Recently I attended a faith formation conference. In one of the workshops some very real concerns in the church today were being discussed. The concerns were about the assumptions we tend to make about the people who come through the doors of the church each week. It was decided that we tend to think everyone speaks the language of our denomination or is actively engaged in a committed spiritual life when in many cases this is not true. During the workshop examples of some actual questions ministry leaders have been asked were given. For example, "Can you tell me why some of the numbers are big and some are small in the Bible?", "Where do I find the New Testament.", and my personal favorite, "I'm thinking of coming to church. Do I need a reservation?"
In John Roberto's book, Faith Formation 2020, four scenarios for the future of faith formation are described:
The conclusion is that we all know someone who fits in to each category, often in our own families. From my experience, the majority of those entering our church buildings most likely fit in to scenarios 1 and 4. Those who fit in to 2 and 3 may be there on occasion for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are visiting family, feel obligated to attend, are dating someone from scenario 1 or for some reason may feel it is important to bring their children and attend from time to time while dropping them off for religious education. To reflect on the four scenarios and recognize that not everyone we encounter fits into scenario 1, is a good place to start when we plan worship and programs in our faith communities.
Often trainings and workshops offered prepare leadership to plan and implement programs with the expectation that everyone be involved and actively engaged. I believe, although our intent is genuine, we often neglect to take into account that some may be from a different scenario. I often use the analogy of learning a foreign language and think about the steps needed to welcome those who do not speak our language into our community. Those who do not speak our language may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed that they will make a mistake. It may appear they have no interest or are not involved because they do not want to be. The truth is they do not understand but would most likely be open to learning. I believe by using this same analogy that the same is true for many from scenario 4 who are not actively engaged or spiritually committed.
In our congregations and parishes we need to make it clear there are no reservations needed!
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