Nurturing Faith and Confidence in Today’s Youth with Brad Griffin

Nurturing Faith and Confidence in Today’s Youth with Brad Griffin

by Chris Tompkins | June 5, 2024

Brad Griffin is Senior Director of Content and Research at the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth ministry leaders and families. He has co-authored more than 15 books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager & 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, Growing Young, and Sticky Faith. Brad is also a speaker and volunteer youth pastor, who aims to equip parents and leaders with the skills to raise confident, well-rounded kids in today’s culture.

The three big questions

Even though in his book, Brad examines the three big questions — “Who am I?” “Where do I fit?” “What difference can I make?” — through a teenager lens, he says that the questions of identity, belonging, and purpose, are really life questions that impact everyone.

“If you dig under the questions that teenagers might be asking out loud or might not be asking out loud … chances are good you’ll find one or more of these big questions lurking underneath,” Brad explains on the Shaping Our World podcast. “So we like to say they’re the questions under the questions.”

Helping our kids find the answers

As a means of helping our kids figure out the answers to these formative questions, Brad says the best thing parents can do is normalize their experience for them by saying things like, “Hey, this is a time you’re trying different things, and that’s okay.”

He also reminds us that teenagers have a heightened sense of being judged and encourages parents to be curious and ask good questions, but in a very non-judgemental way by simply saying, “I’m curious. I want to learn. Tell me more. I’m listening.”

The important part of being a non-anxious or non-judgemental presence in your teen’s life is learning about the cognitive and developmental steps that a young person is experiencing and being conscious of the issues — like grappling with the three big questions — that are often lurking beneath the behaviour.

Sticky faith

When asked about that statistic that roughly 50% of young people walk away from their church or faith after high school, Brad explains that research points to the fact that we we haven’t helped young people integrate faith into their identity, belonging, and purpose, even though, as he points out, there is a strong connection between church and the three big questions.

He explains that churches are unique in their ability to bring people together across generations, which strengthens a young person’s sense of belonging, and according to research, having a connection with adults in the congregation directly corresponded to a young person’s “sticky faith” several years out of high school. Additionally, church communities can be an incredible place for teenagers to help others and to have significance, which helps them answer the question of purpose.

Whether faith is part of your lives or not, Brad encourages parents to lean in and be willing to go on that journey with their kids in helping to answer the three big questions.

For more on what Brad has to say on raising confident, well-rounded kids, listen to the full episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.


[00:00:11.880] – Speaker 1
Hey, I’m Chris Tompkins. Welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. My goal is to invite you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. Each episode, we talk with leading experts and offer relevant resources to dive deeper into the world of our youth today. Today, we have someone who comes with a really strong research and academic background, particularly around spirituality, Christian faith, and raising young people. Today on our show, we have Brad Griffin. Brad is the Senior Director of Content and Research for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth ministry leaders and families. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is also the co-author of over 15 books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager & 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, Growing Young, and Sticky Faith. For those of you that come from a Christian faith background, I think you’ll find this conversation really insightful and helpful as you think about how to raise kids or come alongside the kids that you care about, particularly when it comes to matters of faith.

[00:01:26.550] – Speaker 1
But we also just dive into a lot of developmental things. And so even if you don’t come from a Christian faith background, I know this conversation is going to be really interesting for you, and there’s going to be a lot of really good nuggets and insightful things for you to pull out when you think about coming alongside your kids, raising them in today’s culture, and what it means to help shape not just what we think or how we behave, but who we really are. Welcome, Brad. So glad to have you join us.

[00:02:00.130] – Speaker 2
Hey, it’s great to be here, Chris. Thank you.

[00:02:02.020] – Speaker 1
Yeah, it’s great to catch up. I don’t know where everyone’s listening today. We’re in Ontario. It’s a sunny day. You’re in Southern California. It’s always sunny there. Mostly. Most of our listeners are from the Canada, GTA, Greater Toronto area, so we’re probably a little slightly jealous of your weather. But our winter has been quite warm. Today, it’s like 10 degrees celsius and sunny. So that’s nice. So thanks for joining us on a nice, bright, sunny day.

