What is ‘Sticky Faith’ and why does it matter?

August 30, 2021

God designed parents to be the primary disciple-makers of their children.

George Barna’s research has found that the greatest influence on the beliefs and practices of teenagers is parents. In his book “Real Teens,” Barna writes, “Half (of teens) said that their parents have the greatest influence on their spiritual development, identified three times as often as the next most prolific source of faith influence.”

Sadly, only 4% of Generation Z — generally considered those who were born after 1996 — have a biblical worldview. A biblical worldview is grounded in biblical teaching, but you can’t align your life to the truth of the Bible if you don’t know what it says. That’s why everything begins and ends with the study of God as revealed in Scripture. Our worldview shapes our values, which in turn influences our behavior.

When it comes to raising kids with a secure faith, the single most decisive influence is the parents. Parents need to understand and grasp their role as primary disciple-makers. As ministry leaders, we can help build what Kara Powell calls “sticky faith.”

When it comes to raising kids with a secure faith, the single most decisive influence is the parents.

In her book, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Powell defines “sticky faith” as “a powerful strategy to show parents and ministry leaders how to actively encourage their young people’s spiritual growth so that it will stick with them into adulthood and empower them to develop a lasting faith. It is part of a student’s inner thoughts and emotions and is also externalized in choices and actions that reflect this faith commitment.”

As elementary students get older, their adolescent brain transitions developmentally to more abstract thinking and allows for deeper thought. For some, doubts arise. How doubts are handled can have a potent effect on faith. Students accustomed to having a safe place to openly express and wrestle with their doubts tended to have a more mature faith. Conversely, doubts kept secret and never addressed tended to erode a student’s faith.

To help break old habits of lecturing and spoon-feeding answers, instead ignite conversation. Powell has suggested responding to tough questions with, “I don’t know, but…” and then extending an invitation to learn together, or by saying, “I don’t know, but here’s what I do know about God…” and then sharing what the Bible says.

In addition to the influence of parents, the “Sticky Faith” study found that students’ participation in corporate worship with the entire congregation during high school was consistently linked with developing a mature faith in both high school and college.

Churches and families wanting to instill deep faith in youth should help them build a web of relationships with committed and caring adults at church, some of whom may serve as intentional mentors.


by Merrie Johnson  
/  Youth Evangelism and Discipleship  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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