Many congregations are longing for “The Good Old Days” — those days that our elders refer to when Sunday Schools were overflowing with children, youth groups were active and visible, and high school graduates returned to church after college. We need to acknowledge that those days are gone. Yet we don’t seem to want to admit that the ways we still form the faith for our children and youth (and adults) — inherited from those bygone days — can no longer meet the needs of today’s congregations.
For the past year and a half that I have been serving the historical Massachusetts Conference as its Christian Education and Youth Ministry Consultant, I have received at least one or two calls or e-mails a week from congregations wondering what to do to bring back their Sunday School or youth ministry program. Many hope that a new curriculum will do the trick, but what we’re experiencing is a much more complex issue than a one-size-fits-all solution.
So what do we do in this time where the church clearly cannot thrive in the ways that it did in the “Good Old Days”? What do we do in this in-between time where the answers are not readily apparent, let alone within reach? I view this in-between time as the perfect opportunity to step out in faith. There are signs that can help; we just need to shift our thinking and keep our eyes open to recognize them.
The faith formation staff members from the CT, MA, and RI Conferences are seeing some of these signs and have been offering opportunities to share them with others. Last December, we held a Faith Formation Summit to gather pastors, faith formation leaders of all types, and interested others to share stories, hear new research, and practice innovative thinking together as we wrestled with what our congregations need and how we might meet those needs. (You can read more about this event here.)
One of the results of this gathering was the realization that we cannot move forward alone, particularly since there are no clear answers, and since every congregation has its own unique culture. We also realized the value of continuing education, and staying on top of current research in children’s and youth ministries related to effective new and renewed models for faith formation. The evaluation comments from the Faith Formation Summit lifted up the value of the networking that was experienced, the connections made, and the need to reduce the sense of isolation that can happen within church leadership. Participants shared new outlooks such as reaching out and daring to try something that might fail, but very well could succeed. And shifting our thinking to allow us to say, “We could do this…” rather than, “We can’t do this because…”
Our next Faith Formation Summit will take place on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at Niantic (CT) Community Church from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Click here for more information and to register.
It often feels frustrating to be in this in-between time where the solutions to what will work best to form faith within our congregations appear out of reach or too difficult to put into place. Yet we are blessed with our connections with colleagues and others who are experiencing the same struggles — partners on the journey as we seek effective models for educational ministries. Let us work together and share our experiences in helping our congregations to grow in faith in the most effective ways possible in this time, right here, and right now.Debbie Gline Allen is the Consultant for Christian Education & Youth Ministry MA Conference, UCC.
Many Voices, One Mission is a regular series highlighting the ministries of the
CT, MA, and RI Conference of the United Church of Christ.
Debbie Gline Allen is the Minister of Faith Formation, Youth and Families for the Southern New England Conference.