2016 Curriculum Comparison Charts


By Sharon Ely Pearson, Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated / Morehouse Education Resources

I always tell congregations that right after Easter is the time to begin evaluating the current programmatic year, especially if a church seeks to discern a new curricular resource to use with children, youth, and/or adults. So this comes a little earlier than in past years, with Easter just days away.

You’ll find my processes and recommendations for evaluation and choosing resources here.

Here are the updated charts that compare a variety of curricular resources from across denominational lines. Granted, this is not an all-inclusive list, but ones that I am aware of that exist within the mainstream. That being said, remember, your choice of curriculum (or any other resource) is dependent on what your needs are. A curriculum will not “solve” all your problems and serve as a tool that can systematically help you achieve your goals. I chose to review the below resources as curricula because they typically involve a Leader’s Guide of some sort, as well as specific lesson plans or outlines for group usage.

About the author: Sharon Ely Pearson has been the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated / Morehouse Education Resources since November 2007. Prior to joining CPI, she was the Children’s Ministries & Christian Education Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut for ten years. A graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and a lifelong Episcopalian, she lives in Norwalk, Connecticut with her husband, John, of 36 years, Shadow the cat, and Chobe a year-old rescue black Lab.

She and John attend St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, CT where Sharon is the Senior Warden, a Lay Eucharistic Minister and teaches Godly Play in the Church School which is a joint venture with Wilton Presbyterian Church. They have two grown children, both teachers. In her spare time (what’s that?) she enjoys reading, cross-stitch, genealogy, gardening and travel. The Green Mile, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Shawshank Redemption continue to inspire theological reflection no matter how many times they are viewed.

Click to see more curriculum resources!

The Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary offers vibrant learning opportunities in Christian education/formation for church educators teaching all ages and stages of life. Visit us here to learn more about our classes.


Taking Faith Formation Outdoors: Five Ideas

chalk on sidewalk2 copy

“We know that engaging the Bible requires tangible experiences. That means water, soil, plants, rocks, and seeds!”


Taking Christian Education Outdoors
Sunday school attendance drops off at our suburban church, so we offer a simplified program for June and July with time for free play outside. Last year our side yard was under construction, leaving us with a small brick courtyard. But that small space offered big opportunities. Classic activities like bubbles, sidewalk chalk, clay, gardening and painting were surprisingly engaging for the younger elementary class. Reflecting back, I believe that the outdoor time offered children something that they are often lacking: unstructured play.

Nature Deficit Disorder
Eleven years ago, the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv introduced the concept of ‘nature deficit disorder.’ While much has been written about the physical and mental effects of less time outdoors, I haven’t found much on the spiritual effects. Yet, I believe that Christian educators know the importance of connecting God with nature. From the Creation Story, to the Parable of the Sower, we know that engaging the Bible requires tangible experiences. That means water, soil, plants, rocks, and seeds! We also know that time outdoors can provide a calming place to nurture reflection and prayer.

So the question is: How can we provide authentic opportunities to practice faith outdoors? Below are a few very simple, inexpensive ideas for taking children outside for faith formation this spring and summer. The activities are not new. But last summer taught us important lessons: children crave time outdoors, and this time is a valuable opportunity to connect with God.

1. Plant
A church garden can be created almost anywhere: a neglected corner of the grounds, recycled containers, or even the wall pockets we used last year (see picture). Just be sure to water them often as they dry out quickly. Easy-to-grow vegetables like cucumbers, squash, and lettuce could be shared with the local food pantry. Milkweed seeds can be grown and then replanted as a host plant for threatened monarch butterflies. Even a small space offers big gardening opportunities.

plants outside

2. Create and Paint
At our church, one of the most popular outdoor activities last summer was painting. All we needed were big pieces of paper, brushes, tempera paint and a few rocks to hold the paper down. The kids enjoyed painting their version of the day’s story. If paint is too messy for your group, consider using brushes with water as ‘paint,’ making a picture that disappears when it dries.

3. Pray Outdoors with Chalk & more
Many outdoor activities can be turned into prayers. Sidewalk chalk prayers at the church entry are a wonderful, visible reminder of children’s prayers and presence. Plastic landscape fencing can be used as a prayer loom and woven with sticks, ribbons or scraps of fabric. One of our favorite outdoor prayers is to blow bubbles after each person shares their prayers.

chalk on sidewalk2

chalk on sidewalk

4. Discover God’s Creation
We learned that magnifying glasses are a very popular tool for examining God’s handiwork. What a different view of the world we get when we look closely at the cracks in the sidewalk, under leaves and on a tree trunk! Consider providing paper and crayons to record discoveries.