[00:02:28.960] – Speaker 2
Absolutely. It’s It’s fun to be here.

[00:02:30.700] – Speaker 1
So let’s dive in to get to know you a little bit beyond the bio we just talked about. What shaped your world when you were a teen? What were some of your biggest influence growing up as a kid?

[00:02:40.170] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So I grew up not here in sunny California, but in Central Kentucky. And like all teenagers, I was trying to figure things out. I was trying to figure out where I fit in. And that for me was bouncing between friend groups, trying different things. One of the huge shaping influences on me actually became acting. I got involved in theater and drama. And the people, and especially those coaches and directors, were just so… I mean, all in school-based settings or community Unity Theater, but they were all really important in helping me figure out and find my way and gave me a love for public speaking and for ways of expressing myself that were healthy and legal. So that was helpful.

[00:03:37.360] – Speaker 1
Yeah, good. So building on that, what’s shaping your world today? Are you still into theater? Tell us a little bit about your daily life?

[00:03:46.500] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s a great question. I thought I might go into acting or broadcasting or journalism or something, ended up taking a hard right turn in college towards psychology. And and really fell in love with research. So I do a lot of that today. I would say what shapes my world the most before we talk about work is being a parent. I think being a parent in this era is wild, and certainly my kids have shaped me a ton. So I have three kids who are now ages 21, 18, and 15. Oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah, wow indeed. So they are constantly teaching teaching me things and challenging me. And honestly, it’s a lot of fun most of the time. Church work has been a huge part of my story and youth ministry in particular, and I still serve with young people in my local church as well. And so I’m around teenagers a lot. Funny story, full circle about acting. My son, my youngest, actually has gotten into theater. So he’s currently in a production right now at his school. So that’s been a lot of fun to watch.

[00:05:09.900] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I was going to say that it does probably feel full circle when you grew up in that world and see it come around. And I have an 18-year-old daughter as well. We just have one daughter. And as I’m sure you can relate, there’s so many times that I’m looking at things or seeing things or hearing them on TV, and I have to look at her I’m like, Can you tell me what the heck they’re talking about? I don’t even understand the language that’s coming out of their mouth. Help me understand what that means. A lot of translation going on, which is why we have this podcast for other parents. I love how you said it is Wild. And I know so many people listening, even if they’re not parents who are youth workers or teachers or whatever, are going, Yeah, some stuff is pretty wild, and I don’t understand it. So tell us now in your day job, in your work, what are you doing that’s shaping the world of young people, teens, kids, expand on the bio and deepen it a little bit for us.

[00:06:05.510] – Speaker 2
So I have the huge privilege of serving with the Fuller Youth Institute, and our whole thing is research into resources so that we can equip parents and leaders to serve young people better. I get to do a lot of learning as part of my regular job, and some of that involves listening to young people directly. It involves sitting down and interviewing them. Sometimes it involves learning from the adults in their lives, the leaders and the parents in their lives. And what we really hope is to support the adults who are supporting young people through those teen years. And that’s just a huge honor and privilege. And I feel like I’m constantly… We’re We’re constantly on our toes as a team learning new things.

[00:07:03.580] – Speaker 1
For those of people who don’t know, Fuller is a Christian seminary in California that the Fuller Youth Institute is part of and does great work. A lot of people in youth ministry look to them for resources and information and research. I know a lot of people who have been through programming at Fuller as well. It’s a great institution, and you guys do fantastic work, which is why we’re here today to dive a little bit into that. As you mentioned, Fuller is about turning research into practical resources for leaders and parents to help faithful young people change our world. One example of that research is your book, Three Big Questions That Change Every Teenager. I’d love to know a bit more about that. We talk about the big questions in adolescence. I think it’s a great place for us to start because This shapes a lot of the behaviors and values and attitudes that we see as young people grow up, right? And these big questions are the underpinning and the backdrop to a lot of that. So can you unpack what those three questions are for us?

