Book Review: Sticky Faith Innovation
Sticky Faith Innovation by Steven Argue and Caleb Roose. Fuller Youth Institute. Pasadena, CA. 2021. 270 pages.
When was the last time you had a “good idea” and tried it in youth ministry? How did it go? Truth be told, not every idea we have is a good one, right? And yet we still need to bring creativity into the intersection of teens’ lives and the story of Jesus. What if you had a process—a way to help you and your team be more creative, to minister to young people in ways that were more … innovative. And what if this innovation helped you/your team/your teens become more of who God wants us to be? Does this interest you?
Two youth leaders partnered to write Sticky Faith Innovation (yes, this is related to the 2011 FYI book Sticky Faith) to help youth leaders pursue a process that helps teenagers develop a faith that lasts (“sticky faith”). The authors challenged leaders to do more than just the “same ol’ same ol’” by pursuing youth ministry innovation as a team ministry.
The authors come from Fuller where Steve Argue teaches youth, family, and culture, and Caleb Roose serves as the Fuller Youth Institute project manager. The authors stated, “The goal of this book is to inspire and equip you, the youth leader, to develop tailor-made, fresh ministry approaches that can support your young people’s growing faith as they navigate life’s changes, challenges, and instabilities” (p. 20). To accomplish this they presented three main “moves” (principles) for a youth leader to help teens have sticky faith: Compassion, Creativity, and Courage. And each of these three principles has two steps. Together, these six steps make up the Sticky Faith Innovation Process. This list might make it easier to visualize.
Sticky Faith Innovation Process:
- COMPASSION (Empathize and Interpret)
- CREATIVITY (Expand and Narrow)
- COURAGE (Experiment and Launch)
The authors began with compassion because they believe youth ministry should be focused more on “people, not programs” (p. 37). This remains consistent with Chap Clark’s youth ministry emphasis on compassion at Fuller. To grow in compassion, youth leaders need to empathize with teens and help guide them to interpret where they are and direct them to better answers.
Empathy–Empathy involves listening carefully, and elevating “the voices and stories of teenagers” (p. 65). It “puts young people first in your ministry…their perspectives, their feelings, their needs” (p. 37). It might be easier and more predictable to plan a program than listen to the messiness of a teen’s journey. Don’t merely reflect on your own teen years; instead, listen to the fresh stories of today’s teens. This foundational skill starts the process of innovating ideas to help teens get to better answers. This leads to the interpret step.
Interpret–Life happens and teens often cannot make sense of it. Instability often fills a teen’s world. This is where the youth leader comes in. By listening well, you will hear a teen’s “gap”—the space between where a teen has their current answers for life versus a more Jesus-centered set of answers where teens see their life through the lens of Scripture.
Most teens continue to ask these three basic questions in various forms:
- Identity – Who Am I? (young people’s view of themselves)
- Belonging – Where Do I Fit? (young people’s connection to others)
- Purpose – How Can I Make A Difference? (young people’s contributions to the world)
This is where youth leaders go into the gap. This is where teens “most need you” (p. 17). To help young people answer these three questions, the youth leader shows up and extends compassion to teens through empathizing (listening/discovering teens current answers to life) and interpreting (helping teens find better answers–Jesus-centered answers).
Creativity is about innovation and exploring new ways to do ministry with young people, not to be novel, but to focus one’s creativity on the “gap” discovered through Compassion. It has two steps: expand and narrow. These steps focus “your compassion to tap into your creativity” (p. 111).
Expand–The youth leader stretches the team to exercise their ministry imagination to remain focused on the “gap” (see above). Invite youth leaders to discover which practices help teens develop a faith that lasts. Brainstorm ideas, write them down, and capture every comment. This step has the potential to build a safe place where leaders can dream together.
Narrow–We all have limits. So, after taking the step to expand, the next step is to “narrow” down the ideas. Where do you see common trends? How can you combine ideas? Which idea BEST addresses the “gap”? This process helps the team focus and choose which idea will best move your teens forward based on what they have shared with you through compassion (empathizing/interpreting), and how can you put forth your best effort through creativity (expanding/narrowing). This will move teens forward in their spiritual journey to find a faith that fits now and grows over their lifetime.
The third “move” in the Sticky Faith Innovation process is courage—moving from a theoretical idea to actually implement it! To increase courage, the authors invited youth leaders to experiment—testing the idea in a smaller setting and then revising it. Then you can launch—put the idea into practice with your whole youth ministry.
Experiment–This step invites the youth leader to gather other youth leaders/parents to share their big idea and get feedback. Also, the youth leader gathers a small sampling of youth to test the idea. Asking questions, doing surveys, talking about what the experience was like sharpens the idea, and the process cultivates better relationships. Even if the idea doesn’t work or go public, you have grown as a team!
Launch–Do what you have been preparing to do. Now you have the courage and the confidence to launch the innovative idea/practice. It’s time to do it!
The Sticky Faith Innovation process has three moves: Compassion (empathizing/interpreting), Creativity (expanding/narrowing) and Courage (experimenting/launching). This process develops a way to help teenagers address their big questions of Identity, Belonging, and Purpose. It’s repeatable. And it works best with a team rather than a solo youth leader.
This book provides a structure to guide you and your team to be more innovative when it comes to youth ministry. It has Reflection Pages after each chapter and How-To Exercises to walk a youth leader through the process. One caution I would give is that this book is really written for larger churches—80% of the churches they worked with had more than 250 active members, and about 60% had more than 500 active members. In my context it’s the opposite—80% of our churches have fewer than 500 active members. And the authors confessed that the majority of the churches they worked with had at least a part-time or full-time paid professional paid youth leader. I would like to see more written about youth ministry in smaller churches with one youth leader and a couple teens. Maybe this is a chance for a solo youth leader to partner with parents.
Pedro E. Perez, DMin, serves as the director of Pathfinder and Adventurer Ministries for the Florida Conference.