Developing a faith that sticks in the lives of teenagers


By: Bailey Pylant, contributing writer and coordinator for news and social media at Dallas Baptist University

“Who started the kid table at family reunions? Why do students need to worship in a separate building?”

Jane Wilson, Youth Discipleship Specialist at Texas Baptists, posed these questions at the “Faith that Sticks” workshop during the 2018 Texas Baptists Family Gathering. Early into the session, she exposed the frequently missed opportunities within the church to leverage intergenerational community for the discipleship of the youth.

For 18 years, parents and the local church play in a match against culture to influence the worldview of growing individuals. Where culture would speak of religion as “sin management” and God as solely focused on our happiness, the church needs to be cultivating grace-based faith that can be articulated “beneath the level of students’ feelings.”

Developing “faith that sticks” was the topic of Wilson’s workshop geared to helping youth leaders curb the post-high school graduation fad of dropping faith.

According to Wilson, “One of the most important things we need to do, and the small church does it best, is integrating generations.”

"We’re pretty good at helping parents disciple their kids,” but, as Wilson mentioned, what happens inside the home is largely outside of our control. “If instead, you look at church as family, we can do something about that. I think that is why integration of generations is the silver bullet.”

Speaking to the influence of parents, Wilson mentioned that “the best discussions of faith happen informally when parents don’t just ask questions but share their experiences.” The same is true of the intergenerational influence.

When students hear the testimonies of age-old faith that has endured decades of hardship, failure, and grief, they indirectly come to a better understanding of the gospel and of scripture.

“They hear things from dialogue with older adults that they do not in conversation with their peers. The more we have them interacting with older people, the more they are going to learn.”

Wilson championed the idea of merging the paths of seniors and students in the ongoing activities of the church.

Some practical ideas gathered through past experience included the following:

  • Providing interview questions for students to ask seniors at events like “How did you court your spouse?,” “What did you learn from your first job?,” and “What advice would you give your teenage-self?”

  • Hosting monthly birthday parties for the entire congregation

  • Offering camp scholarships as an opportunity to “buy stock in a kid” – under the theme of an investment, students and their sponsors sit down to discuss their visions and goals, then report back afterwards

  • Gathering the church community to build signs for youth members’ sports games, then attend the game together

  • Gathering adult volunteers for things other than teaching (serving donuts, driving to events, hosting DNOWS)

"We need to make sure when we get our generations together, that it is not an exception but just what we do at our church.…That's the body of Christ coming together and the reason it helps solidify your student's faith is because when that is what church is to them, they are no longer satisfied with simply segmenting with their age group,” Wilson encouraged attendees.

When students move into college with the greater understanding of biblical community and being witness to the work of Christ within the lives of many, the distractions of the college transition tend to hold less power.

Increasing the amount of touchpoints students have with adults only increases the outlets for faith conversations to take place, Wilson shared.

As a final remark, Wilson told the group that with a greater effort towards intergenerational community in local churches “maybe we can help stem this tide of dropping of the faith after graduation.”

Jane Wilson currently serves as the Youth Discipleship Specialist at Texas Baptists and can be reached at jane.wilson@texasbaptists.org or (214) 828-5215 with questions about additional information.

Related articles: Discipling Generations / Bringing Christ to the Hispanic community / Executive Board aims for agility in meeting needs, reaching next generation for Christ