[00:08:15.900] – Speaker 2
Absolutely. And as you hinted out, these are human questions. They are lifespan questions. And as we look in those adolescent years in particular, these are the years when these questions are just front burner questions for young people. And so the question of identity, who am I? The question of belonging Where do I fit? Where do I truly belong? And the question of purpose, what difference can I make? Or how will my life matter in the world? And so identity, belonging, and purpose. We believe if you dig under the questions on the surface, if you dig under the questions that teenagers might be asking out loud or might not be asking out loud, if you dig under behaviors or things that are curious to you, Chances are good you’ll find one or more of these big questions lurking underneath. So we like to say they’re the questions under the questions.

[00:09:24.480] – Speaker 1
Yeah. And if you’re paying attention to a lot of the cultural narrative, particularly for young people, these are really big issues today when we talk about identity, and that comes up so much now in the cultural narrative. And when you talk about belonging, we talked on this show about loneliness for young people and with the pandemic and social media and how that changes relationships and the seeming decline of some institutions that kids are a little less involved maybe than they were and finding those places that they can belong and then around purpose. There is a lot of research, and you can probably affirm this, that says kids are increasingly more concerned about the future, who they’re going to become. I chuckle all the time that in my daughter’s peer group, the idea of we’re not going to be able to afford a house, it emerges. And not majorly, but it’s there, which I don’t know when I was 18, I don’t know if I ever I thought about that once. And so my purpose of my life, how am I going to be a key contributor to this world? There is a lot of cultural underpinning that goes in that.

[00:10:41.390] – Speaker 1
So do you want to just maybe elaborate a little bit on those questions and how they’re significantly connected to development and what are some key issues beyond what I just shared that emerge in those three questions?

[00:10:52.770] – Speaker 2
Yeah, you hit on a lot of them. They are developmental questions. And so part of what happens is as kids move from childhood into adolescence, and then as they start looking ahead into young adulthood, these questions, they come along with the abstract thinking that emerges during this time and the other’s awareness. So a teenager, it’s very common in adolescent experience to feel like you are on a stage and you’re performing for all the world who everyone is looking at you. That feeling of people are looking at me is a feeling that really gets heightened in the adolescent years. And what we’ve heard from teenagers over and over is they absolutely feel that way. And it’s maybe even more amplified now than it’s ever been. Because they are quite often on multiple stages all at once. And some of those stages are digital. And so they’re performing in their real life world to lots of different audiences. They’re performing in the digital world to the same and other audiences. And there’s a lot of layers there. So I think there’s a lot of intensity that comes with trying to navigate these questions in real-time. And there’s a lot of confusion.

[00:12:24.200] – Speaker 2
Culture, in particular, in this time, there are so many shifts in society and in cultural several understandings of questions like identity. There’s really a push to define ourselves for young people to stake some claims or make particular declarations about their identity at younger and younger ages that maybe their parents don’t quite understand because those same pressures weren’t around. So, yeah, it’s a really unique time, I think, to be walking through these big questions in real time.

[00:13:00.740] – Speaker 1
Yeah, it is this interesting phenomenon, as you mentioned, the pressure to address these at a younger and younger age. Yet we also see the lengthening ladder of adolescence, as one researcher put it, that they’re launching later in life, too. So this key defining, working it out. As you mentioned, these are lifelong questions that we work through, but there just seems to be much more focus in adolescents around these as part of the developmental process. And yet this process is like stretching to starting younger and then continuing on where we keep wrestling with who we are and who we’re becoming as things like the age that people may carry and leave home and move on into what we would call in the past, the adult worlds. I just think it’s really interesting and complex for young people, as you mentioned, all these different stages, all these different factors. How does a young person answer, address these? What are some key contributors to helping young people navigate this in a really positive way? Then And secondary, what role do parents, caregivers, caring adults play in helping kids navigate answering these questions?

