Sticky Faith - Part I

by Steve Wood

The Educational Emergency Declared by Pope Benedict XVI“The crisis of a society begins when it no longer knows how to hand down its cultural patrimony and its fundamental values to the new generations.There is, as we know, an educational emergency, which in order to be faced requires parents and teachers capable of sharing all the goodness and truth that they have experienced deeply first-hand.”How Can Families Successfully Pass on the Faith and Prevent Faith-Washout?The secret for lasting faith formation in families is summed up in one word: fathers. Below is my letter to Pope Benedict XVI in response to his declaration of an educational crisis and the need for parents to pass on the Faith. I received a kind and gracious thank you note from the Holy Father.Dear Most Holy Father:With heartfelt agreement, I read of your recent pointed remarks concerning the “educational emergency” that exists in passing on the Faith and true Christian values to new generations.I believe that a substantial part of the solution to this crisis is Christian fathers re-discovering their role as family catechists and moral leaders. It is my experience that fathers require an explicit and specific challenge in order to respond to this responsibility.  When contemporary men hear it mentioned that catechesis is a “parents’ responsibility,” most men will assume this exhortation is directed to their wives.For your reflection, on pages 125 – 132 of the enclosed book [Legacy], I attempt to make the case why fathers are so critical in the cultural situation in which we find ourselves.Thank you for your gracious consideration and your efforts on behalf of the family and the next generation.Very respectfully yours,Stephen WoodIf fathers are the key for passing on the Faith and preventing washout, then an educational priority should be the training of fathers for their faith formation task. Is this a priority for your parish and local men’s group?Psalm 78 – Faithful Fathers Prevent Faith Washout“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders which he has wrought.He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”Sticky Faith – Part ITwo professors from Fuller Seminary have written an insightful book entitled, Sticky Faith. These researchers tried to discover precisely which type of youth ministry is actually capable of reversing the epidemic of 40 to 50 percent of young people who graduate from church youth groups and then fail to stick with their faith in college. What exactly can churches and parents do to make the faith stick?The book cites a six-year nationwide research project that identified 13 different youth ministry strategies. Of these 13, the youth ministry strategy that stood out the most was intergenerational worship and discipleship. In other words, the best youth strategy for reversing the epidemic of college students abandoning the church was non-segregation of high school students into youth groups which keep them separated from their parents and other adults in the congregation as they grow in Christ.Evangelical Protestants have spent the past half century developing the most intensive and comprehensive youth ministries in the 2000 year history of Christianity. Many Evangelical youth ministry leaders now realize that their fifty-year experiment in youth ministry needs a major modification to a family-integrated and intergenerational approach in order to be effective in producing faith that lasts past the high school years.I personally don’t know of any Catholic groups who are making the major switch in strategies as I’ve described above (integration of the generations vs. separation), but I hope that there must be some. Let me know if you know of any.I’ll be sharing a few more findings from Sticky Faith in next month’s letter.This article first appeared in the E-newsletter, April 2012. Click here for free sign-up.