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I’ve been receiving questions from a number of our congregations about returning to on-site Sunday School. Most of these questions begin by asking if I know of any congregations that are moving toward returning their children’s programming back to their church building, or which congregations have already done so. The quick answer is that I’ve heard of one or two making these plans; however, of the faith formation leaders I have spoken with, most are staying with virtual programming for now and some have vowed to continue this way into the fall. Last May, I wrote a blog about returning to in-person programming. It may be worth taking a look at again.
Yet I don’t believe that the returning-to-the-church-building is the question we should be asking right now. Many congregations have lost touch with their families during the pandemic, and many others are making new and sometimes better connections with their families during this time. There are still some others that are wondering if it will even be possible to resume the Sunday School programming that they had in place pre-pandemic.
The question I would encourage congregations to ask is, “Given all that has shifted during this past year, what would be the best way to pass on the faith to our children (and youth) at this point in time?” I’m willing to bet that for most congregations, a return to Sunday School programming will not be the best response.
So what should we do? How can we be faithful leaders and mentors as we fulfill our congregational and baptismal commitments to making disciples of the next generations?
With the pandemic having affected the faith formation programming of every congregation differently, there is no one answer that will meet the needs of each faith community. Yet there are some common practices that a congregation can take into consideration when planning for the coming program year:
The most effective way to raise children in the Christian faith is to engage them in what Christians do. Praying, singing, engaging with Bible stories, serving others, being conscientious stewards of all God’s gifts, being welcoming and hospitable. These are just some of the things that Christians do which can be modeled, shared, and practiced by people with and of all ages. The most memorable and long-lasting practices are the ones engaged by a variety of age groupings.
Thus learning, celebrating, worshipping, sharing meals, and serving together will have a more life-giving and heart-changing effect on participants of any age than what can be learned in a single-age Sunday School class. This is true for adults as well as for children!
Faith Formation in the Home
In many congregations, Sunday School and faith formation materials have been sent home over the past several months. Children and their parents/grandparents/caregivers have been learning and growing in faith together. And with good reason — research has shown that the most effective form of faith formation for children is with their parents/grandparents/caregivers at home.
Perhaps the word “hybrid” should take on a slightly new meaning: some faith formation happens in Sunday School, some happens at home, some happens in corporate worship, and some happens intentionally with a variety of ages and in a variety of settings.
How will your congregation emerge from the pandemic? How will you renew your engagement with all ages in the practices of faith that make up your specific congregation? Which new (and old) technologies, methods, and models will best serve the faith needs of your parishioners?
Your SNEUCC Faith Formation Ministry Team is ready to help. And our conference’s Faith Formation Leadership Program offers classes that will also provide some helpful tools for moving ahead.
Many blessings on your discipleship ministries as you determine the best way forward, together in faith.
Debbie Gline Allen serves as a Minister of Faith Formation on the Conference’s Faith Formation Ministry Team. She also serves as the administrator of the SNEUCC Faith Formation Leadership Program. Her passion for ministry is with children and family...