Dr. Kara Powell and the team at the Fuller Youth Institute have been working hard for the last six years to try to figure out how to help kids have long-term faith or “Sticky Faith”. We asked Kara to share a few excerpts from her brand new book to help parents wanting to intentionally set their kids on a lifetime trajectory of faith and service.
This is a second excerpt from Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. If you missed the first, read it here.
Most Kids Do Not Feel Prepared for College
Unfortunately, only one in seven graduating seniors feels “very prepared” for what college brings their way. According to students themselves, most don’t feel set up for success in the transition to college. This is especially tragic given our research showing that feeling prepared matters. The more students feel prepared — whether it be to find a church, engage in a ministry, make friends, or handle new choices about alcohol, sex, and parties — the more likely their faith is to grow.
The First Two Weeks of College Set the Trajectory
Over and over, students have told us that the first two weeks at college are when they make key decisions about drinking and other high-risk behaviors, right along with choosing whether to go to church or to a campus ministry. Many of these decisions are influenced by the new friends freshmen surround themselves with and the situations in which they put themselves. Most kids are unprepared for the intensity of those first days and weeks and have no strategy for how to make decisions during that critical time.
Finding and Connecting to a Church Is Difficult
Engaging in a church or campus group during the freshman year makes a big difference, but most students don’t know how to find a church in college. Though nearly every parent hopes their kids will get involved with a church during college, fewer than 40 percent of students feel prepared to find a new church. Not surprisingly, finding a church was one of the top three most difficult parts of the transition. For kids living away from home, getting connected in either an off-campus church or on-campus Christian fellowship is linked with Sticky Faith in their freshman year. Yet during the fall of freshman year, only 40 percent of youth group alum were attending an on-campus fellowship once a week or more and 57 percent were attending church once a week or more.
Managing Daily Life Is a Major Challenge
Managing daily life is overwhelming for most college students, leaving no time or energy to think about faith. In his study of college freshmen, sociologist Tim Clydesdale found that students become all-consumed with the game he calls “daily life management.” Facing the sudden instability of their new environment, schedule, and virtually limitless boundaries, operating from day to day becomes a practice of sheer survival. Clydesdale describes college students’ new juggling act this way: “[T]hey manage their personal relationships— with romantic partners, friends, and authority figures; they manage personal gratifications — including substance use and sexual activity; and they manage their economic lives — with its expanding necessities and rising lifestyle expectations.”
Our research seems to confirm this. During their freshman year, nearly half of students in our study felt anxious that so much was suddenly up to them to decide. We also found that students struggle most to integrate their faith with their handling of time and money.
Yet both tend to be big hang-ups in college. Given that the average credit-card debt of a college student is more than $3,000 and half of undergraduates own four or more credit cards, these are areas where our kids need help thinking harder about reality. As one college student shared with us, “In high school, everything was scheduled. In college, I was finished with classes by noon, and had all day to do whatever I wanted. And no one asks you if you went to class. Compared to high school, I now know more about myself and less about what I believe than I used to. I hope this will resolve at some point in my life . . . at this point it’s on hold because I don’t have the time or the tools. It’s hard to find time to think about religion or God, and college feels more like living from one day to the next and losing focus on big-picture things.