In Part 1 of “Envisioning the Future of Faith Formation in Your Congregation” I introduced the four scenarios developing through the Faith Formation 2020 Initiative. The four scenarios are designed as an interpretive tool to help you assess your responsiveness to the spiritual and religious needs of people today and as a planning tool to help you design initiatives for the future of faith formation in your congregation.
Part 2 in this three-part series describes Scenarios 1 and 4—both of whom share a receptivity to organized religion and Christianity, but differ in people’s hunger for (and commitment to) God and the spiritual life. I will offer you help to identify how your church is responding to the spiritual and religious needs of people in these two scenarios, and suggest several practical ideas and resources for responding to each scenario.
Scenario #1. Vibrant Faith and Active Engagement
The first scenario describes a world in which people of all ages and generations are actively engaged in a Christian church, are spiritually committed, and growing in their faith. People have found their spiritual home within an established Christian tradition and a local faith community that provides ways for all ages and generations to grow in faith, worship God, and live their faith in the world. Congregations are challenged to provide lifelong faith formation for all ages and generations, at home and at church, that develops vibrant faith, is continuous throughout life, and engages all people in the life and mission of the church community.
In most congregations the overwhelming majority of resources, energy, and leadership are directed toward faith formation with people in Scenario #1, oftentimes with a deceasing number of people for a shorter period of the lifespan (e.g., grade school through high school years). The future of faith formation in Scenario #1 is being significantly impacted by a number of driving forces including: 1) the growing number of people who are leaving established Christian churches—people who claim no religious affiliation (about 15% of the population) and those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” (almost 20% of 18-39 year-olds); 2) declining participation in Christian worship, sacraments and rituals (baptism and marriage), and church life, in general, among those who consider themselves Christian; and 3) a serious decline in family religious socialization at home as few parents make passing on a faith tradition and faith practices central to family life.
Scenario #4. Participating but Uncommitted
The fourth scenario describes a world in which people attend church activities, but are not actively engaged in their church community or spiritually committed. They may participate in significant seasonal celebrations, such as Christmas and Easter, and celebrate sacraments and milestone events, such as marriage and baptism. Some may even attend worship regularly, and send their children to religious education classes. Their spiritual commitment is low and their connection to the church is more social and utilitarian than spiritual. Congregations are challenged to provide faith formation that recognizes that belonging (engagement) leads to believing (spiritual commitment) and a more vibrant faith, and develop approaches for increasing people’s engagement with the church community and the Christian tradition.
Scenario #4 reflects a growing number of people who, while receptive to an established church, do not have a faith commitment that would make their relationship with God and participation in a faith community a priority in their lives. Their occasional engagement in church life does not lead them toward spiritual commitment. Congregations often address the spiritual and religious needs of people in Scenario #4 through the lens of Scenario #1, which doesn’t usually work effectively. Congregations need to begin in the life worlds of Scenario 4 and craft faith formation around their spiritual and religious needs, and their relationship with the faith community.
Viewing the Community through the Lens of Scenarios #1 and #4
Use the descriptions of Scenarios #1 and #4 to reflect on the people in your congregation and your congregation’s responsiveness. Answer the following questions for each scenario:
- Who are the people in your community in Scenario #1 (Scenario #4)? How would you describe them?
- What are their religious and spiritual needs of people in Scenario #1 (Scenario #4)? How would you describe one or two aspects of their religious and spiritual hopes or desires?
- How is your church addressing the spiritual and religious needs of people in Scenario #1 (Scenario #4) through faith formation today?
Strategies for Faith Formation
Reflect on your current faith formation initiatives for Scenario #1 and begin to envision the possibilities for the future. Here are a few examples:
- Develop continuous faith formation for all ages and generations, especially for adults (twenties-nineties), that engages people—mind, body, heart, and spirit—in a diversity of ways to grow in faith for a lifetime.
- Strengthen family socialization by equipping parents and families to become centers of faith formation and practice.
- Become a “sticky” church—keeping all ages involved in faith formation through a diversity of programs, activities, and resources at home and church that address their life situations and religious and spiritual needs.
- Embrace the tremendous potential of digital media and web technologies to provide faith formation and engage people in lifelong faith growth 24x7x365.
- Empower people of vibrant faith with the knowledge, faith sharing skills, and confidence to share their faith with those who are not involved in a church community or spiritually committed.
Reflect on your current faith formation initiatives for Scenario #4 and begin to envision the possibilities for the future. Here are a few examples:
- Begin faith formation with the birth and baptism of children in order to strengthen family socialization by equipping parents and families to become centers of faith formation and practice.
- Develop pathways for spiritual commitment and more active engagement by offering a formation process that helps people develop and deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ, explore the foundational teachings of the Christian faith, and live the fundamental Christian practices.
- Utilize digital media and web technologies to extend faith formation—resources, social networking, faith practices—into the daily lives of people who only participate occasionally?
- Focus on the occasions of participation, such as sacraments and milestones, to provide faith formation that involves the whole family, and invites them into more active engagement in the church community.
John Roberto is the editor of Lifelong Faith Journal and author/editor of many books on faith formation.