5. Experience Bible Stories with Water, Sand, and Clay
Many preschools and kindergartens have abandoned a former staple: sensory tables. We find that because they don’t use them in school, children look forward to tactile activities at church. To make sensory tables, we use under-bed plastic storage bins which are inexpensive, stackable and shallow. Spilled sand, water, rice and even playdough are no problem outdoors.

When we read the stories of Moses, we fill the tables with sand. Children are fascinated when we fill the tubs with water – they use measuring cups, a few shells, and plastic boats for water stories (Jesus’ baptism, calling the disciples, and Jonah, to name a few). Rice is appropriate for the parables which mention seeds. When we read any stories with bread we use a simple homemade salt dough, which provides lots of tactile rolling and cutting fun. We find that the children often don’t want to stop when our time is up!

hand with craft


A Prayer for Outdoor Formation
God of All Creation,
open our eyes to your wonders around us.
Help us to embrace a bit of mess,
that we might lead children to the beauty,
peace and joy that exist in your amazing world.


Christine V. Hides is the Director of Faith Formation at Grace United Methodist Church in Lake Bluff, IL, a mother of two, and a student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  She writes about Christian education at Bless Each One

A List of Parenting Studies and Resources

Reposted from the blog “Laurie’s Little Monkeys”

A lot of churches are focusing on parents of young children right now – and they want to offer them mid-week or Sunday school classes that are pertinent specifically to them.  It’s hard to keep up with all the resources out there so I asked some educators if they used something that worked for them and had a good response.  Here are the ones that were suggested.

PLEASE, check out each resource before you buy it.  These are suggestions from all different denominations and may not work with your particular group.  If you click on the link it takes you to amazon or another site that sells the book.  I included a “synopsis” for each resource from that website.

Thanks to all that suggested resources!  Much appreciated!!

1.  Confident Parenting by Jim Burns.  And other resources from Homeward Ministries.”Jim Burns, president of HomeWord, lays a positive foundation for parenting with practical strategies and illustrations, teaching how to create a warm, grace-filled home.”

2.  Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp.  This was recommended by one person but then another educator said they used it and the discipline part (spanking) created a controversy.  “Written for parents with children of any age, this insightful book provides perspectives and procedures for shepherding your child’s heart into the paths of life. Shepherding a Child’s Heart gives fresh biblical approaches to child rearing.”

3.  Raising a Modern-Day Joseph by Larry Fowler.  “research shows that when young people leave home, many also leave the church. So how can we forge sons and daughters of faith and fortitude?

The vital answers are found in the story of Joseph. Drawing from this timeless narrative, author Larry Fowler offers a biblical plan for building teens who will love and serve Jesus Christ. Biblically based and up-to-the-minute relevant, Raising a Modern-Day Joseph is an essential guide to raising a generation that can pass life’s tests with flying colors.”
4.  Parenting Unchained by Dr. James Dempsey.  The person who suggested this one said there are also questions at the end of each chapter.  “In Parenting Unchained – Overcoming the Ten Deceptions that Shackle Christian Parents, Dr. James D. Dempsey reveals the ten most destructive lies about parenting. He writes from the heart about the way these lies infected his own parenting, and illuminates the Bible’s powerful truths that counter each lie. Both Biblical and practical, each section ends with home activities to help parents take immediate steps to develop their kids’ character–character that lasts when they leave home. The last chapters focus on the most important adjustments parents must make with teenagers to prepare them for independence. Weaving humor into strong warnings, Parenting Unchained points out the hazards that derail the parenting journey.”

5.   Spiritual Parenting by Michelle Anthony – “It’s hard enough to train kids to behave, but good behavior isn’t what Jesus calls for in the Bible. He wants hearts and souls that are shaped in vibrant faith and love toward God and others. How can parents cultivate this in their children? In this book Dr. Michelle Anthony shares practical examples and biblical insight on the spiritual role of parenting.
Spiritual Parenting introduces the simple but revolutionary concept that parents are, by the power of God’s Spirit, to obey and depend on God in order to create an environment God can use to beckon their children to Him.”

