This article is part of The Building Blocks of Faith Toolkit—a collection of resources for strengthening faith formation in your congregation and at home, brought to you by Faith Formation Ministries.
The Building Blocks of Faith help churches shape their congregational faith formation culture. Part of that work is to assess and reassess how the culture is being transformed and to fine-tune anything that might be working against that transformation. For example, consider the following discoveries by Lesli van Milligen, Faith Formation Ministries’ regional catalyzer for Eastern Canada (adapted from a blog post):
In a congregation I served, I had the privilege of partnering with our neighborhood elementary school in a program called FAST (Families and Schools Together), which formed a true partnership between the school, the parents, our congregation, and community organizations. I learned a lot from how the FAST program director constantly and consistently used a pattern of reassessment and fine-tuning to ensure that we were accomplishing the goals of the program. We never skipped the weekly post-event debrief or assessment, and the program-ending assessment was a highlight for volunteers.
Those patterns of weekly, mid-program, and end-of-program debriefs helped us do four important things that can also bless your congregation:
Thing 1: Remember Your “Why”
Many, but not all, of the schools that partner with FAST are in challenged neighborhoods or places where addiction is prevalent. Every debrief was an opportunity for the team leader to recast the vision and remind us of the reason we were investing our volunteer time. Each debrief came with a story of how the school was seeing the ripple effect of empowered families. Student behavior, classroom success, parent participation, and pride in the school were all on the rise. And every week I was reminded that the act of cooking for 100 people was making a difference, regardless of whether folks liked my chili that evening or not.
Building Blocks takeaway: The “why” of the Building Blocks is not foremost to create programs but instead to ensure that all programs, ministries, and activities of a church support faith formation. Providing ministry leaders with regular encouragement and stories that highlight the impact of the four Building Blocks will strengthen their resolve to focus on the Building Blocks regularly in their own ministry areas.
Thing 2: Celebrate Often
More often than not in our FAST gatherings, the discussion was filled with words of affirmation for both the program and the people. Celebrating wins for certain aspects of the program helped the team understand why the collaborative efforts of the group were key. Personal affirmations and gratitude helped individuals identify where their contributions added to the overall success of the program. And regular celebration took the edge off the occasional blunder.
Building Blocks takeaway: We want ministry to be faith formative, not just “work that needs to be done.” The Building Blocks encourage ministry leaders and volunteers to share testimonies of how they are growing as Christ-followers as they lead ministry. Assessment should also include gathering impact stories from throughout the congregation.
Thing 3: Build Cohesion
Like the Building Blocks, FAST is a culture-shaping initiative. Everything it does is aimed at empowering parents so that they in turn can empower their children to do well in a school setting where the entire family belongs. This in turn shapes the culture of the entire school.
Every FAST activity worked together to make this happen. It would have been easy to try to cut back this labor- and volunteer-intensive enterprise, perhaps focusing only on the family meal or the parent support program. But the success of the program was built on how those two pieces worked together with literally hundreds of other small and large pieces. Regular assessment allows teams to make sure they are hitting the mark in all areas while also helping the team see how every aspect of a program or initiative supports the whole.
Building Blocks takeaway: Building cohesion is especially key when helping folks in your congregation see how the Building Blocks work together to create a faith-formative culture. The Building Blocks are interlocking, flexible pieces of a healthy discipleship ecosystem.
Thing 4: Make Immediate Corrections When Needed
When we addressed mistakes or things that we had left forgotten, our regular FAST debriefs made certain that those mistakes and omissions did not redefine the program by being repeated. We also had the opportunity to tend to our relationships when mistakes affected people in the program. Regular reassessment and course-correction left little room for resentment to build.
Building Blocks takeaway: From a Building Blocks perspective, corrections might include noticing, for example, a congregational disconnect between willingness to show up to Belonging-oriented events and an avoidance of the call to host such events. A shepherding team might begin to wonder how to support folks in the calling of hospitality and welcome.
Here are a few debriefing and assessment tools that can help you fine-tune your work toward creating a discipleship culture using the Building Blocks of Faith.
For more information on how FAST can be an effective outreach tool for your congregation or for more help with the Building Blocks of Faith, please contact Lesli van Milligen at [email protected]. And check out our free online Building Blocks of Faith toolkit!