Tower of Babel summer Sunday School multi-age project.

Tower of Babel summer Sunday School multi-age project.

For a long time I’ve juggled the idea of writing a blog. I often find that the writings of others, in blog form, give me an “ah ha!” moment, new ideas, or support in a time of struggle when I hear a message of “me too.” I’ve contemplated writing about my family, but it seems unfair to put my issues or struggles or experimentation on my children (called “parenting”) out there for the world to see, not necessarily with my family’s permission.

My other area of interest and passion is children’s Christian Formation. I have been working as a Christian Formation director for just over a year now, and feel it’s the thing I’ve unknowingly prepared my whole life to do. I love working with the kids and families in my church and in the Episcopal community in Albuquerque, NM. And I hope that with the fire that God seems to have lit inside me, I can inspire children, families and others with this Christian Formation mission, too.

So, here’s the blog! Too much of the time when I embark on a Google search in the general direction of “what in the world am I going to do with these middle schoolers?” I find that there is a startling lack of ideas and curriculum for this age group. I find no end to ideas for things to do with my elementary age group, but it seems to me, that there’s a throwing up of hands when it comes to figuring out how to meet the needs of our middle and high schoolers. I ran across this survey that said the following about youth programming:

Materials used for youth are all over the “map” with no one program in particular seeming to be used by a majority of churches. Most churches either create their own or use a mixture of a variety of resources. The average number of youth participating in church educational ministries substantially drops from participants in children’s ministries. While not overtly stated, it would appear that post-Confirmation is typically when (1) youth education ceases or (2) youth stop attending.

For me, that’s heart stopping for two reasons. First, we have a large number of kids in our program (relatively) that are elementary aged (23 who attend at least semi-regularly); while there are only half that many (12) who are in grades above 5th. We have no high school attendees in our Sunday School program, and only a couple who go to church as an alternative. Our younger kids are much more regular in their attendance than our older kids. Through August of this year our average Sunday attendance in a Sunday school class for our younger age group (Pre-K through 5th) was 16.2; the average was 2.8 for our older kids (6th-12th). We’re seeing that reality play out in my church.

Second, I have three kids, ages 8, 10 and 14. I am personally invested in them being fed by the Word and the programming we provide for them as they  grow up. And I’m seeing, in my 14-year-old, signs that Sunday school is just not cutting it.

I stubbornly refuse to become a “rock ‘n roll” program to “meet the needs” of these older kids. I don’t think entertaining them to keep them involved is what we need to do. But WHAT do we need to do? Week by week I feel like I am experimenting on them, trying to provide a consistent program at the same time as modifying to be more relevant and interesting to them.

So why are these young people so hard to retain? Is it simply that they are developing their independence and more critical thinking, in some ways rebelling against the “we always go to church on Sunday” rule they’ve had since before they could talk? Are their activities (homework, sports, etc.) so overwhelming that they can’t make it to church on Sundays? Or are we going about things the wrong way to engage them? Are we afraid of them? (My answer: yes, yes I am.) With the older kids, I feel like we must go deeper, allow them to ask questions and express doubt. At the same time we need to help them feel connected and a part of the church in a new way. The words “Faith in Action” keep coming to mind, wanting them to take on outreach projects, help with serving at the church, be responsible for doing good. Then we sprinkle that with Bible lessons in hopes that in a decade something will be retained and put together for them to carry on their Christian faith walk as young adults.

So returning to my mission, I hope that through this blog I can share ideas that seem to work for both leading and encouraging our younger and older children as they develop their faith. And I’m hoping I can build a community of Christian Formation people who can share what works for them. I am so blessed by being surrounded with those involved in Christian Formation in Albuquerque Episcopal churches. Every time I get a chance to meet with them or exchange ideas via email with them, I am so encouraged. I’m hoping we can share ideas so that others can say “ah ha!” and “me too” and benefit from shared experience and creativity. I want you to share the fun things you do to teach a lesson or things you provide in your classroom that seem to hook the kids’ attention. I especially want reports of successes with middle and high schoolers! Please join me.