  1.  Don’t Make me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard (also Plowman?)– “Do you find yourself threatening, repeating your instructions, or raising your voice in an attempt to get your children to obey? Are you discouraged because it seems you just can t reach the heart of your child? Through personal experience and the practical application of Scripture, Ginger Hubbard encourages and equips moms to reach past the outward behavior of their children and dive deeply into the issues of the heart. Ginger s candid approach will help moms move beyond the frustrations of not knowing how to handle issues of disobedience and into a confident, well-balanced approach to raising their children.”
  2.  Parenting Beyond Your Capacity by Joiner and Niewhor– “When parents work in tandem with the faith community to raise their children, they increase their parenting capacity exponentially.

Most parents have so many demands on their time that they can’t be the kind of parent they desire to be. They need to know the Orange Factor: Two combined influences will make a greater impact on kids than just two influences. And it’s true. Parents who partner with the faith community are the best way to bring the next generation into the family of God-and keep them there.

  1.  99 Ways to Raise Spiritually Healthy Children by Bostrom– “Bostrom, author of the popular books99 Things to Do Between Here and Heaven and Making Space for the Spirit, offers fun, practical, and thought provoking ideas for nurturing the spiritual lives of children, parents, and families. Each of the 99 entries includes a Scripture passage, a theoretical or practical suggestion for weaving together faith and daily life, and a provocative challenge that encourages readers to spend some time contemplating the lessons learned.”
  2.   Sticky Faith by Dr. Powell and Dr. Clark– This book also has a guide to go along with it.  “Nearly every Christian parent in America would give anything to find a viable resource for developing within their kids a deep, dynamic faith that “sticks” long term. Sticky Faith delivers. Research shows that almost half of graduating high school seniors struggle deeply with their faith. Recognizing the ramifications of that statistic, the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) conducted the “College Transition Project” in an effort to identify the relationships and best practices that can set young people on a trajectory of lifelong faith and service. Based on FYI findings, this easy-to-read guide presents both a compelling rationale and a powerful strategy to show parents how to actively encourage their children’s spiritual growth so that it will stick to them into adulthood and empower them to develop a living, lasting faith. Written by authors known for the integrity of their research and the intensity of their passion for young people, Sticky Faith is geared to spark a movement that empowers adults to develop robust and long-term faith in kids of all ages.” 10.  Love Does by Bob Goff– “Bob Goff has become something of a legend, and his friends consider him the world’s best-kept secret. Those same friends have long insisted he write a book. What follows are paradigm shifts, musings, and stories from one of the world’s most delightfully engaging and winsome people. What fuels his impact? Love. But it’s not the kind of love that stops at thoughts and feelings. Bob’s love takes action. Bob believes Love Does.

When Love Does, life gets interesting. Each day turns into a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance that makes faith simple and real. Each chapter is a story that forms a book, a life. And this is one life you don’t want to miss.”

  1.  Boundaries with Kids by Cloud and Townsend– This book also has a DVD to go with it –  just gohere.  “What the award-winning Boundaries has done for adult relationships, Boundaries with Kids will do for you and your children Here is the help you need for raising your kids to take responsibility for their actions, attitudes, and emotions. Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend take you through the ins and outs of instilling the kind of character in your children that will help them lead balanced, productive, and fulfilling adult lives. Learn how to • set limits and still be a loving parent • bring control to an out-of-control family life • apply the ten laws of boundaries to parenting • define appropriate boundaries and consequences for your kids … and much more. “Boundaries with Kids helps us give our kids the skills they need to live realistic and full lives in meaningful relationships. Not perfect—but healthy!” —Elisa Morgan, president of MOPS International, Inc.”
  2.    Dr. Leman has many different parenting studies/kits/workbooks.  Here is hiswebsite.
  3.  Parenting is Heart Work by Dr. Turansky and JoAnne Miller– “If you’re like most parents, you have developed your own parenting strategy—sometimes it seems to work, and other times—based on the way your child behaves—you wonder if it’s working at all. There are countless ways to try to get a child’s attention and to effect change—but here’s the truth—unless you deal with a child through his or her heart, you are not likely to see lasting change.

In this breakthrough book, Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN, reveal how you can learn to truly reach your child’s heart to teach, train, and build a tremendous relationship.

