Christian Formation in a Changing Church: Part 4

This is the fourth part of a series of posts stemming from a presentation I did at the 3rd Annual “Spring Training for God’s Mission” Day 2015 for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, March 21, 2015. Read Part 1: How Did We Get Here? and Part 2: Today’s Context and Part 3: A New Ecosystem

Networked TeacherPart Four: Nurturing Networks

In our new ecosystem, we have available numerous tools to connect with one another beyond our church buildings. As we help equip our members (and others in our communities) to learn more about the Gospel, develop spiritual practices, and  nurture their children’s faith development at home we can provide numerous entry points of engagement. We are all networked – through our smart phones, computers, and other digital devices. We can research any topic we have an interest in, and many research about God, Jesus, and religion. But are their Google™ results compatible with our faith tradition and practices? There are a variety of ways we can help connect and collaborate in our learning and formation – but we need to find (or create) the content we want to share. Scott Thuma wrote an article on Building Faith in March 2012 entitled, Virtually Religious: Technology and Congregations that gives an insight on why we need to be moving in this direction.

Hybrid networks are one of the ways churches are beginning to experiment and try new models of faith formation. Connect with people where they are at times that are convenient to them – for we know that Sunday morning is not the best time for everyone anymore. Randall Curtis, Ministry Developer for Youth and Young Adults in the Episcopal Church in Arkansas shares how the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Seminary is helping congregations do just this:

Key Resources offers a great article (Expanding faith formation reach with hybrid networks) outlining this process, including “The idea here is to stop offering programs (“show up when and where we tell you and learn what we want you to learn”) and start nurturing networks (“get connected with others who want to learn and do so at your own pace and with the church’s blessing and support”). For an excellent summary of faith formation networks, check out the Summer 2013 issue of the Lifelong Faith Journal, which is entirely dedicated to the subject.”

Some examples of how churches are developing hybrid models for faith formation:

  • Day Smith Pritchartt wrote about Shutting Down the Sunday School and how she began a hybrid model (FISHING) at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. She took a “traditional” curriculum – Living the Good News  (which is now online) and the Episcopal Children’s Curriculum – and is delivering it to families in a new way.
  • An adult formation portal for members of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, Connecticut to connect to faith practices (Beyond Our Windows).
  • Faith & Fun @Home is curated by Elizabeth Windsor for St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Acton, Massachusetts.

Here are a few more models that you can steer folks to who want to learn, but don’t have the time or bandwidth to show up regularly for adult formation in person. However, it is still important to build community in person to share learnings on a regular basis whenever possible. For many congregations, that continues to be a difficulty.

  • ChurchNext provides videos and online learning on all sorts of topics with nationally known respected leaders.
  • The Society of St. John the Evangelist offers podcasts and daily devotions.
  • Lent Madness offers a religious version of March Madness in which basketball teams are switched to saints of the church to win the golden halo.
  • TedTalks offer many opportunities for spiritual enrichment. Brene Brown, an Episcopalian, is their most watched presentation host.

fear-threeThis is just a sampling of what the future may be for Christian formation in our churches. First and foremost, we need to let go of fear – fear of change, fear of trying something new, fear of failure, and fear of the backlash that some may pose to us. But what is the alternative? The good news is that there are many people in small and large congregations who are beginning to think outside the box. We need to engage in networking with them, knowing that when we put our heads together to dream new ways of bringing the Church into being, we will be much stronger. It is time to leave our silos of trying to fix old models that worked a century ago. We are living in a reformation age – think – re-formation. It is time to collaborate, innovate, and use the tools and gifts that God has put before us to help proclaim the Gospel of a new world, a new generation, a new Church.

To help you get connected to others, I recommend the following curated websites that highlight best practices and share innovative ideas that are within our reach.

  • Building Faith – articles from practitioners regarding Christian formation
  • Forma – a network of creative Christian formation folks (lay/ordained, paid/volunteer, children/youth/young adult/adults) who dream big, have passion, and care helping others grow in faith
  • Vibrant Faith Ministries – research and ideas for all generations
  • Hope4ChristianEducation – a curated site of articles from a broad spectrum of denominations
  • Key Resources – book and curriculum reviews, digital ministry ideas
  • Worshipping with Children – resources and ideas for the inclusion of children in worship
  • StoryPath – using children’s literature to share God’s Story, including pairings with the Sunday lectionary

Tomorrow’s post: Part Five: Where Do We Go From Here?

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