Some congregations no longer have any children and youth as part of their life together. This leads some of their congregants and lay leaders to ask, “Why budget for a faith formation* staff person and programming when we don’t have any children or youth?” Upon first glance, this appears to be a legitimate question. But I invite you to consider ways to respond other than cutting funding and enthusiasm for what isn’t currently visible:
1. Hiring a faith formation staff person, or shifting the job description of the staff person you currently have can prepare your congregation for welcoming young families in your community. You don’t need children worshipping with you to begin moving your service of worship toward becoming more intergenerational and welcoming of all ages and abilities. Many of the practices for faithful intergenerational worship incorporate as many of the five sense as possible, and are effective for adults and all ages. For example:
- baking bread where it can be smelled during worship and enjoyed during the sacrament of Communion;
- making water available in small bowls throughout the sanctuary so that all may renew their baptismal vows;
- hanging banners or artwork on the sanctuary walls - that you purchase or that is lovingly created by congregants - which can then be incorporated into the scripture reading, sermon, hymns, and/or prayers;
- selecting hymns and songs with repetition, and that have engaging melodies (which can be found in The New Century Hymnal and on websites such as Convergence Music Project);
- providing something tactile — a smooth stone or piece of fabric — that serves as a sensory connection to the words of scripture.
2. Hiring a faith formation staff person allows you to retain the funding for the position and the programming so that you can be ready to welcome young families.
3. A faith formation staff person’s responsibilities can be shifted toward outreach to families, and partnerships with family agencies in your community. For the families that you already have, a faith formation staff person can make a big difference in the interest and attendance of these families by maintaining connections with them between Sundays. A personal touch relating news about upcoming programs, saying "We missed you on Sunday," or checking in about a sick child, for instance, lets families know that they mean more to the life of the congregation than what they put in the offering plate.
4. If you have passionate lay leaders who do not feel qualified or equipped to envision ways to nurture young people of faith, sign them up for the online classes in the Southern New England Conference’s Faith Formation Leadership Program. The classes are each 3-hour Zoom sessions held on Saturday mornings for church leaders of all kinds. Many of these classes can prepare church leaders for welcoming and nurturing children and youth in today’s congregations.
5. Most importantly, a faith formation staff person allows you to invest in the future of your congregation, and ensure the spiritual health of the next generations.
Your Faith Formation Team is ready to assist as you move forward into this new day for congregational life. They can help you to determine the best ways for your unique congregation to nurture faith formation leadership for growing faith and fostering discipleship.
Faith formation is all about growth in faith and discipleship. This is God’s call to us as we live out being the Church together in the most faithful ways possible.
* The phrase “Faith Formation” is gradually replacing “Christian Education,” as it implies a more wholistic approach to making disciples.
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...