Benefitting From Intergenerational Relationships
About the Guest
Who else is encouraging your child's faith? Seminary professor Kara Powell tells how our kids benefit from intergenerational relationships. In a study of 500 youth group graduates, the one key ingredient that correlated with mature faith was engaging with multiple generations. Kara encourages parents to provide opportunities for their kids to interact with people from all age groups.
Kara PowellDr. Kara E. Powell is an educator, professor, youth minister, author, and speaker. She is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary (see www.fulleryouthinstitute.org). Kara also serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties and currently volunteers in student ministries at Lake Avenue church in Pasadena, CA. She is the author of many books including Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas t...more
Kara Powell tells how our kids benefit from intergenerational relationships. She encourages parents to provide opportunities for their kids to interact with people from all age groups.
Benefitting From Intergenerational Relationships
Bob: If your kids are going to have a faith that sticks with them when they are on their own, Kara Powell says they need more from church than time with the youth group.
Kara: I love how we have professional children’s ministry leaders / professional youth leaders—I think that’s fantastic. But one of my life mantras is that: “Balance is something we swing through on our way to the other extreme.” In our effort to offer relevant and meaningful programing and ministry to young people, we’ve ended up segregating them—and that is not a verb I use lightly—but we’ve segregated them from the rest of the church. According to our research, that’s actually toxic to their long-term faith.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What kinds of things do we need to be doing, as parents, to make sure that our kids embrace a faith that sticks with them? We’ll explore that subject today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, you shared a story with me a long time ago; and I’ve never forgotten it. You said you were pumping gas at the gas station, and a car pulled up on the other side. A teenager got out, and it was somebody you knew from school, or church, or whatever—
Dennis: He was in my sixth-grade Sunday school class.
Bob: You remember this story?!
Dennis: He grew up and went on through high school. I don’t know—he was probably a senior in high school—maybe, in college.
Bob: But you hadn’t seen him for a long time.
Dennis: I hadn’t.
Bob: And you struck up a little conversation with him.
Dennis: I did. He immediately kind of cupped his hand, and I knew what was taking place.
Bob: Was he hiding a cigarette?
Dennis: He was hiding a cigarette in his hand. [Laughter] You know: “Mr. Rainey’s Sunday school class—what are you going to do?”—your Sunday school teacher has caught you dead-on at the gas pump there—which you shouldn’t have been doing in the first place—
Bob: —not around the gas pump!
Dennis: —not around the gas pump. So, I kind of talked to him a little bit and had a conversation—just smiled and said: “God’s got a plan—He’s got a plan for you. Keep following Him,”—didn’t say a word about the cigarette—
Dennis: —didn’t challenge him on that—just kind of smiled at him, winked, and said: “Stand firm. Keep going.”
Bob: There is something about other adult voices coming around Mom and Dad and echoing what Mom and Dad are saying at home. That’s powerful in the lives of children; isn’t it?
Dennis: We actually prayed for those voices—it used to be families all grew up around one another.
Dennis: The nuclear family was surrounded by aunts and uncles from extended family members. I think you’ve got to pray for some surrogate aunts and uncles today—outside the family—but also make sure you’re tying in the grandparents into your children’s lives.
Bob: Spoken like a true grandparent. [Laughter]
Dennis: There you go.
We have a guest today, Dr. Kara Powell, who is an expert on the youth culture. She is the Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is married to Dave for 17 years—has three children and is raising children in Southern California—that qualifies her to be an expert.
Bob: And I’m guessing your classes fill up quick. I’m guessing there is a waiting list for your classes.
Kara: We have a good time in class—yes.
Bob: I bet you do.
Dennis: You’ve written a book called The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. In it, Kara, you mentioned a concept about intergenerational influence on our kids and how important they are to helping our kids embrace their faith as they grow up. What do you mean by that?
Kara: Well, our team started our Sticky Faith research because we were disturbed by the reality that almost half of kids—from great families and great churches—drift from God and the church after they graduate from high school. We wanted to figure out why that is and what families and churches could do about it.
In our three-year longitudinal study of over 500 youth group graduates, we were trying to look at particular youth group participation variables to see how they were related to mature faith. We were, in all honesty, trying to find kind of a silver bullet when it came to long-term faith.
