Christian Formation’s “Dirty Little Secret”Posted: November 25, 2013
There’s nothing more disheartening than putting a tremendous amount of effort into an adult education program only to have a handful of people show up. This happens more than you’d think in parishes of all types, denominations, and sizes but no one wants to talk about it. Clergy don’t — because it looks like failure on their part. And lay people don’t — because they’d have to admit they weren’t interested enough to show up.
In fact, I’d call this lack of attendance at adult education programs the “dirty little secret” of Christian formation. It’s easy to rally around children’s formation events — Sunday School, Confirmation class, Vacation Bible School. We’re all passionate about “passing on the tradition,” even if we don’t have the time or the inclination to keep our own spiritual lives fresh and vibrant.
I don’t think this means the end of mature discipleship, it just calls for new methods of approaching adults who have precious little time. We can’t continue to offer the ubiquitous Wednesday evening potlucks as the only means to the adult education end. The pace and volume of life has changed and the Church must adapt to changing educational needs to continue to form disciples in Jesus’ name.
Fortunately, there are some church leaders out there trying to meet this new reality. Online Christian formation — for both adults and children — is a new and exciting frontier, one that we’re still figuring out but one that we all need to embrace.
One friend of mine is doing something about filling this void. Chris Yaw is an Episcopal parish priest and the founder of Church Next, a new online Christian learning initiative. He’s also a former Lent Madness Celebrity Blogger and Emmy Winner, but I digress. His team has an ever-expanding library of short, online courses on a variety of topics from ethics to liturgy to Scripture. Each course consists of four five-minute videos from experts across multiple denominations. An individual can subscribe or a parish can do so, in effect, creating an online “school” for the congregation. People can watch videos on their own schedule at their own pace and may or may not then engage in face-to-face conversations at church.
The key is flexibility, accessibility, and access to solid content. Check out the ever-expanding online library here.
Chris asked me to do a class on the season of Advent. I haven’t actually seen all the videos but you can watch (and share) the first one as a free sample. Here’s the course description.
I really believe this is the future of Christian formation — not replacing in-person parish formation programs but supplementing them and giving people who are too busy to attend potluck suppers access to spiritual growth. Imagine being able to grow your faith while waiting on the carpool line or with that first cup of coffee when the house is blessedly quiet or during your morning commute. It’s a concept that’s past due and one that embraces the changing landscape rather than simply ruing it.