Parenting is Heart Work gives you the practical tools an easy-to-follow steps that will revolutionize how you:

  • Turn Correction times into learning experiences.
  • Equip your children to accept responsibility for their mistakes and meditate on the right things.
  • Influence and adjust the values and beliefs your children hold.
  • Maintain relationship with your children through love and emotional connectedness.
  1.  Playing for Keeps/Losing your Marbles by Joiner, Ivy and Hansen– “There are some things adults just can’t do for kids.

You can’t force a toddler to love broccoli.  You can’t make a teenager not date someone.  And you can’t make a kid love God.  At some point it just starts to break down.  Playing for Keeps is a book for parents and leaders (and anyone else who influences the lives of kids and teenagers). In Playing for Keeps, you will discover six things every kid needs over time, and 18 practical ideas so you can make what really matters matter more.”

  1.  Parenting with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay– “This parenting book shows you how to raise self-confident, motivated children who are ready for the real world. Learn how to parent effectively while teaching your children responsibility and growing their character.

Establish healthy control through easy-to-implement steps without anger, threats, nagging, or power struggles.”  16.  1-2-3 Magic Parenting by Phelan – “The simplest, most effective program for raising disciplined, happy children…

This revised edition of the award-winning 1-2-3 Magic program addresses the difficult task of child discipline with humor, keen insight, and proven experience. The technique offers a foolproof method of disciplining children ages two through 12 without arguing, yelling, or spanking. By means of three easy-to-follow steps, parents learn to manage troublesome behavior, encourage good behavior, and strengthen the parent-child relationship—avoiding the “Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit” syndrome that frustrates so many parents. Ten strategies for building a child’s self-esteem and the six types of testing and manipulation a parent can expect from the child are discussed, as well as tips on how to prevent homework arguments, make mealtimes more enjoyable, conduct effective family meetings, and encourage children to start doing their household chores. New advice about kids and technology and new illustrations bring this essential parenting companion completely up to date.”

  1.   Home Grown by Karen DeBoer– “For a Christian parent, some battles aren’t worth fighting—like whether your three-year-old can wear her plastic tiara to church. But other questions might keep you up at night:
  • How can I help my kids trust God when they’re worried or bad things happen?
  • How do I explain tough things like death and divorce?
  • Is it OK that we don’t have family devotions?
  • How can I make our home a place where my kids’ faith will grow?

This handbook gives you practical, real-world advice about how to help your kids know and love God—and how to build a home where you can grow in faith together.”

  1.    Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas– “Parenting is a school for spiritual formation—and our children are our teachers. The journey of caring for, rearing, training, and loving our children will profoundly alter us forever. Sacred Parenting is unlike any other parenting book you have ever read. This is not a “how-to” book that teaches you ways to discipline your kids or help them achieve their full potential. Instead of discussing how parents can change their kids, Sacred Parenting turns the tables and demonstrates how God uses our kids to change us. You’ve read all the method books. Now take a step back and receive some much-needed inspiration. You’ll be encouraged by stories that tell how other parents handled the challenges and difficulties of being a parent—and how their children transformed their relationship with God. Sacred Parenting affirms the spiritual value of being a parent, showing you the holy potential of the parent-child relationship.”
    19.   Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel – “Parents in our post-modern world tend to be committed to but anxious about their child-rearing responsibilities. They’ve tried the countless parenting books on the market, but many of these are strident, fear-based books that loving parents instinctively reject, while still searching for direction.

Now Dr. Tim Kimmel, founder of Family Matters ministries, offers a refreshing new look at parenting. Rejecting rigid rules and checklists that don’t work, Dr. Kimmel recommends a parenting style that mirrors God’s love, reflects His forgiveness, and displaces fear as a motivator for behavior. As we embrace the grace God offers, we begin to give it-creating a solid foundation for growing morally strong and spiritually motivated children.

Releasing in an affordable trade paper edition, this revolutionary book presents a whole new way to nurture a healthy family”

Summer Worship Experiments

Reposted from Carolyn Brown’s Worshiping With Children

In the northern hemisphere, summer is coming.  We can almost feel it out there and are longing for the more laid back season – or at least hoping it will be a more laid back season J.  Summer is a great time for worship experiments.  People are more relaxed and ready to give something new a chance.  The 2 ½ to 3 months of summer is enough time to give something new a fair trial and still have a graceful out for everyone if it just does not work as you hoped.  So, as you think about summer worship this year, what about identifying one experiment that will make worship more child-friendly.  You might….

