A few years ago I did some freelance editing work for the Fuller Youth Institute. The first project I worked on was the Sticky Faith Launch Kit, which I found quite fascinating.
So what’s this sticky faith thing? The Fuller Youth Institute website describes it as: “Sticky Faith is a ministry framework and parenting philosophy backed by practical and proven ideas to help develop long-term faith in teenagers.” So basically, they help ministry leaders and parents with strategies to help guide the faith development of their children with the hope that they won’t abandon it when they reach adulthood.
I honestly don’t remember everything from the kit, but the one thing that really stuck with me is the amount of adults they believe need to be heavily invested in kids’ lives.
“Many children’s and youth ministries say they want to have a 1:5 ratio of adults to kids (meaning they want one adult for every five kids) for their Sunday school class or small groups.
“What if we reversed that? What if we said we want a 5:1 adult to kid ratio—five adults caring for each kid? We’re not talking about five Sunday school teachers or five small group leaders. We’re also not talking about five adults to whom you outsource the spiritual, emotional, social, and intellectual development of your kids. We’re talking about five adults whom you recruit to invest in your kid in little, medium, and big ways” (Kara E. Powell and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, p. 101).
While the institute focuses a lot on ministry situations, they also apply this to families. They believe it is important for each kid to have at least five adults who are deeply invested in their lives.
Kids need a tribe.
And while I’ve never done a formal study, I don’t think this idea is all just related to faith. I think that having a large number of adults who care about a kid of any age can be correlated to how well that child is able to adjust to changes in life and make wise decisions, whether those adults are specifically guiding them in spiritual ways or not. Kids need a tribe of invested adults, period.
This made me think about my own childhood. Why did I not lose my faith when I left for college (or before)? Why have I made mostly wise decisions throughout my adult life? (Note I said “mostly.” I’ve made some bad ones too!) While we obviously can’t know exactly why things happen, I do believe that it was partly due to the amount of adults invested in my life.
My parents were always (and still are) highly invested in my life, and I also spent a lot of time with my two living grandparents, two aunts, and uncle. Those are the relationships that you would typically expect a child to have with adults on an ongoing basis, and I was fortunate enough to live close to all of those relatives.
However, I had other adults who were very invested in my life who didn’t necessarily need to be. These are the people who chose to invest in me because they volunteered with kids, were teachers, or just because they loved me.
I could go on and on about all of these people, but here’s a quick rundown of the adults who played an integral part of my childhood and teen years.
Hopefully by reading this, you’ll be reminded of adults who made an impact on your life when you were young.
My youth group leader, Margaret Harrelson, was basically a saint (as are most youth leaders, in my estimation). She put up with much more from us than she should have had to, but she stuck with us through it all. She taught us more than she realized through her silly made-up games and her insistence that we all participate in choir, among many other things.
Twanda Moore, my high school history teacher and track coach, was a huge encouragement to me and gave me a lot of opportunities to use my leadership skills as a manager for the track team. She made such an impression on me that nearly 25 years later I can clearly picture the gift she gave me for my high school graduation.
An elderly cousin, Opal Schemmer, was a regular visitor to our house and often baby-sat my brother and me. She taught us all a lot about our family history and impressed the importance of our heritage.
My friends’ moms, Dorothy Dunbar, Pansy Hollandsworth, and Juanita Deeker, were all instrumental parts of my childhood. All of them have gone on to heaven, but when they were here, they all taught us how to live well by doing so themselves.
Last, but not least, the person who probably invested more in my young life than anyone other than my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncle is my cousin Julie Gatson.
Julie spent an enormous amount of time with my brother and me playing wiffle ball in the backyard, watching John Wayne movies, listening to Johnny Horton tunes, and chaperoning us throughout summers of showing sheep at fairs around Missouri. She was also my youth group leader for a brief time, and she was my freshman basketball coach. She frankly didn’t have to do any of that, but she did, and my childhood would have been very different without her in it. And without purposely trying to do so, she taught me a lot about working hard, helping others, and serving the Lord. Now that I think about it, she still does.
I say all of this about my tribe because I can look back on my childhood and see that what the fine people at Fuller Youth Institute are saying about the 5:1 ratio rings true. And it has also made me more intentional about being involved in the lives of young people around me—and not just those who are related to me.
I want to encourage you to think about this as well. If you have kids or if you work with the same kids on an ongoing basis, do they have a whole crowd of adults around them who are investing in their lives? If so, great! If not, what can you do to try to recruit adults to be a part of those kids’ lives? Can you think of coaches, people at church, club leaders, your friends, or other kids’ parents who could take on that role?
Also, are you investing in the lives of kids that aren’t in your house? If the 5:1 ratio holds true, that means most kids need at least three involved adults other than their parents. So you might need to be one of those adults for someone else’s kids. What young people do you know who might need another adult in their lives? Could you be that adult? Or could you help find others to fill out their tribe?
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already highly invested in kids’ lives. But let’s all do what we can to make sure that all the kids we know have a tribe of caring adults around them. Their futures may depend on it.
If you want to find out more about the Sticky Faith concept and the idea that kids need a tribe, Fuller Youth Institute has produced multiple resources. Click the covers below to find them on Amazon:
Do you agree that kids need a tribe? In the comments, let me know your thoughts about the 5:1 ratio, share who made an impact on your young life, and/or talk about how other adults have played an integral part in your children’s lives.
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