and vigilant about checking in with peers than we are as adults. This is why, when it comes to screens, teens tend to be like an over-confident circus performer; always eager and willing to try juggling one more. The Apple Watch may help some adults with putting their phones away but it remains to be seen whether the same will be true for young people.

It is important to think about the Apple Watch as a potential new piece within the existing ecology of digital devices your teen already uses.
 

3. Is this about fashion or function?

Conversations about digital devices are often very practical and focus on how a young person will use a particular device to connect, study, or play. We tend to overlook how a new digital device has social implications, as a kind of fashion accessory, for today’s teens—which is something the Apple Watch seems to cater to even more than previous devices. It is helpful for adults to remember how, for young people, owning a new device is both a matter of what they’ll be able to do with it and how they will feel about themselves as someone who does or does not have one.

When parents use practical reasons like safety, responsibility, and cost to explain their decisions to not allow a teen to have a new device, it fails to address social and emotional aspects that may feel much more urgent for teens. It is important to talk with young people about how their sense of belonging and self-worth should not be dependent upon what they wear or which devices they use. The old argument that “all my friends have one!” is as much about a young person’s friends and peers as it is the device in question. (If this is a pressure or pain point in your home, we explore this idea in much more depth in Right Click!)
 

4. What does it do?

You probably remember the ads that helped launch Apple’s iPod. Youthful looking silhouettes dancing to upbeat music in front of vibrantly colored backgrounds. These ads instantly told us what the device did and sold many of us on the idea of buying one. By focusing on the fashion side of their watch, Apple has struggled to effectively convey what exactly their latest device actually does.

Most product reviewers have said, as either a praise or criticism of the Watch, that it is essentially a convenient accessory to the iPhone. Not quite the “phone on your wrist” that some speculated it might be, but also not the kind of fun “new toy” that smart phones and portable MP3 players were after their initial releases. Two things that caught our attention about the Watch were that: 1) It does not have a built-in camera, which is a favorite smart phone feature among younger users. 2) In order to reply to a text, or any kind of messaging, users have to either dictate (i.e., speak into the watch) or select from a list of available responses—neither of which seem like appealing alternatives to texting for teens. Plus your iPhone still has to be physically nearby.

Alongside our recognizing the social and emotional side of having a new device to fit in with their peers, it is still very important that we teach young people how to “kick the tires” and take the time to weigh the costs and benefits of purchasing an expensive device. The Apple Watch is going for roughly $350 right now, and it raises many of the same sorts of questions about usefulness, necessity, and additional recurring costs that should be considered for bigger ticket items like laptops, appliances, and automobiles.[2]

Maybe an Apple Watch is still out of the question for your kids but you’re thinking about purchasing one for yourself or your spouse this Christmas. Include kids in this decision-making process to help them learn what kinds of questions to ask, and how to make purchasing decisions that aren’t purely peer-pressure or impulse driven.

 

[1] Lauren Slome. “Most millennials are interested in wearables but only 40% own a device.” Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Research Center; University of Missouri School of Journalism. Dec. 2, 2015. Available at: https://www.rjionline.org/stories/survey-most-millennials-are-interested-in-wearables-but-only-40-percent-own

 

[2] Some Christmas sales are offering cheaper versions but, as always, Apple has a lot of add-on options and products available. Keep in mind that the Watch is tethered to an iPhone as well, so this is in addition to, rather than instead of, the cost of the phone. 


  • Right Click: Parenting Your Teenager In A Digital Media World
  • Sticky Faith Family Training Video Curriculum
  • Can I Ask That Volume 2 Now Available!