(Sharon has been serving as the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated /Morehouse Education Resources since November 2007. Prior to that, she was the Resource Center Director at Yale Divinity School’s Ministry Resource Center as well as the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. She is also an author and has a blog, Rows of Sharon).
The last two decades have seen dramatic political, economic, social and cultural changes affecting virtually every dimension of American Christianity. This new environment has definitely had its impact on Resource Centers and will demand new thinking and new models, practices and technologies in order to support and address the needs of the congregations and judicatories we serve. Addressing the spiritual needs of all generations will continue to be a challenge as we have also been impacted by lower budgets, increase of the cost of goods and more dependence on digital technology.
Many of us have seen fewer visitors to our Resource Centers. We are called upon to be out and about with those we serve, bringing resources (and our expertise) to the local congregation. We are learning how to put our collections online, develop more comprehensive websites, and engage in social media. And more of the resources, especially curricula and faith formation materials are available digitally – either downloadable or totally online.
In September 2009, CNN published a story, “The Future of Libraries: With or Without Books”:“Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas. ‘Loud rooms’ that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.”
The Digital World
The relevant Resource Center of the future will be a marketplace for ideas. Forward-looking directors (and their judicatories) will create a conversational loop with its clientele. Being active on Facebook, Digg and Twitter they will share the latest news, resources and trends in ministry. As digital books replace traditional printed publications, the role of a Resource Center Director will be one of discernment and vetting much more than in previous decades.
As Phyllis Tickle states, we are entering into a new Reformation
. The cultural changes brought about by the Gutenberg Press had an enormous impact on Christianity. That new way to interact with a surplus of content never before accessible to the common masses is not that different than what we are experiencing today. Today social interaction is a form of content itself. It is up to Resource Centers to take an active role in the creation and collaboration within this ethereal user generated content. Our role is to offer our expertise and guidance in how congregations and individuals interact with all that is now offered via the web (and more), much of which is not in keeping with our traditions and theological perspectives.
Many of us are digital immigrants (those of us born in the era of rotary telephones and manual typewriters) who are
trying to catch up with “digital natives” (those who have always had desktop and palm-sized computers).
John Roberto of Lifelong Faith Associates has spent a great deal of time and energy in recent years imagining what faith formation would look like if our churches fully embraced using 21st century technology. One of the ways he has shown how this can be done is through “curating” resources via theFaith Formation Learning Exchange (www.faithformationlearningexchange.net
What does this mean for today’s Resource Centers
Today’s Resource Center needs to be agile and collaborative. We need to be in partnership with our ecumenical brothers and sisters. We need to be in touch with the local congregation by building relationships and offering easy access to new ideas and materials that have been vetted by experts – us! And we need to keep abreast of what excites people, how they learn in today’s world and what the trends are in the world around us that has such an impact on our church.
Trends in Faith Formation:
- Using the word “formation” instead of “education.” Formation includes worship, service, mission, keeping time, fellowship & community socialization and education & learning. Instruction is learning facts and figures; education is incorporating those learnings into personal experience and action.
- There is a hunger for understanding how to read scripture – seeking to fully understand what we mean by “scripture, tradition and reason” taking into account personal experience – needing to unpack the difference between what one’s denominational tradition is vs. others’ as well as personal experience.
- Interest in intergenerational methods of engaging each other through learning and community building – the church is one of the last places where multi-age groups and several generations gather together
- There is a hunger to learn spiritual practices for a busy life style, such as Centering Prayer, walking the labyrinth, and praying with beads. Using blogs and the Internet for spiritual practices, mediation and connecting with others is also increasing.
- Faith at home – learning how to pray as a family; reading scripture together and seeking ways to connect what is read at home and church with real life in the world
- No denominational loyalty to curriculum being chosen – we need to teach how to use our “denominational lens” when discerning what materials to use
- Wanting free and easy – but looking for substance – downloadable and a menu of choices
- More mission-minded – wanting to reach out into the world as a response to the Gospel – how are we helping individuals and groups reflect on these experiences? How are we helping make the connection between wanting to help others with our Baptismal Covenant?
- The Sunday education hour occurring before or after the worship so all ages can be engaged on an age-appropriate level for study
- Experiential learning in which all the senses are engaged – Montessori-methods and learning centers allow for a variety in learning activities. “Traditional” Sunday School curricula tap into multiple intelligences, understanding that we learn in different ways. The day is gone when the teacher is the expert and the student is coming to be fed the answers.
Effective Christian Formations programs of the future will:
- Be engaged in issues of environmental sustainability, global issues, healthy ways of living, ethical decision making
- Involve networking and resource sharing
- Connect with Interfaith groups
- Be experientially focused
- Make full use of technology in all its rapidly developing forms and functions
- Tap into people’s passions, relating faith to the world – it will be relevant
- Involve immersion experiences
- Be about sharing personal stories in a variety of settings and technologies; putting questions of faith “out there” for response and reflection
- Be centered on mentoring and relationships across generations
For more information:
- Faith Formation 2020: Envisioning the Future (Lifelong Faith Journal, Volume 3.2, Summer 2009).http://www.lifelongfaith.com/lifelong-faith-journal.html
- Embracing Emergence Christianity: Phyllis Tickle on the Church’s Next Rummage Sale (A 6-Session Study with DVD) Morehouse Education Resources, 2011.
- Faith Formation and the New Digital Media (Lifelong Faith Journal, Volume 4.1, Spring 2010).
- The Institute for the Future http://www.iftf.org/tyf and http://www.iftf.org/2010MapoftheDecade
- Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present by Bob Johansen (Barret-Koehler, 2007)
Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books, 2008)
These terms come from Julie Anne Lytle in her article, “Moving Online: Faith Formation in a Digital Age” (Lifelong Faith Journal, Spring 2020) and in her forthcoming book, Faith Formation 4.0: Cultivating an Ecology of Faith in a Digital Age (Morehouse, 2013).