Parallel Discipleship

FYI | Apr 2, 2015

Photo by Jason Mrachina

Today’s guest post is from Matthew Humphreys, youth pastor at Trinity Church in Salem, Oregon. Matthew is a Fuller grad and was part of a Sticky Faith Cohort in 2012.

Can parents and teenagers grow in faith together … at church?

We discovered an opportunity right under our noses to try out that idea at our church. While there are significant life stage differences between high school students and parents of adolescents, the tools that encourage spiritual growth and everyday interaction with God don’t have to be that different between the two.

It started by recognizing that one of the classes that met every Sunday morning was primarily composed of parents of adolescents. I began working together with the class leaders to equip this group with the language of Sticky Faith and to look for intentional curriculum to encourage parents’ faith development. As we reviewed curriculum options, we began to consider occasionally utilizing an approach that encouraged parallel discipleship. Parallel discipleship is when two groups are receiving similar teaching and application at the same time.

Using Fuller Youth Institute’s free Sticky Faith Every Day curriculum, our high school class and the Parents of Adolescents class gained tools for an everyday faith in parallel. As a result, parents and students were able to work collaboratively on living out the faith practices discussed in class.

There have been times in the past when we experimented with combining our high school class with other adult classes, with mixed response from both groups. However, by engaging them in their own environment (separate from their parents), our high school students were better able to hear the material as relevant to them. In a sense, the opposite was also true as parents were better able to hear the material for themselves first and their family second.

In my experience, sending students home with an assignment for the week requires some form of accountability if we hope anything will come of it. By teaching the series in parallel, it provided accountability for both the students and the parents, and both reported engaging the assignments. A number of parents also shared that they were more eager to talk with their kids about the material, because they knew it was similar and created some great points of conversation. Some families were actually more likely (and made more of an effort) to come during those weeks because of the engagement created by the unique approach to learning.

The series was designed to equip participants to engage in various spiritual practices that develop an everyday kind of faith. The goal of the parallel class experience was that parents and students would both choose to put into practice what they had learned, and then encourage each other through follow-up conversations and goals. It was helpful that the curriculum included handouts with simple directions for immediate application and conversation guides.

Parallel discipleship is most effective when the follow-up conversation is within 3-4 hours of the class. The high school student leaders worked hard to create an effective response, but this did not happen for parents. We learned that it is helpful to begin and/or end with both groups together so that they are able to truly catch the vision for the shared journey and have space to process together.

Have you ever tried parallel discipleship across generations? How did it go? What did you learn?


The Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) exists to translate RESEARCH into RESOURCES that TRANSFORM youth and family ministry.

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