  • Commit to presenting the scripture reading for the day creatively every Sunday.  Invite folks of all ages to join a scripture reader’s team for the summer.  Meet every week to turn texts into several person readings, pantomimes, responsive readings between different parts of the congregation led by team members, or readings by the most appropriate person (reader of an age or gender that fits the text).  Not everyone will have a part every Sunday (which is good in the summer).  Still, because all will be in on the planning and rehearsing they will pay more attention to scripture as it is read each week.  And, other worshipers will pay attention to the changing readers and presentations.
  • Invite music readers of all ages to join a pick up choir for the summer.  Meet before worship to learn a piece for that morning and maybe to rehearse sung responses.  You may find new choir members or give those who can’t sing in the choir during the school year, a chance to sing in the summer.  Encourage parents to sing with children, older brothers or sisters to sing with younger ones, even grandparents to sing with visiting grandchildren.
  • Invite young musicians to play preludes and offertories.  Feature soloists and small groups.  Meet with each soloist or group shortly before “their” service to prepare them to play as a way of leading worship rather than just performing.
  • Invite children or families to serve as ushers and greeters.  It is easiest to start with experienced adult ushers and greeters bringing their own children.  But, older children also appreciate being paired with an adult beyond their own family for this service.
  • Provide worship bags for children.  The bags can be small canvas bags or simply plastic zip top bags.  Fill each one with paper and markers, a printed puzzle related to the day’s worship, a small Bible picture card or book (check out church school curriculum leftovers), plastic clay to mold (unlike play dough or clay it does not leave a mess on pew cushions), even a single hard candy to enjoy with the sermon.  (Find more details at What Goes into Worship Bags.) Put the bags in clearly marked boxes or racks near each entrance and encourage ushers to direct families to them.  Be sure they are cleaned out and resupplied each week.

Now is the time to get started on summer worship plans.  So, talk with the key people and groups.  Then, go for it!

And – if you have another experiment to add to the list, please leave the rest of us a comment.

Posted by Carolyn Brown at 9:29 AM

Midlife Adults: Engaging the midlife crisis

Reposted: 13 Apr 2016 from Key Resources .

This post by Jim Merhaut is part of a series inspired by the Seasons of Adult Faith Formation book, symposium, and issue of Lifelong Faith Journal. You can read the whole issue here.

The midlife crisis is an opportune moment for churches to intervene in the lives of midlife adults to provide helpful and relevant faith formation opportunities and resources that will help people successfully navigate the tumultuous experience of midlife maturation.

Church leaders can help members recognize the typical signs of a midlife crisis and then encourage them to explore the crisis as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Psychologist Vivian Diller offers a series of questions that help midlife adults discern whether or not they are experiencing a midlife crisis.

Here is an adaptation of her assessment questions:

  1. Have you been feeling down or empty for long periods of time with no relief? (This is different from mood swings, which come and go.)
  2. Do you get enraged over small things or have violent outbursts with your family and friends? (Again, this is not the same as feeling irritable on and off.)
  3. Do you feel detached? Have you stopped engaging in activities or hobbies that once gave you pleasure with your mate, friends or at work?
  4. Do you find yourself constantly thinking about your mortality, the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life?
  5. Are you deeply dissatisfied with your primary relationship?
  6. Are you thinking of quitting your job or fantasizing about never working again, even if you can’t afford to retire?
  7. Does the life you envision ahead exclude the people or activities you are currently attached to?
  8. Are you questioning your faith or your religion? Are you seeking a deeper connection to spirituality?

Many more here …

Any one of these thoughts, feelings or actions by itself does not constitute a crisis, but if an adult identifies with most of them they may indicate that he or she is in the midst of a midlife crisis and should seek guidance in the form of education and/or coaching, counseling, and spiritual direction. Faith formation leaders can help individual church members assess whether or not they are experiencing a crisis and then guide them to the help they need to successfully navigate the crisis.

Programs and resources that help midlife adults reflect deeply on the path their lives have taken up to this point are helpful. Midlife adults need to be guided as they think about the goals they set earlier in life.

Most adults have career goals, community participation goals, intimacy goals, family goals, personal goals and faith goals. These goals need to be clarified and evaluated in terms of their current status.

How have they been met? Are they still unmet? Are they goals worth keeping? Are there new goals that need to be established?

