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Sticky Service: When Missions Moves Beyond the Youth Group

By Brad Griffin and Kara Powell | Fuller Theological Seminary | February 4 2013

It had never occurred to me [Brad] to invite grandparents along on a student mission trip.

Then Julie asked me if her grandparents could join us for two weeks in Costa Rica.

I was a little hesitant. After all, her grandparents were in their 70s. I was several decades younger, and I wasn't so sure they would be willing to follow my lead. Truthfully, I wasn't so sure I would be impressive enough as a leader to garner their respect. Plus, this was a high school trip. What would the other teenagers think when a couple of old folks joined the team?

As it turned out, in many ways Grandpa Bob and Grandma Jean were the heroes of that trip. They offered an ultra-safe presence to kids and adults, and their years of wisdom steadied us without smothering us. Also, a slightly arrogant young youth pastor (me) learned something important about leading a great mission trip.

Sometimes missions needs to move beyond the youth group.

Creating Sticky Mission and Justice Experiences

In our Sticky Faith research at the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), we studied more than 500 youth group graduates across the transition from high school to college to determine what churches and families can do to foster lifelong faith in young people (see StickyFaith.org for more).

One of the early themes that emerged in our study is the power of intergenerational relationships to strengthen teenagers' faith. While this may feel obvious on the surface, in our experience working with churches from across the country we've found that moving from rhetoric to action often proves challenging.

The most typical obstacle leaders find when connecting teenagers and adults is the lack of shared contexts. Adults and kids aren't together very much in most churches. We've become experts at creating age-level programming for everything from Sunday School to mission trips. While we're fans of age-appropriate contexts and content, we think this all-exclusive approach means we all miss something.

The good news is that most of us can tweak what's already on our ministry menu in order to create contexts for connection. Mission trips, service projects and justice-seeking advocacy work all offer fertile soil for the cultivation of intergenerational relationships.

Following is a list of ideas and best practices from churches across the country, many of which have been part of our Sticky Faith Cohort process during the past three years.

1. Adults can provide important scaffolding for young people on a mission.

A Texas youth pastor named Cory tried something new this past summer when their high school ministry took a mission trip to Chicago. Ahead of time, they invited older adults in the church to adopt every student and adult on the trip. These adults prayed for the team members for the month leading up to the trip and throughout the trip itself. They also wrote their prayer partners letters that were given to them by the leaders in the middle of the trip.

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