Churches gathering for in-person worship are seeing return rates of 30-40%, notes Ken Braddy of Lifeway Christian Resources. In my observation, there are three reasons for lagging participation: on-going health concerns, new on-line worship practices, and a COVID-created habit of disengagement that may or may not be rectified at pandemic’s end. If lagging participation is the norm for worship gatherings, then it’s doubly true for participation in faith formation. As Fall approaches, churches should restart faith formation for all ages marked by intentional safety, ease of accessibility and surprising creativity.
Here are 7 suggestions to help restart fall faith formation training:
Suggestion 1: Locate discipleship close to life
Members are navigating the chaos of returning to school, keeping businesses afloat, managing finances, and nurturing healthy relationships. Churches should disciple around felt needs. Topics may include: “Life Reimagined”, “COVID Lessons”, “Resilient Joy”, “From ‘Me’ to ‘We’” or “Kingdom Citizenship.”
Suggestion 2: Simplify discipleship engagement
COVID life is complicated. Faith formation shouldn’t add to this complication. Find ways to integrate systems. For example, worship and the post-worship education hour can merge. Move directly from worship into a post-service discussion focused on the sermon whether in-person or via Zoom.
Suggestion 3: Discover unique discipleship opportunities
There are several unique discipleship opportunities created by COVID-19. For example, many families will educate their children remotely during the fall semester. Churches could link those families for shared outdoor recess when parents connect for donuts and coffee, problem-solving and prayer.
Suggestion 4: Cluster in smaller numbers
Gatherings with 8-12 unrelated persons remains problematic. Clustering people in same-gender 2-5 person groups provides better flexibility and safety. Add a twist by including one person who is a generation older to coordinate, cheerlead and serve as a sage. Set a goal that everyone is connected to someone for intentional spiritual growth.
Suggestion 5: Provide the overachievers a larger challenge
Some people would love a big challenge to take their minds off day to day COVID concerns. These challenges could include reading through the Bible in a year, investing in on-line Alpha leadership, learning to lead a life-on-life discipleship process or discipling a prisoner via letters or the internet.
Suggestion 6: Connect faith formation to loving our neighbors
This is a good season to link faith formation to loving our neighbors. One possibility is to do an all church project to create hundreds of boxes of groceries for food insecure families. This project can easily be coordinated with a local food bank. Verses and notes of encouragement can be added to the boxes
Suggestion 7: Add some spice to freshen up faith formation
Spice up faith formation with something unexpected. For example, a Christian biologist could meet families at a nature center to highlight the multiplicity of ways God cares for his creation and the ways he is caring for us (Matt. 6). Or meet on a hillside overlooking a lake. With everyone seated on blankets, young people from the student ministry’s department can recite the Sermon on the Mount from memory.