Identify ways to help midlife adults reflect upon where they have been and where they are going in light of their current commitments. Help them listen to the inner voice of God calling them to a more abundant future. Here are some recommended program and resource ideas to consider:

  • Develop prayer and reflection groups that address crises as opportunities.
  • Create a series of pages on your website with reflection questions and audio and video segments that address midlife adult issues.
  • Send regular emails to midlife adults with links to helpful articles about the midlife crisis.
  • Organize a book club that focuses on books that address midlife adult themes.
  • Develop and distribute a pamphlet that includes both the signs of crisis and referral information.
  • Publish a series of podcasts on your websites consisting of audio interviews with older church members talking about how they successfully navigated midlife and what role the church played in their growth.

This post by Jim Merhaut is part of a series inspired by the Seasons of Adult Faith Formation book, symposium, and issue of Lifelong Faith Journal. You can read the whole issue here.

The post Midlife Adults: Engaging the midlife crisis appeared first on Key Resources.

Faith Formation Practices for Mature Adults

Key Resources

Reposted: 07 from Key Resources

This is the third of four posts about ministry for mature adults inspired by the Seasons of Adult Faith Formation book, symposium, and special issue of Lifelong Faith Journal.

Whatever the topic or theme or program or resource that a congregation offers mature adults we should always try to offer it virtually as well as in a face-to-face setting. For example:

• Offering small groups involved in Bible study the opportunity to engaged in sharing their faith and daily life-challenges via Skype or other web conferencing service, or in a Facebook group.

• Sharing online resources and faith formation programs and activities (such as online learning) for mature adults that they can use on their own and/or which can supplement real-time gatherings. Leaders need to become curators of programs and resources, and help people to find them. (For a compendium of curated digital resources go to: CuratingFaithFormation.com.)

• Prepare for a gathered program by offering people online resources. Rev. James Shopshire, Sr., professor of Sociology of Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary, observed: “One method of adult Christian education many like, is to receive by e-mail a news story, text and questions, which they see ahead of time then can meet on Monday to discuss, ‘God’s views on the news.’” The Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Cordova, TN links their Bible study with an ongoing blog: http://www.buildfaith.org/2014/10/15/a-church-reinvents-adult-education-with-a-bible-and-a-blog.

• Offer opportunities to learn about technology. Even though the research shows that the Boomer generation (and older) are becoming more and more proficient in the use of technology, many still have questions, and want to learn more. Often libraries and community education programs provide learning opportunities. Could churches provide a tech room where people can learn to use the new technologies with workshops staffed by experts, and involve the younger generations who can serve as guides and mentors?

• Offer online courses for adults to learn independently or in small groups. These courses are already designed and available from universities and seminaries, as well as on iTunes University.


Adult faith formation nurtures active participation of each and every person through ongoing and spirited conversation. “Adults grow in their faith best when they have the opportunity to engage in conversation with other adults about things that matter” (Regan, J. E., Forming a Community of Faith: A Guide to Success in Adult Faith Formation Today, Twenty-Third Publications, 2014, 71). Regan explains how and why “sustained, engaged and critical” conversations are an “important dynamic in enhancing a faith that is living, explicit, and fruitful:

• enhances our ability to express our faith • gives us the opportunity to come to clarity about what we think and believe • provides a context for seeing connection between faith and life • strengthens our faith as we hear about the faith of others” (Regan, 72-73)

Commenting on recent research regarding brain health, and suggesting seven scientifically proven, results-oriented exercises, Rosenthal says: “When you read a book or article share what you learn with someone else. Rather than just recounting the facts, identify and discuss the theme(s) in what you read and how they relate to your life.” (Rosenthal, M., “7 Ways to Exercise Your Brain – and Why You Really Need To!” Rewire Me, September 5, 2014.)

Our task is to create learning environments that invite mature adults to participate in transformative teaching and learning that leads to more faithful living. Such emancipatory education involves open and dialogical experiences where deep listening, on-going reflection and mutual respect are practiced. Being free to raise hard questions and to explore “what if” possibilities can help older adults grow in faith and in discipleship that offers compassion and works for justice.

No matter what the gathering or occasion – face-to-face or virtual—opportunities for conversation are crucial.

Small Groups

One key method for conversation, of course, is small groups. More and more research encourages adult faith formation opportunities to include some version of small groups.

“Our parishes have become so large, so anonymous, and we’ve been allowed to attend them instead of participate in them. Today, people don’t drop out of Church as much as drop in –occasionally! My hope is that little faith-sharing groups will continue to emerge, connected to parishes. The base community and the institutional parish need one another.