Well, you’ll be glad that of the 13 youth group participation variables we looked at—
—things like studying Scripture was related to mature faith / service and justice work related to mature faith—but of the 13 variables we looked at, the one that was most correlated to mature faith—and we call this, not a silver bullet, but silver shavings—was intergenerational relationships and worship—in other words, helping young people experience the full life and full adult relationships of the church.
I love how we have professional children’s ministry leaders / professional youth leaders—I think that’s fantastic. But one of my life mantras is that: “Balance is something we swing through on our way to the other extreme.” In our effort to offer relevant and meaningful programing and ministry to young people, we’ve ended up segregating them—and that’s not a verb I use lightly—but we’ve segregated them from the rest of the church. According to our research, that’s actually toxic to their long-term faith.
Bob: So, if you’re talking to folks, who go to a church—and on Sunday morning, Mom and Dad go to the worship service and the teenagers go to the youth group service—you’re saying:
“Time out!—you need to reconsider. That’s not a good model”?
Kara: Yes, creative churches are saying, “If we care about our young people,”—well, we still need times and places for young people to be on their own, talking about life-stage issues. You know, one youth leader told me, “The average 16-year-old doesn’t want to talk about pornography with grandma in the room—
Kara: —“and neither does grandma.” So, that’s a win-win for everybody. We absolutely need those places—just like I, as a mom, need to be with other moms—but we’ve emphasized that too much.
Creative and entrepreneurial churches are saying: “How can we, maybe, have the kids in the worship service for 15 minutes? How can we, once a quarter / once a month, do intergenerational worship? How can we create intergenerational mentoring?” For churches who say, “We really can’t change much of what we do with the weekend worship services,”—“How can we help adults and young people rub shoulders and share life together during the week?”
Bob: You’ve got three kids at home; right?
Bob: And if they’re in the big church service with Mom and Dad.
Do they doodle, and pull out their phones, and kind of get lost in their own world?
Kara: Well, our two teenagers—they don’t; but with our youngest—especially when she was six or seven—she did have a hard time tracking with the adult sermon, so to speak. So, we would let her read. We’d establish with her the times during the worship service where she can read and when she can’t. She can’t read during prayer / she can’t read during singing, but she can read during various parts of the sermon.
I will say—our church—we only do intergenerational worship—we’re a 5,000-person church—so intergenerational worship is a little challenging to bring together—so we do it, maybe, six or seven times a year. Again, our church is saying, “Let’s take some baby steps with intergenerational worship; but let’s figure out how we can have kids and adults interact more on short-term missions trips, on family barbeques, et cetera.”
Dennis: What you’re trying to replicate in the church ought to be happening with Grandma and Grandpa as a part of the family—
—talking about real-life issues; doing a little porch-sitting together; maybe, praying together as a family—not just on the holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter—but getting together.
You talk about rubbing shoulders—you’re not just talking about sitting in a church building and not interacting with each other—has to be some kind of interaction, I would think, for a true faith deposit to be made by an older generation on a younger one.
Kara: Yes. And by working with Sticky Faith churches through our yearlong cohort program, we’ve been able to see an important distinction—which you are hinting at, Dennis; and that is, there is a difference between multigenerational worship and intergenerational worship.
Multigenerational is when everybody is in the same room together, but we’re sitting with our own life-stage and we’re not really interacting. Intergeneration is when we’re not just sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, but we’re looking at each other eye-to-eye.
Bob: And this is not, as Dennis is saying, just about what happens at church. This may be one of the reasons why the family dinner table is as big a deal as it is—or why having relatives over, or friends over, and extended family members over—and all of you doing stuff together.
Our kids need to see that what Mom and Dad are talking about, and what they say they believe, and the way that they do life—they’re not just some weird couple that I happen to get assigned to live with, but there are other people who embrace Mom and Dad’s values—“There is a guy who is going to stop me at the gas station, and he’s going to encourage me on.” We need to be speaking into the lives of the kids in a broader covenant community.
Kara: Yes. And I love it when we can take research and make it as practical as possible. So, let’s try to do that together.
One of the ways that my friend and colleague at Fuller, Chap Clark, has tried to operationalize this—is he talks about, “Let’s reverse the five-to-one ratio.” What do we mean by that? In children’s ministry / in youth ministry in congregations, we’ll talk a lot about, “We want one adult for every five kids.”