[00:14:25.440] – Speaker 2
It’s important to enter this conversation by naming that exploration and experimentation. They’re really the hallmarks of adolescents and the adolescent’s search for identity, belonging, and purpose. We shouldn’t be surprised when kids start exploring identity or exploring friendships or trying out, experimenting with different ways of contributing. I mentioned my son, and sometimes he’s serial hobbyist. He’ll try one thing and then he’ll try something else, and then he’ll want to learn another thing. And of course, there are kids who get hyper-focused and who really zero in. One of my daughters loved one sport in particular for a number of years, and that just became a real focus for her. But I think as parents and caregivers who are trying to accompany them through all this exploration and experimentation, some of the things that we can do, we can be a non-anxious presence in the midst of that. We can be stable and not… As much as we’re often surprised or even shocked by things that our kids say or do to try to keep our own emotional response a little bit in check or have places where we can process that and not necessarily with our kids.

[00:15:56.940] – Speaker 2
Doing that, too, we can normalize for them. Hey, this is a time you’re trying different things, and that’s okay. This is a time when friendships often change and figuring out who you really want to spend your time with, who makes you feel good about you, who do you want to be speaking into your life in this time. We can normalize that search, and then we can also be curious and ask good questions, be a place, be a sounding board for our kids. Be curious about the decisions they’re making in a way that… So teenagers, they really have this heightened sense of being judged, and our questions can come across as judgmental, even when we don’t mean them that way. They can come across as cutting. And as much as possible that we can assure them, Hey, I’m curious. I want to learn. Tell me more. I’m listening. We can reinforce for them, Hey, I’m going to be a safe and stable presence here. I don’t know how your journey is going to unfold either. None of us know. We’re here, and I’m going to be here with you.

[00:17:15.220] – Speaker 1
I know that for me, one of the things that has been really helpful in being a non-anxious presence for my daughter and other young people that I would journey with is actually exactly what we just been doing is talking Talking about the developmental process and knowing that some of this stuff is more normal than we might think it is. To go like, some of this stuff shouldn’t surprise us as young people are working it through. So I think every once in a while, I catch myself to go, Okay, this is a normal part of the need for independence when there’s clashes. And this is my daughter looking to find her way on her own, and it’s a tough tension. And I think sometimes just knowing that. So that’s why I love this conversation and always encourage our listeners to like, the more you can explore about the developmental process for young people and get an idea of the cognitive development and social development and all the different factors that go into the… Including these big questions and seeing them as maybe there’s something going on below the behavior, I think actually helps. Because I think sometimes what makes us really anxious is thinking that what our young people that we care about are going through is unique.

[00:18:34.690] – Speaker 1
What’s wrong with them? Why is this happening? And it’s like, well, hold on, this might be part of the process. And yeah, we don’t love how it’s manifesting itself in that moment, but this isn’t abnormal per se. Do you have any other tips for parents to go like, okay, I want to be a non-anxious presence and show up beyond what you shared? Is there anything else you might add to the conversation on that?

[00:19:00.100] – Speaker 2
Yeah. I think it helps us to find analogs. So for example, if you have a son who loves gaming and may spend more time than you’d like in his room gaming, but with friends and talking with friends. So my 15-year-old will do this. He’s talking with a friend, and they’re playing a video game together and they’re talking the whole time. It’s helpful to draw an analog. So we remember dragging the family telephone into our bedroom, getting if the phone cord would reach that long because it was attached to the wall and talking for hours with friends after school, even though we had just seen them all day at school. If we can draw an analog, it will help us see, Oh, this is the same thing. Or our kids are constantly texting their friends. Well, I remember writing notes back and forth with friends in high school because that was a thing that we did. We wrote notes to each We pass them back and forth, and they’re doing the same thing. It’s just a different technology, which, of course, impacts the whole thing in a number of ways, but we can empathize with the need.

[00:20:29.070] – Speaker 2
The need is for social connection. The need is to work things out with your peers. The need is to… It’s connection and it’s exploration. And so I think finding those analogs can help us. And even, I I also think it helps if we can make fun of ourselves and we can make fun of our own inability to get it. You mentioned earlier asking your kid to help explain some words or the phrases you hear or things people are doing. I think letting our kids be experts on what’s going on, and especially on youth culture, that can, I think, really help us enter their world while still being the adults, because they need that, too. They need us to be adults. Of course.

