By Pr Ho Wei Liang
Over a six-year longitudinal study from 2004-2010 involving more than 500 youths, Christian youth researchers from the Fuller Youth Institute investigated how faith can be more successfully passed on. At the end of it, they pinpointed “steps youth workers, churches, parents, and students themselves can take to help students stay on the Sticky Faith path” (Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition: Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers, p.18). This pastoral message shares some of the steps they recommend, which we as a church can take even as we ponder the implications from Paul’s second letter to Timothy for us.
In correcting his male disciples who were arguing about who is greater, Jesus placed himself and a young child in front of them and said, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (Luke 9:48). Welcoming and caring for children then was a task perceived by the patriarchal society to be reserved for the lesser, i.e., women and slaves. And in the church belonging to Jesus Christ, what makes youths feel welcomed and a significant part of it, more than any programme or event, is when adults make the effort to know them; and that they feel welcomed not just in youth group but in the larger church.
How do we do that? Powell and her co-researchers advocate intergenerational worship where youths and adults not only worship together but serve and lead worship together: as greeters, instrumentalists, choir, and AV crew, among others. This leads naturally to the flourishing of adult-youth interactions and relationships. They note that youths who experienced more intergenerational worship tend to have higher faith maturity. And even for those who opt out of “big church” to serve in children’s ministry, their involvement in serving and building relationships with younger children helps build up faith in them (p.75). Likewise, the role of adult mentors in connecting with and helping youths apply faith to daily life through empowering relationships is important. These relationships can even be based on mutual interests such as baking, soccer, and computer games. Teens who had five or more adults from the church invested in them were less likely to leave the church when they grew up.
It takes a village to raise a child. For our case, it may be better phrased: it takes the church (us all) to pass on faith.