Scrapping Sunday School? Faith Development Today

Last weekend I spoke on a panel for a congregation’s Task Force on Faith Development. The congregation is a strong one with a great history and vital programming for all ages. It’s also, of course, enmeshed in our culture and congregational leaders are increasingly aware that their current model of Christian education, worship, and discipleship training should be somewhat altered.

The first question asked of us panelists had to with describing the needs of faith development today — and in the near future — with respect to contemporary trends and culture. We could have spent the full hour and a half on this question alone since it describes the new foundation (or mission field, if you will) on which congregations must work today. My answer went something like this:

Congregations seeking to play a role in Christian faith development today face a culture in which Biblical illiteracy is the new normal, and our pluralistic society requires not only Biblical literacy but a newly needed interfaith literacy. We face a demand for articulate Christians willing, able, and called to engage our neighbors from other faith traditions, as well as those with non-religious world views.

We face a world in which thousands of folks, especially 20/30-somethings, call themselves “spiritual but not religious” and/or claim they are “nones,” part of no formal faith tradition, though most still believe in God, pray, and can be quite thoughtful about faith and life.

We live in a time in which the institutional protestant church is, to put it kindly, “restructuring,” transitioning from top-down approaches to bottom-up policies seeking to empower local faith movements and embrace the need for creative evangelism. It’s a monumental shift.

Today, though many still trumpet our “Christian nation,” in fact we live in a time and place in which the true Christian life is increasingly countercultural. There is a broad and growing gap between the haves and have nots, and unabated growth of our sinful pillars of consumerism, consumption, and individualism.

Finally, the rapid growth of the internet and rise of social networking has reshaped how we connect with one another and given us incredibly powerful tools for mission, evangelism, hate, and viral fill-in-the-blank.

And all this, in fact, is really exciting for me. What better time to be called to do ministry? 

What’s cooler than getting to rethink all our assumptions, and re-write how congregations do Sunday School, meet outside of worship, and grow in faith and love?

The panel discussion went on to cover much else, but I left with this notion: congregations thoughtfully approaching faith development in the 21st century may require a big gulp and an acknowledgement of their collective anxiety, but after that — and a prayer — we can roll up our sleeves and discover some amazing new ways God is calling us to join in God’s mission.

image by Mateusz Stachowski


  1. After decades of life, I have now come to the deepest faith I have ever had. Paradoxically, I also have the most doubts I have ever had as well.

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