There have been a host of predictions about what life will look like on the other side of this worldwide pandemic. While the effects of the pandemic are already being felt in congregational life, it is probably too soon to fully understand what churches will need to recover from this time and to adapt to new ways of being that have quickly become the new normal.
Recovery may mean setting aside strategies that are no longer viable post-pandemic, due to folks who will want to continue to engage virtually, volunteers who are continuing to enjoy the freedom of a slower pace, and programs that were already sputtering before the pandemic hit. Here are four ways to think about faith formation in our new reality, along with resources that can help.
What if we looked at faith formation as an 80-year journey rather than as mostly focused on children and youth? Discipleship is a lifelong task, not only because we are continually formed by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, but also because we remain unfinished this side of glory.
There is a polarity in lifelong faith formation where the specific needs of demographic cohorts like children, youth, emerging adults, people in midlife and people in the third season of life must be balanced with general faith formational needs that everyone has whether they are 3, 13, 33, or 93.
How might your congregation benefit from a more holistic approach to faith formation that is less segmented and includes initiatives like mentoring and intergenerational engagement? Here are two resources worth exploring: the Building Blocks of Faith Toolkit from Faith Formation Ministries and the many helpful resources from Lifelong Faith.
John Roberto from Lifelong Faith talks about creating a “faith formation ecosystem.” Roberto encourages congregations who are feeling programmatically stretched or are wondering about current program effectiveness to envision these concentric circles: family/home faith formation as the epicenter of the ecosystem, surrounded by peer- or age-based programming, surrounded again by intergenerational faith engagement. Thinking in these concentric circles helps raise the connectivity of your ministries and leverages the energy of one ministry to re-invigorate another.
With the home as the epicenter, the goal is for the family (or other close support network) to be the primary place where folks first engage with their own discipleship and that of their loved ones. Church programming then serves as a support to those efforts, rather than replacing them.
How might creating an ecosystem help ease the busyness of your families and volunteers while leveraging the spaces and places that folks are already inhabiting for faith formative experiences? Here are three resources worth exploring: Handing Down the Faith, the Family Faith Formation Toolkit, and the Intergenerational Church Toolkit.
Often our programming lasts far beyond our collective understanding of why those programs came into existence in the first place. For example, in The End of Youth Ministry Andrew Root points out that youth ministry in its current iteration is often a throwback ministry strategy from the 1980s and 90s, when the “why” for youth ministry was to keep teens busy immersed in a fun, safe, Christian environment.
Today’s busy teens are experiencing extreme pressures to get into a good university that will support their goal of finding a great job. They are not looking to be kept busy, they are looking for a place to feel safe. Are our programs relevant? Even pre-pandemic Tod Bolsinger invited ministry leaders to examine if their ministry strategies were still serving their mission well. Post-pandemic, ministry leaders will experience an altered landscape, so Bolsinger’s book is even more timely. Will our current strategies help us address our changing contexts?
How might your congregation benefit from taking time to reflect on the fundamental “why” for each of your programs while also asking if there might be a different way to address the particular ministry need or goal? Here are 2 resources worth exploring: The End of Youth Ministry and Canoeing the Mountains.
Finally, the pandemic has highlighted the liminal space that many church ministries have been inhabiting for a while now. In many ways we are experiencing the “already and not yet” more tangibly than ever before. Susan Beaumont’s book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going might be a helpful resource for your council or ministry leaders during the time when the roadmap seems less clear. Planning to “return to normal” will not be sustainable, since what we knew as normal has been greatly altered by the pandemic.
If you have questions about any of these resources or want to learn more about coaching opportunities available to you, please contact me at [email protected].