[00:21:20.970] – Speaker 1
Before we dive into the faith component of young people in development, because you do spend a lot your time researching and developing resources for parents around faith and church and religion and stuff like that. I do want to get into that. But before we do, I want to jump down to your latest book that you co-authored It’s called Faith Beyond Youth Group: Five Ways to Form Character and Cultivate lifelong Discipleship, which is geared to youth leaders as a means of helping them serve the, in quotes, Unique needs of the most anxious, adaptive, and diverse generation in history. You spend a lot of time researching young people today. Maybe just even help us before we get into other topics. What are some of the unique needs of young people today and how have they changed, generally and specifically around on faith.

[00:22:16.120] – Speaker 2
Yeah. I think it might help to unpack those words a little bit, anxious, adaptive, and diverse. I want to say these are themes. I don’t want to overuse them as labels or stereotypes or judgment. Elements, but really themes to help us understand. So their needs around mental health have changed. This generation is the most anxious on record. Mental health concerns and actual diagnosis are at an all-time high, and in particular, anxiety and depression among young people. Suicidality among young people has been climbing since 2012. These are really big concerns. I think alongside that, there is less stigma in talking about mental health. And so young people can also get into self-diagnosis or it can be hard for young people to know the difference between having a bad day and having a clinical disorder. They need us to walk with them through that. They need us to walk with them through building capacity to deal with everyday adversity while also addressing when there’s something deeper going on that needs some intervention. The word adaptive is really about some of the things we’ve been talking about, how this generation has had to constantly change and adapt to the digital world.

[00:23:58.710] – Speaker 2
It’s the only world they’ve ever known. It is constantly evolving. Two years ago, none of us were talking about AI and ChatGPT, and now it’s raising this whole new set of questions. What are ethical ways to use this? And how are we going to use this in education or not? And what qualifies as cheating now? And it’s just the latest example of how this generation has to be so much more adaptive than we had to be growing up. And then diverse. Here in the US context, in 2020, we crossed a line where young people under age 18, where half of young people under age 18 were young people of color. Ethnic and racial diversity just continues to grow. Religious diversity, certainly diversity in how young people are talking about and expressing gender and sexuality. This is just what it means to be young today is to live in the midst of a lot of diversity and pluralism. Those are big buckets, but I think that all impacts the faith question for sure and impacts how then a young person is navigating spirituality, faith, religion, and those sorts of questions in the midst of this cultural mix and what it’s like to be a young person right now.

[00:25:45.920] – Speaker 1
We would probably have listeners on varying spectrums of the faith journey and expression themselves. Maybe before we get even into the faith piece to that, how does faith intersect with these big developmental questions and some of the unique needs that you just mentioned? What’s the interplay here? Is there any research that you can pull to mind that talks about where faith intersects with some of these really important developmental things that we’re talking about?

[00:26:18.520] – Speaker 2
Great question. A lot of research out there that would get at this is research on thriving and holistic development or positive youth development. One of our colleagues here at Fuller and the School of Psychology, Dr. Pam King, is really an expert in this area. I’m going to paraphrase here because I don’t have any of her research right in front of me at the moment. But what we’ve learned over the years from her and others, I think the big picture is that faith can really be an important resource for young people and a component of their thriving. And that faith community, so both personal faith practices as well as being part of faith communities. Faith communities offer an incredible resource. If you step back and think about it, Our churches and faith communities are some of the last remaining intergenerational social communities that we have. These people who might be committed to one another across generations and across different life stages and interests and other categories. We don’t come together a lot across differences in the way that be used to. And there are so many less community gathering and organizing kinds of structures. And so faith communities offer that structure, and that can be an incredible resource.

[00:28:00.250] – Speaker 2
Worse for a young person.

