A few years ago I read the book Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. The book is one of two coming out of a major research project by Kara Powell and Chap Clark from Fuller Institute, who researched a group of 11,000 church-going teens. One of their findings in that study was the importance of conversations about spiritual matters between parents and their children. Sadly, the study also discovered that these kinds of conversations are happening infrequently in American Christian homes.
Since then, I have read a number of interesting studies in psychology journals whose findings line up with those in Sticky Faith. A particularly compelling read was Kenda Creasy Dean’s report on the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion research, by sociologist Christian Smith. In her book, Almost Christian, Dean has a chapter on the importance of language for creating not only meaning, but faith. That chapter is so important, I reproduce a portion for you, below.
After a discussion of philosopher Charles Taylor’s writing on language, Dean notes:
If language has world-creating power, a theological vocabulary that helps us talk about God also helps us imagine what a God-shaped world looks like. The Holy Spirit reveals divine truth in the gospel not only to tell us what God has done in Jesus Christ but to help the church envision a way of life in which the life, death and resurrection of Christ become the ‘grammar’ of human existence. Teenagers who have trouble articulating what they believe about God also seem to have trouble forging a significant connection to God – and youth who do not have language for Christ are unlikely to imagine an identity in Christ. The practical theologian Thomas Long points out: ‘We don’t just say things we already believe. To the contrary, saying things out loud is part of how we come to believe.”(142)
Dean then goes on to make a case for what she calls ‘conversational Christianity,’ which includes reflections on the place for testimony as a tool for learning Christian language. (You can see the influence of Dean’s writings in my un-Anglican love of testimony!)
Dean’s writing in particular has galvanized my interest in helping parishioners find ways to gain a language of faith; in the home, it has in particular spurred on my interest in ‘sticky conversation.’
In my next blog posts, I will share resources I have found to encourage sticky conversations in the home, and my own efforts at encouraging parishioners more generally in developing their skills in conversational Christianity.