Category Archives: Trends

2015: Top Formation Trends & Articles

Paschal_Candle_Symbols_2015As 2015 comes to an end, I thought it would be interesting to see what articles I either shared or bookmarked for further reading and study that related to the changing landscape of Christian formation in the Church. In the past I have written about trends and the future, with my five-part series, Christian Formation in a Changing Church getting a lot of traction from readers. What have others been writing about this year that informs where our focus could (or should) be in 2016? Where does our attention need to be focused? Check out some of these articles:

A new ministry structure experiment at Olivet United Church of Christ in Lino Lakes, MN was shared by Faith Formation Director Amber Espinoza on Vibrant Faith. It involves ending classroom-based Christian education, toys in the atrium (aka Narthex in Episcopal circles), the integration of children in worship, and family retreats.

The Confirmation Project is a five-denomination study that has taken place over the past few years looking at best practices of confirmation preparation in our churches. Here is their latest webinar, in which Lisa Kimball (Virginia Seminary) and Terri Elton (Luther Seminary) share their insights from the study. Basically, Confirmation is just one of many important aspects of youth formation. It is an opportunity to bring young people along into a life long journey of faith. And it’s important that once confirmed, the relationships continue post-confirmation and the community continues to support them in faith. Continue reading 2015: Top Formation Trends & Articles

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Is Formation Important to the Church?

Gleanings from Church Visitations

My travels take me to many dioceses in The Episcopal Church. In 2010 alone I’ve made presentations for the Episcopal Dioceses of Bethlehem, Rochester, Hawaii, North Carolina, Southwestern Virginia, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, plus events in Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and California. I’ll soon add Oregon and San Joaquin to the list this fall. Several themes and questions emerge from all these trips. I’ve also participated in ecumenical events and networks. The questions are the same, with perhaps a few tweaks in the responses:

  • Is Christian formation important in the [Episcopal] Church?
  • How does the [Episcopal] Church measure up when it comes to promoting life long Christian Formation in 2010?
  • What will the future of the Church be?
  • Are there mandates for guiding the Church in being more intentional about Christian education in the future?

Depending on who you speak with or what diocese or congregation you are in, the answers to all of the above range from “Yes” to “No” and “It is a high priority” to “It’s just given lip service.” Some congregations are innovative and provide engaging opportunities for growing in knowledge and the mission of Christ, while others still focus on education for children in a 1950s model of coloring and pasting, pizza and games for youth (if there are any), and passive adults who have never opened a Bible, let alone read it on their own. Some just choose to “entertain” because they feel it is the only way to grab folks’ attention. After all – we need to be fun! (Is that what Jesus calls us to do?)

Some denominations put more emphasis (read: staff and funding) in the area of support and resources. Despite budget cuts in all denominational and publishing areas, the ELCA still sets the bar in making education a priority. The Presbyterian Church is not far behind. And I would give kudos to the United Methodist Church. Something they have in common is their high regard for educators in their churches. They have standards for professional Christian educators and they make sure they are compensated and recognized for their expertise. They require continuing education – and then offer vehicles for obtaining the CEUs needed each year. As a denomination, the Episcopal Church continues to pass the buck, if there even is one for education.

Gone are the days when Mom stays home to take care of the kids and volunteer 40 hours at church for the Sunday School, Women’s Club, Altar Guild and Rummage Sale. Mom (or Dad) is lucky to have the time to volunteer an hour or two on Sunday mornings to teach or lead youth group (forget about the time to plan ahead). And the leadership in many churches fail to recognize that the paradigm has shifted about how we learn, what it takes to put a quality program that is holistic together, and the necessity to move away from the clerical model in which “Father knows best” (and I don’t mean Dad).

As Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence, we are living in the midst of a new reformation. She quotes Bishop Mark Dyer as saying every 500 years the church has a rummage sale, and now is the time for us to clean out what’s been laying around. What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to re-energize and invigorate. What do we need to do that is authentic, creating a new paradigm?

At the 2009 General Convention, the Episcopal Church endorsed two resolutions that did not get much publicity after the initial press releases. For many, they were resolutions supporting what we thought we already believed in. For others, it was a celebration of a time long in coming, when mission and formation were at the center of who we are as a Church. Fourteen months later, I wonder how many leaders (bishops, priests, deacons and laity) remember these statements?

The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and Education

This is an intentional opportunity for the entire Church to engage in conversation about how God invites, inspires and transforms us through education, liturgy, service and mission.  Read more here.

Five Marks of Mission

Adopted throughout the Anglican Communion, these are areas we are called to live out in our teaching, practice, and everyday living.

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

One of the events I participated in this summer was a “symposium” sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School. I have a previous post about this event sharing what trends this group of educators saw in the Church. Another area of energy focused on the needs of Christian educators. This list was long, and frankly, depressing. Educators have a passion for their work and ministry and continue to soldier on, despite oft-times being powerless in a clerical system, marginalized in leadership settings and structures, and asked to do more with less.

All of this has been reinforced in my travels this year. Listening to the volunteer and paid Christian educators it is obvious they are committed to this ministry. They seek resources and connections. They desire more communication from their “national” church staff. They desire more support from bishops and other judicatory leaders as well as their congregational pastors and governing boards. They desire seminaries to offer courses for laypersons as well as practical tools for ministry to those who aspire to ordination. And it’s not all about money. It’s about respect and collegiality.