[00:28:01.480] – Speaker 1
And I think there’s definitely a connection to some of those big questions. For young people that are growing up in a faith tradition, some of the answers of identity and belonging and purpose are addressed as they navigate what faith says and what Jesus, if they’re Christians and others, say about those specific questions. And like you said, then also intrinsically puts them into a community that helps them feel a sense of belonging beyond their family in school and other things that they’re part of. So I think it is a natural environment. And like you mentioned, a lot of research shows that promotes thriving with young people. And again, there’s a ton of research. I did my degree in positive youth development, and without quoting a whole bunch of things, there’s a lot of developmental assets that are enhanced maybe or brought into a new light when young people are in a faith tradition. And so that’s part of that. So you do a lot of research around faith. And for those of us listening who are part of a faith tradition and who want their kids to continue to journey in it, there is some research that’s coming out that is a bit eye-opening for us.

[00:29:22.920] – Speaker 1
One of the things that you’ve researched, I read a stat on your website, it talks about roughly 50% of young people walk away from church or faith after high school. If we’re talking about how significant it can be in development, and then young people are walking away, what’s going on here? Why do you think this is happening? How significant is a concern? Is this a concern for folks like yourself who research and live in this world? What are we hearing and thinking about that?

[00:29:55.480] – Speaker 2
Yeah, the concern is real, and it’s certainly I think it’s hard to get our hands around the exact figures. You can look at this from a number of different angles, but there’s no question that churches across North America are shrinking, they’re aging, depending on the study between 40 and 60% of young people do leave church and faith somewhere between in those later teen years and into young adulthood. Where many used to return somewhere in maybe their mid 20s when they got married or settled down or maybe they had kids, those experiences are being pushed forward or just not happening. And so we’re not seeing that same return. So there’s a number of factors here. I think one of the big why factors is that we really haven’t helped young people integrate their faith into their identity, belonging, and purpose. We haven’t really done that work of an integrative journey. We miss their real questions sometimes in church communities, and we get hung up on right beliefs and right behaviors, and maybe don’t allow enough room for doubts and questions and process and struggle and the things that really are a necessary part of faith formation.

[00:31:28.510] – Speaker 2
I think two churches become insular and feel a little bit embattled when it comes to all the changes that are going on around us in society and culture. And quite honestly, when we start to close ourselves off from the world that teenagers have to figure out how to navigate and maybe even enjoy a lot of those parts of the world, it makes it hard to have just honest conversations about what it looks like to be a faithful person today.

[00:32:02.550] – Speaker 1
I was listening to an author, Seth Kaplan, on another podcast, who his research is all around fragile neighborhoods in the social networks and how important they are to us in our lives. And he was asked to give advice to churches to help with this. And he talked about how so often churches focus on programs, the ones that thrive, and I think would do well to continue to attract young people, particularly around the questions that we’ve talked about, are the ones that really focus on real, authentic relationship building, and that people can get known and can know others and develop those strong social bonds. I do think that’s probably one contributing factor is how known are young people in their church communities and really seen and heard. Some of the things you mentioned talk about that. Are our programs and the things that we’re offering really help young people develop those deep, rich friendships that what will help them come back one day, even if they do leave, is fond memories of not just what they experienced or what they believe, but who they journeyed through with that. And so I know a lot of this questions about young people leaving their faith.

[00:33:26.220] – Speaker 1
A lot of people are thinking and talking about that, but that really led the Fuller Youth Institute to do some real significant research that is now in a resource and came out as called Sticky Faith, which are books and resources that comprise a framework for youth ministry leaders and parents to help develop long term faith in teenagers. Can you tell us a little bit about what are the major components of Sticky Faith? What’s that all about? Can you boil that research down into a few things that will help us think through how to make faith sticky for young people?

[00:34:05.880] – Speaker 2
When we think about sticky faith, I think it’s really helpful to think about a faith that’s integrated into a young person’s life. To tie that back in with identity, belonging, and purpose, that as they’re trying to answer those questions, that faith is at the table in those conversations. That’s a huge piece of what we mean by sticky faith is that it’s something that’s integrated and not just an accessory. Chr. Smith, a sociologist of religion, talks about how culturally we’ve created this The ability to treat faith as a personal identity accessory as opposed to something that is more of a shared commitment. Helping young people integrate, and the community is a big piece of that. We found in our research that intergenerational relationships are really key. What you said is absolutely true. We found in our research that having a connection with adults in the congregation, and in particular outside of leadership, so not just the people who were leading that youth ministry, for example, but with another mentor or adult in the church The strength of those intergenerational relationships was correlated with sticky faith several years out of high school. We see so many connecting points here for that.

