Imagine faith formation today in a church community. A variety of high-quality faith formation programs for grade-school children, youth, and adults are offered throughout the year. The children’s program consists of weekly classes and occasional special activities and events. The youth program is a mix of confirmation classes, youth meetings, service projects, and special events and trips. Adult programs include courses on a variety of topics, seasonal presentations like a Lenten series, and small group Bible study. Family programs are offered several times a year to connect families with the celebration of the church year seasons. In the summer, children and their parents participate in a Vacation Bible School program, while young people are engaged in service projects and mission trips locally and across the country. Milestones and sacraments provide opportunities for faith formation at baptism, first communion, receiving the first Bible, and confirmation. For people interested in becoming Christian, there is a yearlong process of faith formation to prepare them for baptism and joining the church.
It is a huge undertaking for the church and their faith formation leaders to provide this level of faith formation programming. But is it enough? Even though the community is very positive and supportive of faith formation and the great work that is being done, there is a feeling among the leaders that something is missing. They are working harder and providing more programming but not achieving the impact they desire. They wonder why teens leave the church after confirmation. Why are parents bringing their children to classes but not to worship on Sunday? Why do some families get involved only when they are celebrating a milestone or sacrament? Why don’t more adults participate in the adult faith formation programs? Where are all the people in their twenties and thirties? Why do parents have their child baptized and then never return to church again? How can we reach the new ethnic groups that are moving into our community? How can we reach those who have left the church?
The pastor, staff, and faith formation leaders see the changes occurring in their church, in their community, and in the world, and wonder what the future holds for them. If present trends continue what impact will they have on the future of the church? What will happen if the church doesn’t respond to the challenges, if faith formation is not aligned well with the life situations and the spiritual needs of people today and in the future? The pastor, staff, and faith formation leaders feel that the pressing demands of the present preclude the possibility of imagining the future of faith formation in their church. Yet they must envision the future and design new initiatives to provide vibrant faith formation for all ages and generations if they are to thrive as a church community.
Does this sound familiar? Over the past two years I have been leading an initiative, Faith Formation 2020, to help leaders envision and design 21st century faith formation in their congregations. While no one can definitively map the future of Christian faith formation, there are tools that congregations can use to interpret their current reality and envision the future. Scenario planning is one of those tools and, through the Faith Formation 2020 Initiative, we have developed four scenarios that leaders can use to discuss, interpret, envision, and design the future of faith formation in their congregations. The four scenarios express a range of possible futures facing congregational faith formation over the decade from 2010 to 2020.
1) Scenario #1 – Vibrant Faith and Active Engagement: The first scenario describes a world in which people of all ages and generations are actively engaged in a Christian church, are spiritually committed, and growing in their faith.
2) Scenario #2 – Spiritual but Not Religious: The second scenario describes a world in which people are spiritually hungry and searching for God and the spiritual life, but most likely not affiliated with organized religion and an established Christian tradition.
3) Scenario #3 – Unaffiliated and Uninterested: The third scenario describes a world in which people experience little need for God and the spiritual life, and are not affiliated with organized religion and established Christian churches.
4) Scenario #4. Participating but Uncommitted: The fourth scenario describes a world in which people attend worship and church activities occasionally, but are not actively engaged in their church community or spiritually committed.
Imagine what faith formation could look and feel like in your congregation if you are responding to the challenges and opportunities in each scenario. Imagine the life of your congregation in 2020 if faith formation addresses the spiritual and religious needs of all ages and generations in each scenario.
In Part 2 and 3 of this series I will describe each scenario, offer questions to stimulate your reflection, and suggest practical ideas and resources for responding to the scenario.