the shape of leadership

Cultivating Lifelong Faith in Teens

Review of “Faith Beyond Youth Group”

George P Wood on December 5, 2023


A sentence in Faith Beyond Youth Group captures the urgency of helping teenagers cultivate lifelong faith in Jesus Christ:

While spiritual and religious activity under age eighteen seems to slightly increase the odds of faith lasting after youth group, a compilation of studies indicates that about 40 to 50 percent of youth group kids drift from God and the faith community after graduation.

How should churches respond?

Kara Powell, Jen Bradbury and Brad M. Griffin propose they focus on character formation. For them, faith beyond youth group means “Jesus-centered character that matters every day.” And character means “living out Jesus’ goodness every day by loving God and our neighbors.”

How can churches help teens cultivate such faith?

The authors do not offer an easy formula. As they put it, “X + Y does not always = Christlike character.” Readers looking for a quick fix should look elsewhere.

Instead, the authors outline five practices to help teens become lifelong disciples. These practices emerge from surveys, literature reviews, interviews and site visits conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute, where the authors work.

The five practices are:

1. Cultivate trust. Trust is “teenagers’ confidence that when they offer something personally important to a leader, that leader will act in their best interests.” Leaders cultivate that trust through consistency (“relational longevity”) and closeness (“relational proximity”).

2. Model growth. Too often, youth work focuses on telling rather than showing. For youth workers, modeling means “showing others who we are every day.” Workers reproduce who they are, not just what they teach.

3. Teach for transformation. Teaching is more than information transfer. The danger ministry must avoid is having youth know “what they’re supposed to believe but not why it matters or how to live out their faith in their daily lives.”

4. Practice together. Practice means “moving beyond the head and heart; it takes us into our bodies.” In other words, true knowledge and sincere feeling result in changed action. The authors advocate a “See. Do. Teach” model for helping teens put their faith into practice.

5. Make meaning. As a follow-up to practicing together, meaning-making involves “intentionally reflecting with teenagers on their actions and experiences to spark insight and growth.”

For each of these practices, the authors outline barriers to implementation, cite Jesus’ example, and offer suggestions for putting them into practice. The book ends with a 30-question survey to help youth workers assess the state of their current ministry vis-à-vis these practices.

Recommended for youth workers, whether pastoral staff or volunteer.


Book Reviewed

Kara Powell, Jen Bradbury, and Brad M. Griffin, Faith Beyond Youth Group: 5 Ways to Form Character and Cultivate Lifelong Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2023).


This review appears in the winter 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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