The parish needs the small fervent group to keep it honest, to allow and encourage those who want to ask the deeper questions, those who want to go further, those who want to learn to pray, to minister, to study, to advocate, and to lay down their lives for the poor. And the small group needs the parish to avoid becoming sectarian, narrow, or lost in personality and trendiness. They must regulate, balance and challenge one another.” (Rohr R. and Martos J., Why Be Catholic?: Understanding our Experience and Tradition, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1989.)

John Weber (Transforming Church.com) reiterates four benefits of small groups:

• Community building: A small group serves as a community or congregation within the congregation. • Educational development: Small groups provide a wonderful opportunity to engage people in study. • Spiritual enrichment: Far too many Christians limit their prayer life to one minute before meals and one minute before going to sleep. Many find themselves just too busy to pray. • Mission outreach: Each small group is required to look beyond themselves by engaging in ministry beyond the group.

Share Faith Magazine expands Weber’s thoughts, suggesting “10 Reasons Why Your Church Should Have Small Groups.”

1. Small groups foster close relationships and integral community. 2. Small groups provide a comfortable introduction for nonbelievers to the Christian faith. 3. Small groups provide an ideal way to care for the needs of people within the church. 4. Small groups provide a way for Christians to live out their faith instead of merely hearing more preaching or teaching. 5. Small groups participate in focused prayer for one another. 6. Small groups provide a comfortable atmosphere for openness. 7. Small groups allow for mutual edification among believers. 8. Small groups encourage better learning. 9. Small groups provide a source of encouragement and accountability. 10. Small groups help to cultivate leadership within the church. (ShareFaithMagazine)

These small groups can take various forms:

Circle of Trust: Created by Parker Palmer, this small invites adults to a challenging (as well as comforting) small group experience.

Study Groups: These groups meet to study Scripture, recent books, movies and videos, justice and peace issues, or a variety of other topics. Their main goal is the on-going growth and learning of the participants.

Gift-discovery and strengths – development groups: St. Gerard Majella Parish in Port Jefferson Station, New York used the Clifton StrengthsFinder along with groups that focused on identifying parishioners’ gifts and talents, creating a unifying bond among their members. In this experience, as group members encourage one another in developing their talents into strengths, the spiritual journey they take together deepens their faith. (Winseman, A. L., Growing an Engaged Church: How to Stop “Doing Church” and start Being the Church Again. Gallup Press, 2007, 113-123)

Accountability groups: These groups meet in order to help participants face the challenges of everyday life and become better people. Members hold each other accountable for living up to the expectations of their faith tradition, and encourage each other in their efforts.

Support groups: These groups address the various circumstances and/or challenges people live with in their lives, and offer the encouragement and assistance of others who are facing or who have faced similar situations and difficulties.

People who have been members of small groups for a long period of time have shared their ideas concerning what makes small groups thrive:

• Having a shared vision: knowing why they are gathering • Taking the time and effort to identify and dedicate themselves to common goals • Engaging in prayer and rituals holds a prominent place in the life of the group • Sharing the work of facilitating, hosting, and providing hospitality. • Building strong relationships through social time, good communication, mutual respect, and more. • Engaging in regular evaluation and review of expectations • Doing something together, such as engagement in service and works of justice, bonds the group together. • Engaging in earnest dialogue, conversation and spirituality call members back.

Book Clubs

Book clubs or groups can be a beneficial way to nurture spiritual growth, build community, promote lifelong learning, help members make new friends and expand their horizons, and more.

Book clubs run the gamut, encompassing the reading of all types of books. Some devote themselves to one kind, one theme, but many are eclectic. Patrick White notes, “You can’t get people together to talk about literature in a serious way over time without touching on spiritual matters.

Book clubs can happen face-to-face (at churches, homes, coffee shops, etc.) or virtually. The diverse timing and formats of book clubs lend themselves to the schedules and life situations of the maturing adult.

Wanting to be involved in the parish but unable to do something at night, a 74-year old woman began a daytime book club at St. Regis Church, Bloomfield Hills, MI, inviting all parishioners. At another church, a woman, realizing that many mid-50s through mid-70s adults are caring for aging parents began an online book club. Since many of the members are in this life situation often their books focus on this reality. For various helps and suggestions for books and/or questions, there are a multitude of online sites:


Support Groups

Support groups can be a powerful opportunity for the ongoing formation maturing adults are often craving: support for their day-to-day, real life challenges and events. Members of a support group typically share their personal experiences and offer one another emotional comfort and moral support, feeling less alone. They may also offer practical advice and tips for coping and thriving, to feel more empowered.

