I conducted an on-line survey from April 1 – May 1 to learn what curricula was being used in congregations with children, youth and adults. Not surprisingly, most respondents were Episcopal, due to how individuals learned about the survey, but there were participants from all mainline denominations. While this was by no means a ‘scientific’ study done by a statistician, it does capture a glimpse of what Sunday (for the most part) education looks like in today’s congregation.
Of those churches who responded, most have some sort of offering for children’s education. As an individual ages past elementary school, the likelihood of any educational programming decreases. Churches seem to continue to fall under the “education is for children” model, with programming for high school students and adults are most likely the least attended, if there is any programs offered at all.
39% of the responses indicated that they used a Montessori-type curriculum (Godly Play, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Children & Worship, The Way of the Child) with children – the same percentage as those who used traditional curriculum that focused on a bible story based lesson plan.
The most striking (and not surprising) result of the survey is that educators and clergy alike are not only concerned about the costs of budgeting (or lack thereof) of educational programming, but the perceived apathy of congregants. Time and commitment for participants as well as volunteer leaders is seen has having a major impact on formation programs in churches. Comments such as, “People are too busy,” “No one shows up when we offer what they ask for,” “Everyone is spread in a million directions and church is often the last priority” were typical.
Concerns & Issues:
- Commitment – Adults (especially parents) do not show commitment to education or regular attendance. While children have expressed a desire to attend programs, they are too busy and have other obligations. Sunday worship and education is not a priority for families. It is difficult to find volunteers to teach (especially if using Godly Play) for extended periods of time. Volunteers will commit to one week at a time. In small congregations it is one or two individuals who do all the teaching; in large congregations it is hard to get a commitment.
- Time – no one has any – volunteers, families, children, youth.
- Money – lack of funding and inability to purchase materials limited what churches could offer in published curricula and resources; annual fees for curriculum limits choices
- Participation and attendance – See time and commitment
- Teacher training – Many feel inadequate to teach and leaders desire more resources to provide teacher training.
- Pedagogy – Most adult programs still follow an old model (“1950s” was mentioned several times) of teaching. Young adults do not want this type of curriculum or leadership (lecture, books, handouts) and are seeking relational models. Those who tend to participate in adult education are those who grew up with a more didactic model. This is a source of frustration for Christian formation leaders.
One conclusion I have made from all the data:
Churches that have higher participation and more offerings, no matter their location or average Sunday attendance, are ones that are more likely to have a paid staff person overseeing Christian formation and/or youth ministry (clergy or lay). This would seem to indicate that those churches that have a designated person (staff) to oversee educational ministries have more consistent and well attended programs, compensating for the lack of time that volunteers are able to give toward organizing and implementing such programs.