From watching the news, we can see that this pandemic is not going away anytime soon. As I wrote about last week, we should be prepared to continue our focus on the-home-as-church, at least for the foreseeable future. There are many, many issues—theological and practical—that we will be dealing with for a long time related to this extended exile from our church buildings and other gathering spaces. We will have to keep adjusting as we learn new things. But we still must prepare for fall. And if we are going to be successful, we will need to help families overcome the obstacles in their paths.
The Brighter Side
One good thing that can come out of this time of upheaval is the necessity of bringing faith formation into the home—where is should be all along. Parents have an incalculable influence on their children, and children have a huge impact on their parents, too. The same goes for spouses, partners, siblings, and the like. Even for singles, they would normally spend a lot more time outside of church than inside. The home and family have always been a crucial space for faith formation (it just depends on what they are forming). Taking away traditional church gatherings has only made home faith formation that much more urgent.
The Leader as Equipper
It has also always been true that the job of faith formation leaders (pastors, teachers, small group leaders, etc.) is not to do faith formation for people but to equip them to practice faith formation at home and out in the world. If people are not trained and equipped, how can we expect them to do the work? As you go forward equipping and training, keep in mind that many of your longtime members need basic training just like new arrivals. Unless you know the people, don’t assume what they know.
In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be tackling some of the mental obstacles that people will face as they encounter what might be new ways to be the church at home. I am not an expert here, but I am a parent who knows a lot of other parents. Here’s my plan at this point (subject to change as life does):
- I can’t! I don’t know how!
- I can’t! I’ve failed before!
- I can’t! I’m too stressed!
- I can’t! I have doubts!
Obstacle #1: I Don’t Know How
Today’s obstacle is inexperience and the difficulties we encounter in starting something new. It’s hard to start something new. You don’t necessarily know where to start or how to do it. It can be intimidating and stressful, which will prevent some people from even beginning. Now, some people relish starting new things and have the general experience and energy to jump right in. That’s your easy crowd. Just point in them the right direction and watch them go. The rest of us need a bit more coaching.
What Is a Leader to Do?
This is probably the most well-known obstacle, so you might already have fifteen ways you address it. But it doesn’t hurt to re-evaluate. The most obvious way to address inexperience is to teach someone how to do it. As we all know, that’s easier said than done.
As you move to a new “beginning” of the program year (and possibly a new curriculum like our new at-home lessons for RCL and NL 😉), here are some thoughts.
Everything is contextual, so how you might give an orientation depends on your size, location, staffing, etc. But, if you are providing some sort of resource for individuals or families to use at home, please take some time to walk them through it. How do you do this?
- Pre-recorded online. I don’t know how hard or easy this is to implement, but it would be a convenient way to offer this walk-through for people who are now used to worship on-demand. However, it has the danger of being put into the “I’ll get to that” pile of tasks that rarely get done. It also doesn’t give people to opportunity to ask questions or otherwise interact.
- Online interactive. Everyone might be sick and tired of Zoom by now, but that type of online platform does allow for the interactivity lacking in a pre-recorded video. It’s something that can be put on the schedule, so it requires a level of commitment. However, I know I have been having a hard time remembering such things that don’t have to do with work, so there’s that. This does require a certain level of technology as does the first one.
- Socially-distanced, in-person. If it’s a responsible choice, you can have an in-person orientation (six feet apart, masks required, well-ventilated area). (And let’s be honest, if you were to have this in the sanctuary in the old normal, most people would be at least six feet apart anyway.) This option provides all the benefits of a normal orientation “back in the day.” However, you would still have the danger (and fear) of the pandemic that would keep some people away, not to mention the standard scheduling conflicts.
- One-on-one. You can also make appointments to see families individually. This only works if you have sufficient staffing for the number of families you have, but the personal touch would be very effective. In addition to the workload, you would still have the pandemic dangers and fears. Masked, distanced, and outdoors might be helpful.
Lay Down a Challenge
Once people know what they’re doing, there is still the problem of creating the habit. They might have been in the habit of attending church and education time, but that’s out the door like a lot of other things. So, ask people to make a (fun) commitment. Lay it down as a challenge. Give them an agreement/contract/covenant for them to sign and put on their fridges. Provide some sort of continued accountability or incentivized check-ins. Keep it up and you will help them create a habit.
Make It Easy
To an extent, the easier you make the work, the more likely people will give it a try (the other aspects being interest/engagement and perceived importance). This is where resources and supplies come in. Provide a resource for them to use, whether it’s a devotional resource (like our Sharing God’s Story @ Home (NL) “bulletin inserts”) or simplified lessons (like our new at-home lessons for the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary).
If you are doing lessons, activities will likely need supplies. Don’t assume that families have specific things like white glue or magazines. You can provide a list ahead of time so that they can add things to their shopping lists. However, that’s one extra step for families to forget to do. It’s also one more expense in a time when budgets are tight. A helpful idea (that might not be feasible in your context) is for the church to create supply boxes for the week/month/quarter. Families can pick them up at church, someone can drop them off, or (most expensive) you can mail it to them.
Grace, Grace, Grace
People will likely do this “wrong” and miss a few lessons. It’s a good thing we have a gracious God, right? So, we need to ensure people know that God’s favor doesn’t depend on their adherence to the program. They will also need to hear grace from you and be able to give grace to themselves and others. Because that’s what it’s all about.
Free Devotional Resource
This summer, I am creating a free weekly devotional resource following the Revised Common Lectionary’s daily lectionary, based on the “take-home” sheet for our new God’s Word @ Home home-based curriculum. Check it out and share it widely! To download, click (or tap) on the purple button below. This is a single sheet that includes a Bible reading plan, prayers, blessings, and conversation starters. I hope that this can be helpful to you!
Peace be with you,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
If you are looking for faith formation resources for families at home, check out our new Living the Word: God’s Word @ Home (Revised Common Lectionary) and Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home (Narrative Lectionary) products. Stay updated by liking our Facebook page, subscribe to our e-newsletter, or follow this blog!