What we’re saying, out of our Sticky Faith research, is: “Let’s reverse that so we have five adults for every kid,”—not five Bible study leaders / not five Sunday school teachers—but five adults who are on that kid’s team—five adults who come to hockey games, five adults who come to Boy Scouts / Girl Scouts, piano recital, that play—five adults who that kid knows when there are topics they maybe can’t talk about with Mom, Dad, Stepmom, Stepdad—when they are struggling in ways that they need that web of support—that kid knows that those adults are there.
The way we talk about that in our family really practically is, “Who is on your team?” We talk regularly with our kids about the adults who are on their team.
Dennis: And that takes leadership—you’ve just got to call people out and say, “Who will be the five?”
Kara: Yes. And the good news is—as our kids get older, we can involve them in helping identify the five. So, for instance, one of the ways that Sticky Faith has impacted our family is—as our two oldest have and are turning 13, we wanted to really cement for them this idea that, as they are literally becoming teenagers, there are five adults surrounding them.
Our son turned 13 first, a few years ago. We went to him and we said, “Okay, let’s identify five men that you’re going to spend some time with.” He rattled off the five men that we thought he would—who were, by the way, between about ages 35 and 72. It was a nice broad-age range—men that he looks up to, largely from our church. We contacted all five of those men and said: “Hey, sometime, before Nathan turns 13, would you spend a few hours with him? Take him on a hike / take him to wash your car—we don’t care what you do, but we just want you to share some life advice and spiritual advice.” All five of those men said, “Yes.” Nathan had a fantastic series of gatherings with these five men, one at a time.
Dennis: Do you know what any of the five topics were that those men passed on to your son?
Kara: Yes, because we actually asked them to put it in writing and give it to our son. Then, simultaneous to when Nathan was spending time with these five men, he spent time with my husband in our garage, doing some woodworking.
They made this beautiful box, about the size of a shoe box, out of wood; and that is Nathan’s teen box. We have put what those five men said and the Scripture verses they pointed to—things like “salt and light” / things like “fruit of the Spirit.” We’ve put that in that teen box. The reason we made it a box is so that we could continue to add men into Nathan’s team in a tangible way. Sure enough, a few months ago, we asked our junior high pastor to do the same thing with Nathan. We’re going to keep adding men to that box for Nathan.
Now, we’re doing the same thing with Krista as she turns 13.
Dennis: You know, Bob, one of the things that we’ve done, here at FamilyLife—it’s not exactly what Kara has done here with her son; but we have created a resource called Passport2Purity®.
Dennis: That is an older generation—a mom speaking to her daughter or a father to his son. We’ve created a memorable event to interact around issues they’re going to face as teenagers. And now, we’ve extended that into a new resource called Passport2Identity®—
—which deals with issues of spiritual identity / sexual identity—who you are as a young man / who you are as a young lady—because there is a lot of confusion about this.
This intergenerational movement she’s talking about—frankly—ought to begin at home. It needs to spill over and include others, but it ought to start with Mom and Dad.
Bob: Well, Passport2Identity is not out yet, but it’s coming very soon. This is going to give listeners an opportunity—again, for a mom and a daughter or a dad and a son—to get away and to explore issues about: “What does it mean that I’m a boy and not a girl?” or “What does it mean that I’m a follower of Christ—my identity in Christ?” or “What am I good at?”—because every 14- and 15-year-old is asking the question: “Who am I? What am I here for? What am I good at? Where do I find purpose, and meaning, and validation in life?”
There is nobody better—
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: —to help a son or a daughter wrestle with those questions than a mom or a dad and say, “We’re here on your team with you to help you get there.”
Now, again, in addition to mom and dad, you want other people on your team with you.
We’re talking today with Kara Powell, who is the author of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, on FamilyLife Today. And Kara, you tell a story in your book about a woman named Suzanne who put a team together like this for her family; right?
Kara: Yes. And it was actually a friend of Suzanne’s, whom I met first, who heard me speak about Sticky Faith. This friend came up to me afterwards—and she is about my age / so in her young to mid-40’s—and said, “Hey, you know, my friend Suzanne heard you speak two years ago on Sticky Faith and this whole idea of five-to-one ratio—five adults...”—and Suzanne is also about our age—“Suzanne and her husband went to their three teenaged sons and they said, ‘Okay, who are some adults—five men—that you’d like to get to know better, that you respect, that you’d want to be on your team?’
