The Three Practices Of “Sticky” Faith
By Rev. David Finley
A friend forwarded an article from a web site I’m not familiar with, The Federalist, about a religious revival that is all too familiar. Inside America’s Largest Religious Revival You Know Nothing About is Heather Smith’s look at the religion that has been thriving despite America’s decades-long decline in religious devotion, the religion of Athletica.
Although it is difficult for Christians to attend one or two meetings per week, devotees of Athletica attend almost daily meetings. Children show up early to school or stay late to practice their faith. This is with good reason. Athletica is a demanding religion with harsh penalties for missing regular meetings. Worship can run long on weekends and going into extra time is particularly exciting for worshipers.
Parents in Athletica teach their children its rituals as soon as they can walk. Children practice these rituals with implements scaled to their size. Parents encourage them all along the way. Children anticipate the day they can fully participate as adults. Thousands aspire to Athletica’s high priesthood, a level only 2% of the faithful will actually reach.
Denominational loyalty is fierce in Athletica, with people displaying their commitments on their vehicles and houses. Members dress to resemble their priesthood. High priesthood rituals are nationally televised events and devotees make time in their packed schedules to participate by television.
Smith’s article is obviously satire, but it captures our experiences. It also captures the collected wisdom of those who work in ministry to teenagers, in books like Kara Powell’s Sticky Faith or Kendra Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian. Each describes Athletica-like ways to build faith in students that will stay past high school, which I’ve called The Three Practices.
Practice One: The Faith That You Show. Just as children in Athletica learn from their parents and other adults, our children need to learn from adult faith role models. The best predictor of a child’s faith after high school is their parent’s participation in the faith. Dean’s and Powell’s work shows each student needs five adult faith examples.
Practice Two: Learn to Say What You Know. Children begin to own their faith when they can express it, especially talking about it. Children in Athletica spend their lives with its practices and are encouraged to express their abilities. In the same way, we should encourage students to participate in our practices and to talk about their faith.
Practice Three: Watch Yourself Grow. The ability to step back and look at yourself is an essential tool for adulthood. Children in Athletica measure themselves at every game and every move into a different league. The value of church retreats and mission trips is in removing students from their usual surroundings to take a fresh look at themselves and what truly matters.
The Three Practices are things we already do. In applying the tools of Athletica to raising children in the Christian faith, we run counter to the decline of religion in our culture and teach our children a faith they will keep into adulthood.