In Fashion Me A People: Curriculum in the Church (1989), Maria Harris writes, “Now we are in a time of movement toward a broader, more inclusive, and more complete understanding of what it means to educate. Such education includes education to and by teaching, to and by worship, to and by community, to and by proclamation and prophetic speech, to and by service.”
COVID Sped Up Long Predicted Trends
Although practical theologians such as Maria Harris and John Westerhoff predicted significant shifts in Christian faith formation decades ago (Westerhoff’s first edition of Will Our Children Have Faith? was published in 1976), these changes have come slowly to congregational life in most churches.
The Rev. Keith Anderson, Associate for Digital Content at Lifelong Learning and Pastor of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, PA, believes the COVID-19 pandemic may have sped up some of these shifts. Keith has been reviewing the research and recently shared the following information with church leaders as they work together to re-vision faith formation in their congregation.
Important Trends in Christian Formation
Faith formation is trending away from…
- People segregated by age
- Faith education as the imparting of information from teacher to student with the assumption that wisdom only flows in one direction
- Assumption that change happens slowly
- Emphasis on programs (“Build it and they will come.”)
- Assumption that parents will be formed through their children’s Christian education experience
- Assumption that formation primarily happens at church and is led by paid staff
- Assumption that households attend church regularly
Faith formation is trending toward…
- Intergenerational learning and experiences
- Supporting faith in the home and everyday life
- Adapting to new methods of learning that we see in our schools (for example, integrating technology and project based-learning)
- Faith formation that supports the whole person, balancing a traditional emphasis on intellectual formation with the formation of emotion, body, and spirit
- Supporting children, youth, and adults as they adapt to a rapidly changing world
- Relationships (rather than programs)
- Using appropriate technologies to support, communicate, and inspire
The Response from Church Leaders
It can be challenging to synthesize the relevant faith formation literature and clearly explain these shifts to our church leaders. Many church people have no other experience of Christian education than the “tentpole” model that was birthed in the post-World War II era. Formation programs such as Sunday School and Adult Forum served as the large tentpoles that held up the faith formation tent. There were other things happening in the tent, but those were the primary focal points of time, effort, staffing, volunteers, and funding. We largely lack a framework for new and different approaches to faith formation. Providing leaders with a vision deck like the one below can help clarify these changes. Keith reports that his Church Council and other leaders in the church responded positively to this information and the way it was presented. It allowed everyone to work from a shared picture of how faith formation is evolving.
Another effective way to describe these changes is to share stories of other churches and ministries that take fresh approaches to faith formation. Keith and his church staff are currently reading Paul Hoffman’s Faith Shaping Ministry, which describes how their practice of the catechumenate, which they call “The Way,” shapes Sunday School (They use Godly Play.), Confirmation, Welcome and Hospitality, Worship Planning, and more. Keith and his church staff have already gleaned insights that they will incorporate into their ministry moving forward.
Keith’s Full Presentation
Keith has graciously offered to share a PDF of his full presentation with Building Faith. Click here to download.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links which benefit Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Photo by Joseph Lipari on Scopio.
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