“So, the three sons each identified five men. Then, Suzanne and her husband went to those 15 men and explained the vision:
“‘We want to create this intergenerational support system for our boys. Would you be part of it?’ All 15 said, ‘Yes.’” Well, it took about a year for Suzanne and her husband to really crystallize that team. That was about a year ago, which was right about the time when Suzanne was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Bob: Oh, wow.
Kara: And now, it is those 15 men who are walking through life with that family.
Kara: And should the Lord choose not to heal Suzanne, it’ll be those 15 men who can continue to walk through life with that husband and with those three boys.
I was so touched by this story of Suzanne that I actually tracked her down and heard her talk more about why she wanted this team for her boys. As amazing as she is, as a mom, here’s what also struck me—she said: “And you know what? I want to help other kids know that they have adults on their team.” She said: “I have chemotherapy regularly; but on days, when I feel physically up for it, I open the front door of our house. That’s a sign to the families and kids in our neighborhood that they can come into our house.
Other parents know that I’m an adult / I’m a safe adult who invests in their kids.”
I love Suzanne’s commitment. This is something I’m striving for myself—to say—not just, “How do I create a five-person team for my kids?”—but, “How am I part of other kids’ five-person teams?”
Dennis: There is something you’re illustrating here, Kara, that I think we’ve kind of rushed by in illustrating that I want to make sure we nail for our parents—because I don’t think it’s something we can take for granted, at least, that this generation understands about bonding with their children.
You point out that the formation of these relationships and the bonding of older to younger was really key in the transference of faith and the future growth of that faith in that child. Would you unpack that a bit because I really do think we’ve got a generation that has spent a lot of time in front of these screens that we carry around and bonding is not something that is necessarily understood like it might have been a few decades ago.
Bob: You don’t bond on Instagram® and Twitter®? That’s not where bonding happens? [Laughter]
Dennis: I’ll tell you what—I bonded with my grandfather on the porch. It was a concrete porch that wasn’t hardly big enough for the rocking chair that set on there and the ice cream machine that he had my cheap labor, cranking that ice cream machine in the heat of a southwest Missouri summer, with an old burlap sack over that ice cream machine.
You know—I don’t remember a thing he said, but he was my grandpa! He was a big man, and he was man of integrity and a strong man. That’s what you’re talking about—there was a bonding that took place. I don’t even know how to describe it—but he was there, and I was there, and we were together.
Kara: Yes. And you’ve identified so well that technology can, certainly, fracture a family. I will say that technology can, at times, strengthen relationships and families.
I’ve seen this with my own teenaged kids—that sometimes, the way we text back and forth is actually a relationship-builder for us. But I think more often than not, you’re right—that it actually hinders our relationships. Not only technology but also time—I mean, every family that I know is so busy driving kids around, getting from event to event, et cetera.
One of the ways that our research has helped me understand how to bond with my own kids is through what the Search Institute refers to as “Your Kid’s Sparks”—your kid’s passions, abilities, and interests. I think, a lot of times, as parents, we are trying to get our kids to step into our world. What better research suggests is—especially as kids become teenagers is—we need to step into our kid’s world.
One of the moms we’ve met in the course of our research—she had a teenage son, who—in speaking of problems bonding—he didn’t want to talk to her. She would try to strike up conversation with him around the kitchen table. He didn’t want any of that. She would say to him, “Let’s go shopping.”
He didn’t want any of that. “Let’s go out for donuts,”—none of that.
The one thing her son loved was movies—that was what he was passionate about. So, this mom became a student of movies. She went online and looked up directors, and Oscar awards, and all that because the one time that her son wanted to spend time with her / wanted to bond with her, so to speak—
Kara: —was when she said, “Hey, how about we go see a movie?”
This very wise mom—she would try to choose movies that had spiritual themes, at least, at some level because the best conversation she had ever with her teenaged son was when they were driving home from the movie theater. And this wise mom also—she would choose movie theaters that were further away, geographically, than she needed to choose because she wanted as much—
Dennis: There you go!
Kara: —time in the car as possible.
