Developing 'Sticky Faith' among Teens

What initially started out as research projects on the exodus of young people from churches after high school has turned into a movement to help the younger generation thrive in their faith.

The Fuller Youth Institute is calling it the "Sticky Faith" movement. The aim is simply to help teenagers develop sticky faith.

Approximately 40 percent of youth group seniors significantly struggle with their faith and finding a church after graduation. Only 16 percent of college freshmen felt well prepared by their youth ministries for what they encountered after high school.

With many students leaving their faith or at least tucking their faith away during college, the Fuller Youth Institute has tackled the serious matter with research and is beginning to develop resources geared toward high school seniors in youth groups.

The institute has released the pilot version of a new sticky faith curriculum, hoping to get feedback from youth group pastors before releasing the revised and full version next year.

The goal of the resource is to help students develop a faith that is part of their inner thoughts and emotions and that is also externalized in choices and actions. These behaviors include regular church attendance, Bible reading, prayer and lower participation in risk behaviors such as drinking alcohol.

Research conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute has shown that young people are not abandoning their faith because of a hostile college environment – such as college professors and peers confusing them about their beliefs. Interest in "spirituality," as some have speculated, was also found not to be a big threat to their Christian faith.

What many college students are doing, however, is storing their religious beliefs and practices in an "identity lockbox," according to Tim Clydesdale, associate professor of sociology at The College of New Jersey.

The lockbox "protects religious identities, along with political, racial, gender, and civic identities, from tampering that might affect their holders' future entry into the American cultural mainstream."

With students tucking away their faith identity, the Fuller Youth Institute determined that identity development is critical for creating sticky faith.

Identity, the institute says, is a mix of what we think about ourselves and what others think and portray to us about ourselves, which inevitably influences, if not determines, the choices we make and the way we relate to God and to others.

Fuller's new curriculum provides exercises to get students to think about their faith and their identity and where they want to be, particularly in their relationship with God, a year from now. It also addresses the problem many college students encounter – finding a church after high school graduation.

The new resource comes years after the Fuller Youth Institute launched the College Transition Project, a collection of initiatives studying over 400 youth group graduates from around the United States during their transition to college. The goals of the project were to better understand the dynamics of life after youth group, and to pinpoint steps that parents, youth leaders, churches, and students themselves could take to help launch students on trajectories of lifelong faith and service.