Trends from a Think Tank

Ponderings from a Christian Education Think Tank

A gathering of what I would call the “cream of the crop” Episcopal Christian educators gathered at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in early August. We represented the diversity of formational ministries in the church: lay & ordained, small church, large church, seminaries and other church-wide bodies. We gathered to explore what the future might be for faith formation in the Episcopal Church.

Getting together such a diverse group of folks, many who had never met each other was a daunting task for those of us who were on the planning team. But all who gathered were open to explore new possibilities, make new connections and learn from one another. Egos and agendas were left at the door (if there were any!)

We told stories about our passions and struggles as educators working in the Church.

We listed the needs that we experience and desire for ourselves as well as the greater Church.

And we discovered the many resources that do exist if we connect with one another and share across our disciplines.

We shared what we saw as trends occurring in the communities in which we serve.  Some of the overarching themes included:

  • An uncertainty about the future . . . what will this thing we call “church” look like 20-30 years from now?
  • Churches seem to search for programs to solve their “problems” instead of dealing with the “big picture” of the importance of holistic lifelong formation and what it truly means to be a disciple of Christ.
  • Navigating between the relationships of those who are called to ordained ministry and lay ministry in the church. There is a continuing sense of clericalism and lack of openness to lay professionals working in the church.
  • There is a great loss of professional positions for lay (and clergy) in the church in the area of Christian formation.
  • We talk about the importance of adult formation but spend the least amount of time and money actually doing anything about it – rhetoric vs. praxis.
  • There is tension between leadership in the “emerging-type” church models and with those in traditional positions regarding how leaders should be “trained.”

What next? Strategies were developed for those who wished to go the next step. A report will be forthcoming this is the press release from Episcopal Divinity School.

Stay tuned.

What trends do you see occurring in the field of Christian formation in the church?

2 thoughts on “Trends from a Think Tank

  1. I’ve been looking forward to hearing your report from this conference!

    One thing I’m seeing is that those who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t get the basic Bible and catechism training covering fundamental tenets of faith that previous generations had, and yet we still teach adults starting from that assumption that there’s this baseline knowledge.

    Another thing I’m seeing is that because church attendance is often quite irregular, it’s hard to teach in a serial, linear fashion, building on the knowledge gotten the week before. I find Sunday school programs work more successfully if you build very gradually, covering one theme/topic multiple ways over many Sundays so that everyone encounters the subject matter at least once.

    The loss of paid professional formation people is huge, and a huge loss indeed.

    And going along with the idea of looking for a program to solve their problems, I have encountered the mindset of churches looking for children and youth programs to trickle up to adults (“If we talk to the kids about stewardship, they’ll tell their parents about it.”).

    I look forward to hearing more!


  2. Thanks, Sharon and everyone else who participated in the conference. I think y’all do have your fingers on the pulse of the situation.

    I’m still seeing virtually no interest in adult formation, much less plans or advocacy of it. I also attempts to shift “programs” in “hopes of fixing” very deep rooted problems. We can’t get adults to teach children or youth, because they don’t know the bare basics of the faith themselves.

    I recently attended a fall kick-off brunch of a local Christian formation Friday morning program. About 150-200 YOUNG women were enthusiastically in attendence, 13 classes or support groups were offered, four tables of home-cooked food were served, and live music kicked off the event. I then had to stand in line (I kid you not!) to get into the course on Christian doctrine.

    This, of course, was a Methodist church – they take CF seriously, put money and resources into it, and duh – are the 3rd largest denomination in the country (and very nice and hospitable people, too – at least two greeters pounce on me the moment I walk into the building).

    I’m wondering, why the heck can’t the Episcopalians do at least a little of what the Methodists do?

    Cynthia Coe
    M.A. Christian Education 2003 and still unemployed after 7 years


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