BY JOHN ROBERTO
“We are not living an era of change
but a change of era.”
(Pope Francis, November 10, 2015)
Every parish community wants vibrant, life-transforming faith formation for all ages and generations that promotes lifelong faith growth and discipleship. Such a mission faces tremendous challenges today when we experience change in every aspect of life — in our families, churches, communities, and society. We see dramatic changes in religious practice and church engagement among younger generations and their parents. Many of the approaches we have used in prior decades to form others in the faith no longer work effectively today.
Pope Francis affirms that we are in a “change of era.” We are challenged to find new ways to develop disciples of Jesus Christ, nurture a lifelong faith, and equip people to live their faith. We need a new vision of faith formation for the 21st century and new lifelong practices and approaches, engaging all ages and generations.
Faith formation cannot be reduced to one program or resource. We need a comprehensive and integrated approach that 1) engages all ages intergenerationally; 2) nurtures family faith and equips parents to transmit faith to their children; 3) addresses the unique needs of people across the life cycle — children, youth, and adults; 4) develops missional outreach to the unaffiliated and uninvolved and invites people into discipleship and participation in the faith community; and 5) utilizes digitally enabled and digitally connected approaches in faith formation.
Here are three ideas for parishes to move toward a more comprehensive approach.
Engage all ages intergenerationally.
Connect different generations by building relationships at every parish event, including Sunday worship, social gatherings, sacramental celebrations, and more.
Infuse intergenerational connections in your programming. For example, bring mature adults into children’s and youth programs for interviews, storytelling, and mentoring. Or transform traditional age-group programs (vacation Bible school, service projects) into intergenerational experiences.
Create new intergenerational programs, such as grandparent-grandchild programming (retreats, camp programs, service projects, trips), intergenerational learning programs, and service programs for all generations. Or offer a reverse-mentoring program where teens teach mature adults how to use their digital devices and apps.
Nurture family faith and equip parents to transmit faith to their children.
Offer regular gatherings for learning, worship, service, or relationship-building that provide high-quality family experiences and model the types of faith practices families can do at home. Consider offering one whole family program at church seasonally (Advent, Lent, summer-service) or substituting a children’s or teen session for a whole family program on a regular basis.
Reach families at home with online resources and activities to develop family faith practices: celebrating rituals and seasons, praying together, reading the Bible, serving the community, and more. (See FamiliesAtTheCenter.com for examples of family resources.)
Extend sacramental preparation for Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Confirmation into the home with online resources for preparation and for continuing faith growth after the celebration. Imagine a five-year plan for families with young children (0-5 years old) that provides new online resources every six months as the child (and parents) grow.
Utilize digitally enabled and digitally connected approaches
in faith formation.
Design a website for parish faith formation, or an online “classroom” for a group (I recommend Edmodo.com). Today parishes can create high-quality faith formation content for parishioners of all ages — available 24/7 — using print, websites, audio, or video.
Extend parish-based events and programs into people’s daily lives by providing online content to help people to go deeper. For example: Extend Sunday worship into the home and daily life with daily Lectionary readings, prayer activities, learning activities, and faith conversations. Or extend an age-group program with online activities that deepen knowledge and provide related activities or projects.
Curate and deliver online-only content and experiences for age groups and families, such as “40 Days of Lent” (or Advent or summertime) with activities for reading the Bible, daily prayer, serving others, special catechetical events, and more.
Design one program in multiple formats using the parish faith formation website to reach more people: Use video to record a chosen program, design small group sessions or independent learning using the recording, and provide digital content to support and deepen people’s experience.
Create new programming, such as one-hour parent webinars delivered online to the home, featuring guest presenters and moderators on topics of interest to parents.
Now it’s time for you to create and test new ideas with the whole parish, within an age group, or with families. Learn from your experience and keep innovating! Together we are going to shape the future of faith formation.
John Roberto, MRE, is a consultant to churches and teaches many courses and workshops. His books include Families at the Center of Faith Formation, Seasons of Adult Faith Formation, Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century, and Generations Together. Find more at LifelongFaith.com or ReimagineFaithFormation.com.
This article was the premiere of a new department dedicated to adult faith formation, Engaging Adults, published in Catechist magazine, September 2017.
Image credit: George Martell/ Bayard Inc.