Dennis: That’s smart.
Kara: Now, I’ll tell you—this mom—she didn’t even like movies that much, but she was crazy about her son.
Kara: So, she figured out, “How do I enter into my kid’s world?”
For me, as a parent, I love football / I love sports.
It’s easy for me to bond with my 14-year-old son over sports—that’s a no-brainer. My 9-year-old—she loves art. I am so not into art; you know? My husband entered our marriage with two glue guns—I entered it with zero glue guns. [Laughter]
But out of our research—when I’m not sure how to best bond with Jessica, you know—and I’ll say, “Let’s play a game!” “No, I don’t really want to.” “Well, let’s go sit next to each other on the couch and read.” “No, I don’t really want to.” But when I say, “Well, let’s go online and print out some coloring pages,”—and I say it, almost gritting my teeth, because it’s the last thing I want to do—but that’s when she lights up and says: “Yes, Mom. Let’s do that!”
I’ve had to figure out: “What’s meaningful to my kids?” and “How do I stretch myself to enter into that?”
Dennis: What I hear you saying in the book is: “Be intentional about developing the faith of your kids and use all the assets you can bring alongside each and every one of your children.” And we did pray—we prayed, “God, would you raise up an older woman”—or maybe, one who is just a little older than our teenaged daughters—
—“to mentor, disciple, encourage, strengthen?” They can have a huge impact in their lives.
Bob: We’ve already said, this week: “Get the gospel right in your family—understand it yourself, apply it with your kids, make sure that they understand what the Bible is presenting as the good news and not some alternate version of it, and then, enlist the impact of other adults—whether it’s family members, friends, people at church—get them on your team and on your son or your daughter’s team so that the relational dynamic here is not just Mom and Dad with the kids, but it’s broader than that.
If parents do those two things, there is still more they can do; but those are pretty good steps in the right direction.
Kara: Those are foundational steps. And there is no guarantee that even our best, most godly parenting is going to yield godly children; but by keeping the gospel central, by being intentional as parents, by surrounding our kids with a web / a team of support—
—our research shows that we’re increasing the odds that they will follow Jesus for a lifetime.
Bob: And in your book, you give us more than 100 practical, tested ideas—things that, when the foundation is in place, we can build on the foundation with some of the practical things that you suggest in The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Order a copy, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request your copy. Again, it’s called The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. It’s by Kara Powell, our guest today. You can order your copy at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, you stop and think about it—we’ve talked about this a bit—one of the foundational elements for kids embracing a sticky faith is that they’re in a home where Mom and Dad love each other—
—where Mom and Dad don’t do it perfectly—but Mom and Dad demonstrate covenant-keeping love. We want to celebrate, today, with our friends, Richard and Jami Lano. They live in Port Clinton, Ohio—listen to FamilyLife Today on WCRF. They are celebrating 32 years as husband and wife today. “Congratulations!” to the Lanos.
We’re all about anniversaries, here at FamilyLife Today, because our goal, as a ministry, is for more couples to celebrate more anniversaries because they have a marriage and a family that is rooted and grounded in what the Bible teaches about what marriage and family are supposed to be—that it’s all founded on the stuff that we’ve talked about today—on an authentic gospel that brings to life to a marriage and a family.
We’d love to celebrate your anniversary with you this year. In fact, we’ve got some suggestions on how this year’s anniversary could be your best anniversary celebration ever.
Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—leave us your anniversary day and date. We’ll get in touch with you ahead of time and give you some thoughts on how to have a great anniversary celebration in 2016.
And let me just say, “Thanks,” to those of you who partner with us in this mission at FamilyLife. We could not do what we do if it weren’t for the faithful listeners who get in touch with us, occasionally, or as Legacy Partners, each month helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
When you make a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you for your support,” by sending you a copy of Francis and Lisa Chan’s new book called You and Me Forever,along with a conversation we had with the Chan’s recently about their marriage and about marriage in general. That’s our thank-you gift when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY—make your donation over the phone—
—or when you mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; the zip code is 72223. Ask for the book and interview from the Chan’s when you get in touch with us, and we’ll send it out to you.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Kara Powell’s going to be with us again, and we’re going to continue our conversation about what a sticky faith looks like in a family. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?
Copyright © 2016 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.