[00:35:44.680] – Speaker 2
That’s really one of those pillars. We talked about this a little bit, but having room for doubt and leaning into the gospel as good news of grace and of being able to explore and ask our questions and be honest about our struggles, that that’s a necessary part of faith. You’re not just an outlier if you doubt. You’re actually doing the really important work of faith development. Then a couple other hallmarks of Sticky Faith. One was around serving an agency, which really is tied to purpose. But people need to know that they matter, that that they can do something significant, that they can try things, that they can serve others. Church communities can be an incredible place for teenagers to try things out and to help others and to have significance. Then the last one I would elevate is the importance of family influence. That whatever your faith is as a parent, as caregivers, that may matter most when comes to what faith your kids develop. And research would point to we tend to get what we are when it comes to faith. And that’s not meant to put a huge burden on parents’ shoulders. But just to say, if you want your kids to have faith, model faith and cultivate the practices in your own life that you hope for your kids because it really modeling it is how it happens.

[00:37:35.430] – Speaker 1
Yeah, I think those are all really, really helpful and insightful nuggets for us today. I do have a question on one of them, but before that, just even as you talked about serving an agency, one of the things I think that is so unique even now is because of how our churches have changed and even the type of programming that is offered, there are a lot more unique opportunities to serve. I’m thinking around production and website development and things like that that young people can get involved in and that maybe when I was growing up, I couldn’t get involved in that through the church. So I think it’s contributing and serving, but also, like you said, helping them work out. What are they good at and what do they love? And I think the church now has some unique opportunities to do that. I want to just go back to the intergenerational relationships for a second, because, Brad, correct me if I’m wrong, but was it a five to one ratio that came out of this research or something around that, that every young person needs five caring adults? Did I get that right? Is that from Sticky Faith work?

[00:38:44.600] – Speaker 2
Yeah, That’s good. We did elevate that. And Chapp Clark, who used to be here at Fuller, was really the one who championed that idea of, let’s make it a goal to get five caring adults around every one young person. And since then, there’s been some other research that is explored and affirmed that a little more. Springtide Research Institute did some work around belonging and found a number of positive correlations between those young people who said they had at least five caring adults in their lives and positive outcomes. So, Yeah. I think that can feel a little daunting. And as a parent, it can feel a little bit daunting. But I think the key there is just that we’re thinking about widening the circle.

[00:39:42.850] – Speaker 1
That’s what I was going to add, too. It’s less of an evaluative tool to be like, is my kid doing okay or not okay? But as a way to sit back and have some way to think about it, to go, who are the young people that are or or the people that are in the young people’s lives that I care about? Who are they connecting with? I think it’s really easy as parents to just feel all this weight and burden on us raising our kids and then maybe grandparents and a few others. But from coaches to teachers to youth leaders. My daughter, one of my closest friends, has a couple of girls that are 5, 10 years older than my daughter, and his youngest has developed a strong long relationship with my daughter over the years. And she comes and picks my daughter up and takes her out for lunch. And they’re close-ish in age, but she’s a few years ahead. She’s now becoming a nurse and starting her career. My daughter is finishing high school. And just even the other night, they were studying together. And this is someone who she can talk to.

[00:40:52.060] – Speaker 1
And so, again, not going back to, are we doing well or not? But what might encouragement would you give to parents who are like, Oh, how can I surround my kids with some of these caring adults? What does that look like? How can I deepen it, regardless of where it is on the five or four or six or whatever?

[00:41:09.740] – Speaker 2
Yeah, and one is better than none.

[00:41:12.350] – Speaker 1
Yeah, totally.

