There has been an uptick of inquiries in my inbox as well as voice mail, all essentially about the same question: “Can you help us figure out what to do with our (fill in the blank: children, youth, adult, formation, education, Church School) ministries program?” The difficulty in responding is that I don’t have an answer. Nothing that is a quick fix. Nothing that hiring a children’s minister, youth director, or Director of Christian Formation can solve (at least not on their own). It can only be addressed through community discernment – lay and clergy leaders with parents especially – working together.
Here’s an example of some of the statements raised, after the initial question:
- Children aren’t coming to Church School.
- Parents are disengaged with talking about faith at home and don’t support their attendance in class (or worship).
- Our teachers don’t like the curriculum we are using (read between the lines . . . What curriculum can you recommend that volunteers like that is easy?)
- Youth are bored.
- We keep reading about putting things online – but who has the time to figure that out?
Anyone who has been involved in Christian formation for the past ten years has been predicting that the future (the present, really) is not the same as it has been in the past. Recent statistics seem to say that an “active” church-goer attends once a month. Experiential learning is best; our children are a “wired” generation; all of us are stretched to the limit (time, money, emotionally and physically).
We are living in a post-Christian society. Yes, people may claim to be members of a church or call themselves a Christian, but living that out by attending Sunday worship (or class) is not part of that picture. There may be many reasons for that – all reasonable: working on Sunday, school or sports activities, custodial parenting, caring for elders, and just plain tired and needing a chance to “sleep in.”
So what’s a church to do?
Think outside the box.
What are you doing that doesn’t work? Why do you need education (or youth group, etc.) on Sunday morning? Why do you need a classroom with children seated at desks with a volunteer teacher reading a story and then doing a craft project that may fall between the seats of the car on the way home? Why do youth need to have fun and pizza at church? Make a list. Any patterns emerge?
What are you doing that does work? How come you see parents in worship with their small children? Why does a wide range of ages show up for a pancake supper mid-week? When donations are requested for a needy family, why is the response overwhelming? Make a list. Any patterns emerge?
Go back to your mission statement: How is your congregation living out the life of discipleship beyond the church? How are individuals (whether they come once a month or every week) being fed to go forth into the world – at home, school, work, and community? Review what Maria Harris (Fashion Me a People) reminds us that formed the early Christian community.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes the course of the Church’s life – its purpose and its actions. It involves every facet of discipleship, at every age, when we: • Proclaim the word of Jesus’ resurrection (Kerygma) • Teach the sacred story and its meaning to our lives (Didache) • Come together to pray and re-present Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Leiturgia) • Live in community with one another (Koinoia) • Care for those in need (Diakonia).
We are very much like the early church today. Our message is the same – but the means by which we share it needs to adapt to the community around us. People won’t come to us – we need to go to them. We can provide that which the world cannot give: Exceptional worship experiences for all ages in which the Holy is encountered. Opportunities to live out our faith, working together with the faith community as its hub, to make a difference in the lives of others. Being embodied people who are witnesses to God’s love.
There is no one program that can make this happen. Nor one person. There is no curricula that will impart the information needed to do this. It is the living, breathing, Body of Christ living within us that reaches out in new ways to heal a hurting world.
Some articles and books that might be of help in further unpacking my thoughts:
- Christian Formation in a Changing Church (Parts 1 – 5)
- Formation for Mission in a VUCA World
- A New Vision for Catholic Religious Education
- Faith Formation 4.0 by Julie Lytle
- Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus by Dave Cisnos and Ivy Beckwith
- A Generous Community: Being the Church in a New Missionary Age by C. Andrew Doyle