I keep a very cheap child’s magnifying glass on my desk. It’s the remnant prop that I used in co-leading a workshop last May. It never quite got put away and now gets moved around. But sometimes I pick it up and hold it as I sit and think, or it will catch my eye during Skype meetings.
These past weeks I’ve tried to get out my own crystal ball and think more about the future of Christian formation in congregations.
Shine: Living in God’s Light is the curriculum produced by MennoMedia and Brethren Press for ages three through grade eight. It’s in its first quarter of use and we are already asking ourselves, What’s next?
Yes, you read that correctly: while Sunday school teachers are finishing off this first quarter of Shine, we are making plans for three years from now.
What follows is a smattering of tidbits that have piqued my attention on this topic in the last few weeks.
- Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, had a provocative post this week on the “Rise of the Dones.” This post—and the research it’s drawn from—make the case that “to an increasing degree, the church is losing its best” to no church at all. There is a growing legion of people, many of whom are boomers, who have devoted their lives to the church. They have been trustees, elders, lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, church clean-up day pros, and now legions of them are done with church. If this trend continues, what is the future of faith formation for any age in the church? Schultz’s post is based on the research in a forthcoming book called Church Refugees, by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope (June 2015).
- Some 76% of Protestant churches surveyed two years ago* reported that they are using technology more in the church and in Sunday school. Let’s face it, technology is changing the ways we learn. I heard at the grocery story yesterday that second graders are getting tablets in schools, for example. Publishers have jumped on this trend, but many of these efforts have not been the hoped-for successes. Mostly I hear stories of publishers marrying great technology with curriculum only to have abysmal sales. Is it because users want technology for free? We’re all too happy to download the free app but are we loathe to pay for the curriculum that goes along with it?
- Congregations want the same outcomes from children’s Sunday school that they have wanted for the last 100 years: for children to choose to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. When Mennonite congregations were surveyed two years ago* about their most desired outcomes for children’s Sunday school, this was the number one answer, followed by “understand God better.” And yet we know that the Sunday school books from that era don’t make sense for today.
- Christian educator John Roberto has written about the convergence of four forces that influence faith formation today. Given the four forces below, how do we at MennoMedia develop ways to help congregations inform, form, and transform faith (to use Roberto’s words) given this changing context?
- Greater diversity in society and congregation
- New Internet, communication and learning technologies
- The emergence of connected, networked societies (moving from a grouped society to networked individualism)
- Twenty-first century models of learning
- Beth Barnett is exploring the paradigm shift in children’s ministry and asking what needs to change and what the future will look like. In this post she addresses how the Christian church has lost the practice and skills of being together—of how we have become consumers of church rather than contributors. Instead of harkening back to the days of yore, Barnett gives ideas for changing the script and offers new and refreshing ways to be the church together. I’m especially intrigued with her ideas about “who owns worship” and how we can prepare for all age worship that is different than simply offering a sermon for adults and a children’s story for children.
It’s an exciting time to be thinking about faith formation for congregations, and what the future will hold.
What are your predictions? What do you think the future of children’s faith formation should look like? Hopefully it will look as joyful as this child holding her copy of the Shine On story Bible!
Amy Gingerich, editorial director
* The survey referred to in this post was commissioned by the Protestant Church-owned Publishers Association, of which MennoMedia is a member. All Mennonite churches were asked to participate in this survey.