Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bad News on Christian Education

“'Boring' is the number one word or phrase associated with Sunday school (among all adults), and 'fellowship with friends' is the number one reason adults attend Sunday school classes. "

This comes from Dan Dick in a United Methodist study on Christian education. Other insights worth discussion from the recent United Methodist General Board of Discipleship study:

  • Four-out-of-five UM adults (80.4%) report “little” or “no” interest in Sunday school, Bible study, or small group formation
  • Two-out-of-five (39.1%) claim that believing that Jesus Christ is God’s true son is enough — since they have a guaranteed spot in heaven, they don’t have anything else of value to learn.
  • 48% believe that attending weekly worship is adequate, and that there is no need for any other formational experience in their lives
  • only 1-in-6 (17%) of those attending studies report finding practical information that applies to their daily lives.
He goes on to say:
"...many teachers report seeing the same people over and over — good for community, not so good for launching disciples. The vast majority of Christian educators report that most students see classes and studies as an end in themselves, rather than a means to an end. Information is a higher value, it seems, than either formation or transformation."

"Those who teach in prisons, at universities, at nursing homes, in public schools (after hours, of course), etc., find that their audience is much more interested in learning about the faith than those who teach in churches."

MY RAMBLING THOUGHTS OFF the CUFF-- We aren't mobilizing an army and have fallen to merely making some numbers of people happy with a social network! Fellowship isn't a bad thing, and as a matter of fact a necessity for small groups, so I'd celebrate those who are in a group, yet want to find ways to "spice up" the study with a bigger intent in mind. That could lead to another blog just thinking about bridging into new study. I know of some churches who've "taken their study the next level" with great success.

Tougher issue- How do we move people beyond the pew and into a study? Isn't that the million dollar question?! Part of the issue developed over the last generation or so; I imagine we can't fix that over night. Do we push those who are stuck in the pew or merely try to start with the new generation?! Note the approach of many denominations in starting new churches rather than revitalizing the old and we may find an answer. Some of this may betray our artificial separation of worship and education with the professional/ministry separation of preacher from Christian educator. We don't do well at "filling the house" for worship though it's easier to do that than re-create the church into the Body of Christ for the world today. We need to re-work our approach, our roles, and rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead us into the "new" old ways. Many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world know more about this now than we do here in the United States. Yet another reason it is vital for our churches to be involved in mission as we ALWAYS take more away in the learning and blessing than we are ever able to give.

Of course, the challenge is to not lapse into a "closed" system. Too many churches and too many study groups are dead/boring/ irrelevant due to the fact we are stagnant in terms of members, ideas, and connection to real life. I suspect the numbers also betray much about our preaching, our worship, and our mission in the U.S. When I visit churches in the international "mission field" they typically have a small sanctuary and overflow with people, and they have limited finances with a ministry emphasis which is very similar to their lives- the emphasis isn't institutional but highlights the salvation and lordship of Christ today! Thus, neither preaching nor teaching are mundane; the hearing and the practice of the Gospel is vital to the church and the Christian.

Christian Education in the U.S. must:
1) get practical and relate to the everyday real life of people and to the mission of the church,
2) get out of the house! Note that many people are eager to learn, but we are stuck in a closed system of classes.
3) become relevant especially to church outsiders with real life application. Include a variety of people in the group including many who are new to the journey or approach the study from a different vantage point.
4) find expression in worship, mission, and throughout the various ministries of the Church.

Having just attended the national Christian Educators Fellowship I know some exciting elements of this are occurring in many churches. The challenge may be for the whole institution, and especially the clergy, to fully embrace what must take place for us to do our best work in helping people grow into the fullness of the image of Christ.

grace and peace,

For Dan Dick's full report see

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