For The Someday Book

What to do about Adult Christian Education? Part IV

Posted on: November 3, 2010

This is Part IV of a discussion of adult Christian education, particularly the problem of low attendance. It originates in response to this post from Jan Edmiston at A Church for Starving Artists. It begins with Part I: Is Christian Education a Cultural Thing? and continues with Part II: Other Reasons for Struggling Christian Education, and Imagining a Different Way and Part III: Moving toward Holistic Faith Formation.

I promise, we’re nearing the end of this long series of reflections. I’ve already pondered the cultural support necessary to sustain traditional adult Christian education, reasons why people don’t attend and argued for a different approach that takes a more holistic approach to faith as a way of life and seeks to form people into disciples of Jesus Christ.

The fact remains: learning about God, the Bible, spiritual practices and the Christian tradition is still important. While information and intellectual knowledge is not the only aspect of faith or even the most important one, knowing the scriptures and understanding the faith is critical to discipleship. How do we accomplish that piece of faith formation? As I explained in an earlier post, our current practices all work on a school model. I believe that the time has come to get much more creative with our delivery.

Bible teaching does not require a classroom context. In my previous post, I talked about integrating bible study and faith reflection into various aspects of church life. I also believe we need to find ways to deliver information and study to people outside of church life, to connect with people where they are, and expand our reach beyond our church walls. Here are some ideas, some we are trying and some I would like to try.

  • Video Messages: I post a brief (1-2 minute) sermon preview message every week. In it, I try to avoid simply hyping church events, but instead focus on a brief, devotional, inquisitive look at the scripture that anticipates the message I will be preaching on Sunday. I post the video on my church’s Facebook page and my own, on YouTube, on my sermon blog on the church’s website. I also send a link to church folk via e-mail. This puts the opportunity to pause and spend a moment with their faith right there in their news feed or inbox. I always try to pose a question or two for reflection, to engage folks in thinking about the Sunday scripture before they arrive. You can watch them here if you’re interested.
  • Mid-week Reflection: I have several colleagues who write a brief reflection every week, which is posted on the church’s website or delivered via e-mail. This is similar to the video message, taking a short topic or scripture and inviting people to pause for a moment to contemplate their faith.
  • Online Bible Study: We have tried this, but it’s never gotten off the ground. We usually have a “leader” who posts the lesson and a reflection, then invites commentary, questions and response. Because it usually hosted on a website, people forget to check back regularly for updates.
  • Still Speaking Devotional: This is a great tool produced by the United Church of Christ that delivers a beautiful, simple devotional reading to your e-mail inbox or Facebook news feed every morning.
  • Podcast Sermons: Nearly two years ago, I began posting my weekly sermons on the church’s website as podcasts. I imagined that they would be an evangelism tool for people exploring the church online before visiting in person. To my surprise, it has become much more. People who miss church often download the podcast to listen, and the podcast now has several RSS subscribers that I do not know and are not otherwise connected to the church. The site averages 70 podcast downloads per week, which is almost as many people as attend church on Sunday morning.
  • Theology on Tap: I’ve never been a part of a church that has done this, but it involves drinking beer at a local bar while listening to a speaker and having a conversation about God. Sounds like an awesome new model of faith formation to me.
  • Small Groups: Mega-churches and evangelical churches rely heavily on small groups. They fit well into a model of faith formation, because they gather regularly for fellowship, study, social service, and community. I’m not sure how well they work in small or medium-sized congregations.

What about you? What’s working for you and your congregation? Share your ideas!

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2 Responses to "What to do about Adult Christian Education? Part IV"

The Online Bible Study idea is one that, I believe, the Church has failed to utilize properly. In fact, it’s an idea that I feel so strongly about that I’ve started a Christian business working with churches in doing just that…implementing an online learning environment and working with them to make it work. If we can take God’s word to them where they are in a manner they are used to seeing (and it’s hard to deny that we are a society who lives a significant part of our lives online), then lives can be changed!

Anyway, as someone who has tried online learning before in the church, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading and responding. I agree–the idea of online bible study has not been fully explored, and we need to be working toward ways of connecting with people where they are, at hours that are convenient for them. It seems as though your business and website is offering a much richer experience than we have been able to manage. Our challenge has been getting people to make visiting the site a regular part of their routine. I urged the leaders to create some kind of RSS or Google Reader feed, or even send an e-mail to those participating in the class every time the site was updated with a new lesson. That did not usually happen, and the studies fizzled out within a few months.

Blessings to you in your endeavor, and thanks for contributing!

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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