When Covid-19 stay at home orders came in March, our congregation was caught off guard. Our Christian Education ministry relied on face-to-face gatherings. From Sunday School to youth Confirmation, Wednesday night LOGOS to weekly small groups, we were used to traditional ways of doing Christian education. And we were in the midst of our Lenten Small Group study! Teacher training events never talked about what happens during a pandemic when you are told to physically social distance from other people.
Our staff reacted quickly and offered three initial links off our website for faith formation: Resources, Sunday School, and Confirmation. Analytics of our website indicated people were, at a minimum, exploring our site; our faith formation resources were offering a presence in people’s lives. Lenten small groups did one of two things: stopped meeting or switched to Zoom or an alternative digital connection. Two-thirds of our small groups finished their planned meetings. They adapted; a personal connection using technology was more important than no connection at all. Eventually, Sunday School classes and weekly small groups learned to adapt, too. Zoom became the platform of accessibility. Older adults, when Zoom technology seemed too daunting, connected through emails and conference calls. It was a new world for faith formation!
Our goal in Christian Education during the initial phase of Covid-19 was to keep people connected with each other in their faith formation. Zoom technology and providing online resources for individuals and groups succeeded in doing this, but there were limitations. Part of that limitation was a personal, face-to-face presence in people’s homes between staff and other families. We provided tools to keep people connected, but we lost that face-to-face, authentic, real connection with relationships.
As the Church moves forward in faith formation and begins phases of church re-entry into the building and corporate worship, Christian Education has ripe opportunities to change. Some of the programs we offered pre-Covid-19 were successful, others were spinning their wheels or happening because that is the way we always do it. I wonder if the church might develop a presence in people’s homes through digital technology and create unique bytes of faith in which to engage people. These bytes of faith are short, creative video clips staff and church leaders create that show our real selves, but also engage viewers in the biblical story. Think of the bytes of faith as digital children’s messages, messages with meat that grab the attention of both young and old. They are talking points for in-home faith formation. They tell a story that connects life with Scripture and engages families with an activity and life application. They are short, focused and intentional. And it is the church leaders who are present presenting bytes of faith.
For instance, I might talk about my mom who had dementia and Alzheimer’s. I went to visit her once and she was so excited to see me. After we ate lunch together, I brought her to the common area of her care facility and stepped away for a few minutes. When I returned, my mom was so excited to see me, like we hadn’t seen each other in months! She was even ready to eat again! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church welcomed each other like my mom welcomed me!
Once created, bytes of faith begin by families “inviting” us (the storytellers) into their homes for conversations and digital viewing. Then, as social distancing begins to lift, families invite families into their home for bytes of faith together. These bytes of faith moments can happen on Sundays, weekdays, day or night, but they are real, and they are connected to the church today and to the church tomorrow. It is a “new” old way of doing church and faith formation that might have merit to re-invest for the long haul of Christian Education.
Dan Wiard, Director of Christian Education, Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Mount Pleasant SC and Member of Hope4CE Steering Committee