The advice and help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others’ experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks. Sometimes a support group may also work to inform the public or engage in advocacy.

Support groups come in a variety of formats, including in person, on the Internet or by telephone. They may be led by professional facilitators or by group members. Among the many life issues which support groups for those in their mid-50s through mid-70s can focus on:

• married life • empty nest syndrome • young adults returning home • divorce and separation • death of a spouse • death of a child • depression • living with cancer or other diseases • addictions • family members in the military • grandparents raising children • caregivers • adults of aging parents

Gift Discovery & Strengths Development

God calls each of us to be who we are, who we uniquely are created to be, with our gifts and strengths. More and more churches are seeing this as one of the goals of adult faith formation: to encourage and support each person in the maturing and deepening of their strengths and gifts as they grow to be their best selves, who God created them to be.

Tools abound today to help congregations walk with their members in discerning their strengths and gifts. Among them are Called and Gifted (http://www.siena.org/Called-Gifted/called-a-gifted), StrengthsFinders (http://strengths.gallup.com/110440/About-StrengthsFinder-2.aspx), and Spiritual Gifts Survey for Maturing Adults (Johnson, 107-113)

As adults in their mid-50s through mid-70s discover new journeys in life, a deeper understanding of who they are, the uniqueness of their gifts and strengths can be a crucial support for the new ventures.

The fascinating and helpful reality is that many churches are not simply providing tools for people to discover their strengths, but continuing to walk with them as they understand more deeply, use them in many areas of their lives and direct them toward new adventures.

Programming for Communities of Like Interest

Nearly a century ago Henry Ford invented the famous assembly line that is credited with putting Detroit, and the world, in the “Mass Production” business. When he introduced the Model T, the marketing message was essentially, “You can have any color you want as long as it is black.”

Donald Tapscott uses a different term to describe what drives business today: “Mass Customization.” In effect, “you can have whatever you want customized to your wishes.”

What does this mean for adult faith formation? We can no longer approach adult faith formation with a “one-size-fits-all” mentality. All we have to do is look at our congregations and we easily realize the diversity and, therefore the reality, that different groups need different things.

Parents of young children need something different than empty nesters. Those who have just lost a job have unique needs. People who are new to the Christian faith need something different than those who have been deeply practicing the faith for years

Gentzler notes:

Use lifestyles, not age, as the determining factor for ministry. Chronological age is not important in ministry with persons at midlife and beyond. Rather, lifestyle issues are more important. For example, grandparenting concerns are not just for people who are retired. . . . the question becomes: “what are the common concerns that all grandparents, of whatever age, may experience?” Create small groups around common interests, concerns, or careers.” (Gentzler, 53)

Certainly, there are times when “mixed groups” are extremely important; we learn from the wisdom and experiences of each other. Yet, many congregations tell us that they have better responses to offerings when the opportunities are for specific groups, for communities of like interest. For example, a scripture study programs for men, at times convenient for their work schedules; or a program exploring various forms of prayer tailored to couples, to those in grief, to baby boomers, to just retiring.

Many congregations offer courses or workshops or small groups targeted to specific groups, such as: Effective Grandparenting; Relating Effectively to your Adult Children; Balancing Love, Work and Life; The Loneliness of the Empty-Nest; Support Group for Adult Children of Aging Parents; Planning to Age Gracefully (and Have Fun Doing It)?

Janet Schaeffler

For complete copy of the special issue of the Lifelong Faith journal on adult faith formation, click here.

The post Faith Formation Practices for Mature Adults appeared first on Key Resources.


A Discernment Program for Young Adults

Shaping A Faithful Life
Dr. Kathleen Staudt has created an entire series of workshops for young adults considering God’s will in their lives. This series, entitled “Shaping a Faithful Life” is an outstanding resource for churches, colleges, or other young adult groups. The entire series has been generously made available, free of charge. You can view or download the workshops in PDF form using the links below.

Shaping a Faithful Life – Introduction and Outline

Shaping a Faithful Life – Session 1

Shaping a Faithful Life – Session 2

Shaping a Faithful Life – Session 3

Shaping a Faithful Life – Session 4

Shaping a Faithful Life – Session 5

Shaping a Faithful Life – Session 6