Christian education ministry was held in high esteem in denominations and churches from the 1950s to 1970s. In the mid 1970s traditional Sunday schools began to experience decline in participation during traditional time slots. Small groups emerged at different times and around non-age graded curricula. In the late 1970s and 1980s the professional minister of education and age group ministers began to experience a multi-tiered metamorphosis due to the shifts being called for among participants in CE programming and in the fast-paced culture that was emerging. Now, in 2015 we are seeing yet more shifts being called for, different staffing arrangements emerging and new sources of curricula being created. The challenge now for most is not to recreate what has worked (been tried but not bearing fruit) but to discover and create the new. We are not certain, as of yet, what that new is but many are searching and having significant discoveries. I’ve been experimenting and watching trends in CE for the last 20 years. I’m very excited about what I’m seeing from those courageous leaders and churches who want to create the new and be part of that exciting “creating of the new” that is in the essence of God.
Identifying and acknowledging the problem
How do you know when your CE ministry needs a boost? Permit me to share a few indicators for your review.
- Decreased interest in participation and serious engagement in provided programming.
- Diminishing transformational impact on participants.
- Minimal noticeable return on investment of time, energy and money in CE programming.
- Routine is given more priority in planning than transformation of lives and impact on communities.
- Participants are content with their inward focus on members rather than outward focus as missionaries.
- What else would you add?
Possible solutions that transform
Practical ideas for your consideration: Most of these I have either tried myself or have observed over time. Share with me via email your possible solutions that are revitalizing, reframing and recreating religious education in your church and community.
With a growing diversity in our culture, a shift is needed from “Christian education” to “religious education.” (I’ll discuss this shift in forthcoming articles). Diversity of beliefs are now found in families, communities, schools, universities, government, businesses and now as church we are left to create safe and sacred space for faith conversations to happen. Not for proselytizing but for discovery and mutual learning. From such dialogues questions often emerge that take people to deeper levels of understanding, exploration and even conversions. Without such mutual learning environments, we only create and fuel competition rather than enjoy faith communities and conversations.
What you might do to increase participation, engagement and impact of your CE ministry. (7 ideas to jump start your conversation, prayer and thinking)
- Create “faith clubs” in families, communities and businesses and among faith communities in your local community. Purpose is to create safe and sacred space for guided dialogue and mutual learning.
- Look for opportunities to create space and place for intergenerational and multi-ethnic, multi-cultural relationship building and sacred conversations around matters of faith, life, love and distinctives.
- Seek out prayerful, intentional intersections between faith stories and life’s experiences (i.e. brokenness of families, multi-ethnic families, ethical challenges, life-death issues, etc.) Seek for the teachable moments and divine appointments and use these as religious education curriculum.
- Decentralize sacred conversations. Challenge and model for congregants and participants that faith conversations and study of scriptures can happen anywhere and anytime. Saying this and blessing this as valued ‘participation’ are often the challenges.
- Create spontaneous or formal intergenerational, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, faith-guided conversations to help each other find connections with faith narratives and life challenges (i.e. around societal issues of race relations or justice and mercy issues).
- Plan periodic age-graded learning experiences that are age appropriate but focus on maximizing teachable moments in intergenerational, multi-cultural settings and experiences (i.e., a community VBS that moves into intergeneration and multi-ethnic settings).
- Online learning opportunities that are topical, biblical, cultural places for conversation, exploration (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, online face-to-face dialogues or webinars).
- What would you add?
Share your thoughts, discoveries and feedback. My hope is to start conversations and innovation labs for religious education in our 21st-century culture. I have found my Christian coaching skills to be immensely helpful in creating safe and sacred spaces that yields transformation and reformation of heart, behavior, attitudes and understandings. Such is the best counsel I can suggest for what has been known as “teacher training.” I’m not sure we need traditional teachers in our churches as much as we need “transformational agents’ who are committed to being church in the buildings, through programs and as church wherever they/we go. “As we go” is the heartbeat of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment and the heart cry from today’s increasingly diverse culture.