Habit Forming

Habit Forming

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“Families are just out of the habit of going to church.”
 
Even before the pandemic, major shifts in our culture impacted church participation.  Regular attendance is not a given and many congregations have experienced a slow decline in numbers in recent decades.  When Covid forced us inside for months, our patterns for gathering changed further.  Churches moved to online and hybrid worship, and people came to expect flexible models for engagement.  Many families drifted away entirely.   We are an “on-demand” society that prizes speed and convenience. In his recent study Tracking the Religious Response to the Pandemic, Scott Thuma of Hartford International documented these changes and noted a decrease in volunteerism.  (For more on this topic, you are invited to attend SNEUCC Lunch and Learn on September 15 ). 
 
In short, habits have changed.  Christianity has always been counter-cultural, but those of us who generate programming in the local church are swimming against a strong current these days.  Gil Rendle, author of Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World, advises us to be “steady in purpose, but flexible in strategy.” 

Be Clear About Mission
Remember the goal of faith formation.  We are seeking to foster spiritual growth and discipleship, and that has a timetable of its own.  
  • How can we cultivate practices that allow us to hear God’s message of love and share it widely with others? 
  • How can we follow the exhortation to “Give thanks in all things and pray without ceasing”?
  • What does it look like to live the love and justice of Jesus today and every day?
 
Rebuild Relationships
As we emerge from the isolation of Covid, families have a multitude of activities, demands, and responsibilities competing for their time.  We need to re-establish relationships with children and parents, and this may mean shifting time away from program tasks.  Are there new ways that we can be present to families outside of Sunday mornings? We can utilize creative correspondence during the week, but it also may mean going where kids are-- to the soccer sidelines or the playground-- or organizing informal gatherings in order to connect.  
 
When we do visit with parents, we need to take time to listen deeply.  Listen for their hopes and longings, for their passions and gifts, as well as for their struggles and celebrations.  This kind of compassion builds trust and it may also spark ideas for future activities that are relevant our to the families' needs.   
 
Meeting families where they are spiritually and praying for those in your care is time well spent.  We are often anxious about providing programs and instruction, but making time for personal connection prepares the soil for growth and discipleship.
 
Extend the Invitation
Invitation is a recurring task in faith formation.  We have a wonderful model in a loving God who constantly calls to us and seeks a deeper bond.  Can we reflect that kind of welcome with both patience and persistence? Can we express why the habits of faith matter? Can we speak from the heart and tell of the impact on our own lives?  
 
If you were to give an elevator pitch to a parent, what would you include?
  • Would you speak of church as a place to practice beloved community?  Parenting is hard work, and church surrounds a family with role models of faith who provide loving encouragement.
  • Would you name the blessing of worship? Every week we are fed by music that touches the heart, prayers that provide reassurance, and messages that inspire.
  • Would you talk about spiritual habits of generosity, forgiveness, and care for neighbor?  Your investment in a child’s moral and spiritual development is a priceless gift to them.           
Habits-- like faith-- get established over time.  It takes investment to reset patterns of priority. Habits can begin with invitation, develop in relationship, and blossom with intention.  We who are all about forming faith must remind ourselves to be patient, and that nurturing disciples takes time. 
 
God will grant the increase in God’s own time.


Photo by Geralt on pixabay
 

Author

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Debby D. Kirk

Debby Kirk is the Faith Formation Team Leader of the Southern New England Conference.  She serves on the Faith Formation Team and oversees the Youth and Young Adult Ministries programs of the Conference. She organizes leadership development programs ...

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