If the Church is to have a future, we need to focus on the mission of Jesus Christ. We need to understand what it means to be formed in the image of God. We need to create safe communities for conversations on difficult issues. And if we support educators by offering local training, resources, support and validation we will be able to help all ages articulate their faith in a multi-cultural, post-post-modern world. Living out documents like the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and the Five Marks of Mission will be central foci for what we are to be about.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.

  • Any ideas how we can move forward?
  • How are you supported (or not) in your formational ministries?
  • Your thoughts?

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?

It’s Not the Museum of Modern Art – It’s a Church

The Midwest MOMA?

In many of my travels and conversations with Christian educators, the topic of the “big box church” competing for their children and youth’s attention usually comes up. How can the “average” church engage families when there is something more exciting in town? And they’re not talking about Sunday morning soccer or tee-ball. How can a congregation “compete” with a church that can pull out all the stops for the Gospel mixed with entertainment?

North Beach

Tour the campus. At North Beach, students cross over the bridge between 2 orange palm trees through the glass entry where they check in and hang out and visit while announcements are shared over huge flat-screen TVs overhead.  Or they can gather in the Kowabunga Kafe for a snack, the Mezzanine that is lined with arcade games, pool tables and air hockey. The Hang Ten Room is another sitting area, or the Fire Pit and Pods are open for community building. These pre-staging areas all lead to the Main Area, where the Stage is located and the service takes place. (Northview Church)

About a month ago I was in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis to lead some workshops for Christian educators. The participants didn’t bring up this subject – I did. And later that day, my host, Debra Kissinger drove me around the neighborhood of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church (a brand-new complex of immense size itself) in Carmel, Indiana to see what was popping up in town. It wasn’t Home Depot, Walmart, or IKEA. It was the megachurch – and I’d never seen so many in such a short 3-mile radius. My jaw continually dropped as we rounded each corner. How does a community sustain this many huge churches?

Joel Osteen draws the largest weekly church crowd in America – 30,000, at three services. Rick Warren counsels pastors and political leaders in many countries (and has the bestselling nonfiction book in US history). Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Association mentors more than 11,000 churches. These high-profile pastors are helping shape a religious phenomenon that is growing in a neighborhood near you – the megachurch. Defined as a non-Catholic congregation with at least 2,000 attendees, on a typical weekend, the largest megachurch hosts roughly 30,000 people, with a 300-member choir and a 10-piece band.

We're not at the Mall

As we drove from site to site (with the theme song of Mission Impossible thumping through my brain) we stealthily wove our way in and out of parking lots as members began the steady stream into the amphitheater-style buildings for Saturday evening worship at 5:00pm. Debra drove as I hopped out to take a quick snapshot. The parking lots were filling, just as they do in my hometown on a Saturday night at the megaplex. I was incredulous. What’s the big draw? Anonymity? Good coffee? A live band? A charismatic leader? Comfy seats? Easy answers? Gospel-Lite? The assurance of going to heaven?

Megachurch memberships generally explode within a two- to five-year period, becoming overnight successes. This can serve as a powerful attraction to one who is contemplating which local church to attend. As one member commented, “You hit a certain size and you can become self-generating. You attract people by your sheer size. People know that you are on TV and that this is that big place…There is a sense of something going on here…and size itself begats [sic] more growth” (Hartford Institute for Religion Research).

Door to Door Service

Upon entering this particular church, you would see why it is so attractive to the average person. In the foyer, you are immediately greeted by five 50-inch plasma-screen televisions, a bookstore and a café with a Starbucks trained staff. Those who enjoy Krispy Kreme doughnuts will be happy to know that these are served at every service. For the children, there are numerous Xboxes available to hold their attention (ten for fifth- and sixth-graders alone). And don’t want to walk across the football-size parking lot to the main entrance? No problem – there’s a little shuttle bus to bring you door-to-door.

The website is a portal into the pulse of the church. Podcasts of sermons. A special section for newcomers with service times, information, directions, FAQs and how to plan your visit. The latest message, “Healthy Family – Contemplative Family,” click here. VBS programs at Grace Kids Camp, click here. “Serving Central” offers a volunteer database to find a ministry to serve using your gifts and talents, click here. And it’s never too early to sign-up for our next baptism service, click here (Grace Community Church)

It's not IKEA

What do these churches have that many of our “traditional” churches lack? Besides all of the above for the most part, they cater to those who are seeking answers and are looking for community. And they make it easy. They ask for a commitment, including one’s stewardship of time, talent and treasure. And I believe they tap into the culture we live in today of wanting customized service, ease of access, the latest technology. Being a person who loves her liturgical tradition and the open-mindedness of not leaving one’s mind at the door, I wonder what us “mainliners” can learn from the Big Box Church.

Your thoughts?

Virtually all these megachurches have a conservative theology, even those within mainline denominations.  A large number are nondenominational but the majority are affiliated with a denomination. The groups in the table below account for 80% of all megachurches:

A lush campus with fountains

Nondenominational 34%

Southern Baptist 16%
Baptist, unspecified 10%
Assemblies of God 6%
United Methodist 5%
Calvary Chapel 4.4%
Christian 4.2%
In terms of theology of the congregation, the label that 403 megachurches, surveyed in 2005, selected to best fit their membership’s orientation were as follows:
Evangelical 56%
Charismatic 8%
Pentecostal 8%
Moderate 7%
Traditional 5%
Seeker 7%
Fundamentalist 2%
Other 7%

* Statistics are from The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2005. Hartford Seminary

Update: An article posted on USA Todays’ Faith & Reason blog page adds to the conversation. When it comes to worship, does size count?