We are on the doorstep of a new decade. So many of the trends and challenges we experience today were just emerging as this decade began: a 10-decade life span, the millennial generation starting families, baby boomers entering their “retirement” years, the younger generations leaving organized religion, multiple family structures and living arrangements, the diversity of ethnicities and cultures, the recognition of gender and sexual diversity, and more.
The arrival of a new decade is a good time to create an agenda for the future of faith formation. I am proposing seven areas for development on my agenda. I believe these are important for the future of faith formation, and they are areas in which I want to dedicate my time and energy.
Developing a New Ecology of Christian Faith Formation
We know from research and practice that faith is formed in intergenerational faith communities, in families, in peer groups across the life cycle, and in missional settings where people are introduced to the Christian faith. We need to start thinking and acting ecologically in everything we do. For example, if we are creating a plan for children’s faith formation, we need to consider how we will engage children in faith community experiences, including worship, with all generations. Once we have identified faith forming experiences in the broader ecology, we can identity the unique age-group experiences we need to provide children.
Focusing on Faith Maturing
We need to focus formation on the essential characteristics of lifelong growth in Christian faith and discipleship. These characteristics would incorporate knowing and believing, relating and belonging, practicing and living. With a lifelong vision of maturing faith we could address each characteristic in developmentally-appropriate ways at each stage of life. In this approach we would build our “curriculum” around the people and the faith maturing characteristics.
Personalizing Faith Formation
We need to tailor faith formation to the individual journeys of children, youth, young adults, adults, and families to address their increasing spiritual and religious diversity and life stage needs. By personalizing learning (tailoring the what, when, how and where people learn), we can address the individual needs and interests of each person. To personalize faith formation we need to create “pathways” that guide people in discerning their faith-growth needs. In this approach we would develop a personalized faith growth plan – or what educators are now calling playlists – of content (print, audio, video, online) and direct experiences to address their needs.
Becoming Intentionally Intergenerational
We need to become intentional about strengthening the intergenerational character of our congregations and faith formation experiences. We can create a plan that (1) utilizes the intergenerational events and experiences of church life as primary “content” in faith formation by preparing people with the knowledge and practices for participating, by engaging people in the event, and by reflecting upon the meaning of the event and how to apply it to daily life; (2) infuses intergenerational experiences and relationships into existing ministries and programs, such as age group programs; 3) connects the generations through new intergenerational programs and experiences through learning, celebrating, praying, reading the Bible, serving and working for justice, and worshipping.
Empowering and Equipping Parents and the Family
We all know how important parents and the whole family are in the faith-forming process. Today’s families – of Gen Z children and teens, and Millennial and younger Gen X parents – present new challenges and opportunities. We will need to create new faith formation initiatives for the home and identify which practices work best. There are proven strategies that can guide the development of a comprehensive plan for family faith formation. With new digital tools and media, we have the ability to reach today’s parents and families anywhere and anytime with engaging and interactive faith-forming content. (See Families at the Center of Faith Formation for the strategies.)
Designing 21st-Century Learning Experiences
We can dramatically improve our effectiveness in promoting faith growth and learning by using the new approaches and methods that are being designed by educators for 21st-century learners of all ages – children, youth, and adults. We know today’s younger generations learn best in environments that are interactive, participatory, experiential, visual, and multi-sensory. Among today’s most promising educational innovations are personalizing learning (see #3), blended learning and flipped learning, micro-learning, and immersive learning. All of these new approaches and methods are enhanced by the use of digital technologies, methods, and media.
- Blended learning integrates learning in physical and online settings where a person has some control over time, place, path, and/or pace of the learning experience. One form of blended learning is flipped learning in which the content moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space (usually online), and the group space is transformed into an interactive learning environment for discussion and application.
- Micro-learning experiences are short-form – 5-, 10- or 15-minute – learning experiences designed for anytime, anywhere learning that can be combined into multi-part learning programs. Micro-learning experiences are one response to short attention spans and mobile learning. We can curate a series of micro-learning experiences (on a digital platform) to engage people in all types of faith formation content.
- Immersive learning is faith-forming experiences that are interactive, participatory, experiential, visual, and multi-sensory. With the rise of anytime, anywhere faith formation content we need to ask, “What is the role of gathering people for faith formation?” Today, children (and their parents), youth, and adults can access online most of the content that we teach at church. We have already been offering these types of experiences. What if we expanded our immersive learning opportunities (VBS, mission trips, and more) and focused our gathered settings on immersive faith formation in extended settings offered throughout the year (but not weekly)?
Embracing New Leadership Roles
We need to develop new leadership roles to match the new approaches to faith formation in the 21st century. We are blending “traditional” roles such as developing religious content, designing programming, managing programming, and teaching/facilitating programming with three new roles: architect, curator, and digital designer. Learning architects design and identify environments which can become settings for faith formation. Digital designers create platforms (websites, social media) where people can connect with each other, access content, engage in learning activities, and more. These platforms provide faith formation 24/7. Curators of religious content and experiences are needed when there is an abundance of content. Roles shift from creator to curator, who are engaged in finding and identifying quality content in all formats. They then match content with the needs of people and provide it on a digital platform (and often in gathered settings).
That is my “to-do” list for where I want to focus my time and energy. Now it’s your turn. What is your agenda for the future of faith formation and how will you bring it to life?
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher:
Winter 2018, Vol. 30, No. 2, Special Issue – Christian Formation in the Church Today, page 12-13