By: John Roberto

The 2019 APCE Annual Event in Galveston will explore these changes and how the church might respond. Through our worship, plenaries, music and workshops, we will examine the changing scene and learn about ways to engage these changes in ministry. Find registration information here.

Now available on the APCE scholarship page are various scholarship forms with deadlines of October 15, 2018. Each scholarship has different criteria, so please read the descriptions to determine which is the one for you. These scholarships are intended to encourage those who want to enrich their own ministry by attending the 2019 Annual Event by defraying the cost to do so.

John Roberto will be offering a pre-event workshop on Tuesday afternoon, February 5, for APCE’s 2019 Annual Event. He shares with our readers his recent research-based thinking on the future of faith formation. For information about the pre-event workshop, click here.

The arrival of a new decade is a good time to create an “agenda” for the future of faith formation. I am proposing seven areas for development that I believe are important for the future of faith formation in churches.

1. Developing a New Ecology of Christian Faith Formation

We know from research and practice that faith is formed in intergenerational faith communities, in families, in peer groups across the life cycle, and in missional settings where people are introduced to the Christian faith. We need to start thinking and acting ecologically in everything we do. For example, if we are creating a plan for children’s faith formation, we need to consider how we will engage children in faith community experiences with all generations (including worship), how we will equip parents to share faith at home and build families of faith practice, and how we will build relationships with and engage children and parents who are not involved in the faith community (e.g., baptized but not engaged). Once we have identified faith forming experiences in the broader ecology, we can identify the unique age-group experiences we need to provide children.

2. Focusing on Faith Maturing

We need to focus faith formation on the essential characteristics of lifelong growth in Christian faith and discipleship. These characteristics would incorporate knowing and believing, relating and belonging, practicing and living. With a lifelong vision of maturing faith we could address each characteristic in developmentally-appropriate ways at each stage of life. For example, with faith maturing characteristics such as “living as a disciple of Jesus Christ and making the Christian faith a way of life” or “reading and studying the Bible—its message, meaning, and application to life today,” The task of faith formation would be to ask how we can accomplish this with children, youth, young adults, midlife adults, mature adults, and older adults. In this approach, we would build our “curriculum” around the people and the faith maturing characteristics.

3. Personalizing Faith Formation

We need to tailor faith formation to the individual journeys of children, youth, adults, and families in order to address their increasing spiritual and religious diversity and life stage needs. One of the latest educational innovations is personalized learning, i.e., tailoring the educational environment—the what, when, how and where people learn—to address the individual needs and interests of each person. To personalize faith formation we need to create “faith growth pathways” that use the faith maturing characteristics and, with the help of a mentor or small group, guide people in discerning their faith growth needs. We can provide a tool that helps them discover their faith growth needs using a continuum from “exploring” to “getting started” to “making progress” to “going deeper” with short illustrations for each one. In this approach we would then develop a personalized faith growth plan—or what educators are now calling “playlists”—of content (print, audio, video, online) and direct experiences to address their needs.

4. Becoming Intentionally Intergenerational

We need to become intentional about strengthening the intergenerational character of our congregations and faith formation experiences. We can create a plan that (1) utilizes the intergenerational events and experiences of church life (community life events, worship and the lectionary, seasons of the year, service and mission projects, prayer and spiritual formation) as a primary “content” in faith formation by preparing people with the knowledge and practices for participating, by engaging people in the event, and by reflecting upon the meaning of the event and how to live/practice in daily life; (2) infuses intergenerational experiences and relationships into existing ministries and programs, such as age group programs; (3) connects the generations through new intergenerational programs and experiences that bring together all of the generations for learning, celebrating, praying, reading the Bible, serving and working for justice, and worshipping. One area ripe with possibilities is to develop grandparent-grandchildren programming such as a VBS, summer camp, service/mission projects, field trips, and more.

5. Empowering and Equipping Parents and the Family

We all know how important parents and the whole family are in the faith forming process. Today’s families present new challenges and opportunities. We will need to create new faith formation initiatives for the home, and learn from them what approaches and practices work best. There are proven strategies that can guide the development of comprehensive plans for family faith formation including: (1) At Home: discovering God in everyday life, forming faith practices, and celebrating milestones and rituals; (2) In the Faith Community: celebrating seasonal events, encountering God in the Bible, and connecting families intergenerationally(learning, service, community life); and (3) With Parents: developing a strong family life, and empowering parents and grandparents as faith formers. With the new digital tools and media, we have the ability to reach today’s parents and families anywhere and anytime with engaging and interactive faith forming content.

6. Designing Twenty-First Century Learning Experiences

We know today’s younger generations learn best in environments that are interactive, participatory, experiential, visual, and multi-sensory. Blended Learning integrates learning in physical and online settings where a person has some control over time, place, path, and/or pace of the learning experience. One form of blended learning is Flipped Learning in which the content moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space (usually online), and the group space is transformed into an interactive learning environment for discussion and application. Micro-learning experiences are short-form—5-, 10-, 15-minute learning experiences designed for anywhere, anytime learning that be combined into multi-part learning programs. We can curate a series of micro-learning experiences (on a digital platform) to engage people in all types of faith formation content. Immersive learning includes faith-forming experiences that are interactive, participatory, and experiential. With the limited time of people, we need to focus our gathered programming on immersive faith formation in extended settings (half-day, full day, weekend, weeklong).

7. Embracing New Leadership Roles

We need to develop three new leadership roles to match the new approaches to faith formation in the twenty-first century: Architect, Curator, and Digital Designer. We are becoming learning architects who design and/or identify environments that can become settings for faith formation, e.g., homes, workplaces, coffee shops, and online communities. We are becoming designers of digital platforms where people can connect 24×7 with each other, access content, engage in learning activities, and more. We are becoming curators of religious content and experiences. When there is an abundance of content, our role shifts from creator to curator. Curators are engaged in finding and identifying high quality content in all formats, matching it with the needs of people, providing the content on a digital platform (and often in gathered settings), and engaging people with the content.

About the Author

John Roberto’s life work has been in faith formation—first in youth ministry and now in lifelong faith formation with all ages and generations. He is on the leadership team of Vibrant Faith where he serves as the coordinator of training services (www.VibrantFaith.org). His latest publications include Families at the Center of Faith Formation (editor and co-author, 2016), Seasons of Adult Faith Formation (editor and co-author, 2015), Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century (2015), Generations Together (co-authored, 2014), and Faith Formation 2020 (2010). He is the founder of LifelongFaith Associates (www.LifelongFaith.com). He can be reached at [email protected].