[00:41:14.060] – Speaker 2
Start there. Yeah. Chances are good these adults are already in your kids circle, and your example is a really good one. Quite often, some of the safest adults in a kid’s life are They’re family friends. And your example was the child of a friend. Another really good example is sometimes someone else’s parent is a really safe adult for a teenager. So if you’re friends with parents who have kids in the same friend circle, which goes for us, too, We can also maybe be that caring adult in a teenager’s life, that kid who might be hanging out at your house. You can be a safe place for them. You can be an adult who cares about them, who just checks in on them. Certainly, vocational mentors are a really good example. There is a young woman in our church who is in a career field that my oldest daughter is interested in, and she’s been an incredible resource, willing to get together to go to coffee and talk about her educational path and her career path. And that’s been just invaluable to my daughter. So maybe it’s around a career or an interest. Maybe it’s around some shared…

[00:42:52.950] – Speaker 2
Maybe it’s around shared faith. There are so many ways to think about that. I would look for the adults who, again, your kids already know and trust, and see if there’s some opportunities to maybe take that a step deeper or make that a little more consistent or even just expressly say, Hey, I’m really glad that you’re in my kid’s life. They like you. They trust you. And thanks for that. Sometimes those little encouragements or even opening up the possibility for our kid, Hey, what do you think about spending a little more time with this person or going on a walk together or something like that?

[00:43:39.210] – Speaker 1
Well, and maybe one of the takeaways for this conversation is not as much about if we’re a parent, how many kids we should think about that or how many adults our kids have in their lives. But maybe a takeaway is, what other young people am I that caring adult for beyond my own child? Who is it a friend of my child? Is it a nephew or a niece or a young person in the church that I can be that person that they can go to and feel safe with already having a relationship? Maybe how could we deepen our influence and involvement to be that safe, caring adult for someone else beyond our kids? Because we can get so focused on our kids. But I do like what you said. Sometimes my daughter looks up to our friends as well and has a good relationship with some of them, and so they could be that. So I It would be that for my friends’ kids at some stage as well, too. So that could be an interesting thing to ponder as we’re listening to this podcast. So, yeah, thanks for sharing that. Yeah. I want to wrap up our conversation.

[00:44:44.570] – Speaker 1
It’s been so insightful and helpful. What are some resources or opportunities you can suggest to parents who are wanting to either help their kids address these big questions or come alongside them or develop sticky faith in their households? Feel free to share information and resources that Fuller has, but give us a little bit more on where people can go to continue the conversations we’ve had today.

[00:45:09.680] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So we do have some resources at fulleryouthinstitute. Org, and there’s some free resources there. A couple of books connected specifically to Identity, Belonging, and Purpose, the work we’ve done. Three Big Questions that Change Every Teenager, that is for adults. And then there’s actually a companion for students. It’s called Three Big Questions that Shape Your Future. It is faith-based, and it’s arranged like a devotional, but it is something that an adult could go through with a teenager as well. So that could be really useful. I mean, this is thinking about opportunities. I just want to encourage parents to, don’t be afraid to talk about your own journey and your own faith, your own questions, how you’re growing, in particular if you have gone through a time when you’ve wrestled with faith or you’ve walked away from church yourself. In the teenage years are really the time when we can bring our kids into our own journeys and our own history in a unique way. They probably can handle things a little differently, too, if there are parts of our story that aren’t as flattering. Your teenager has heard it all already, but this is a unique season when they can maybe see a part of your own journey or your own struggles that have shaped who you are today, faith or otherwise, and your own journey of identity, belonging, and purpose.

[00:46:55.970] – Speaker 2
I just encourage parents to lean in and be willing to be on that journey with your kids. Yeah.

[00:47:03.900] – Speaker 1
What a great charge and encouragement to wrap up our conversation, Brad. So thank you so much for everything you shared. I know I’ve been thinking about a lot of this as we’ve been talking, and what an encouraging conversation. And I know it’s been helpful for all of us who’ve been listening. So thank you for what you do and for your time today. Really appreciate it, Brad.

[00:47:24.650] – Speaker 2
Absolutely. Thank you for the chance, Chris.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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