While relationships provide the traction for faith to stick, there are several additional factors involved in the faith-forming process:

We explore these factors in detail at the Do What Matters workshop for congregational leaders. But I’d like to offer a few thoughts on each in this series.

I’m in my late 50’s so the digital world is not native to me. I always feel behind the curve; whatever new tools or web resources I discover have long been in the mainstream. Sometimes I’m appalled at the hurt and damage that can be afflicted by it – cyber bullying and middle schoolers, yikes! Other times I am thrilled with the good it can do – an online retreat for young moms, brilliant!

The digital revolution can be categorized as neither wholly good or bad, but one thing is for sure: it is here to stay. If church does not participate in it, then we will be dismissed as irrelevant. Our participation must also reflect our values of relationship, faith, integrity, and the belief that God is active everywhere in our world.

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It is a key setting in which for some, developmental relationships are formed and sustained. For others, key relationships are reinforced. And certainly for others, relationships, self esteem, and personhood are damaged.

To the extent that education is a part of faith formation, we have to recognize key shifts occurring in the ways that people learn:

  • From school as the place for learning to learning anywhere, anytime, and just in time.
  • From consumption of information to participatory learning.
  • From institution to network.

These factors, along with others, challenge us to think and strategize differently about how faith formation programming is developed and delivered. I believe these broad brush principles can help your ministry approach to the digital world:

Who do you want in the room? Our mobile devices allow for practically anyone in the world to join us at any given moment. Sometimes that can be a great advantage. Other times it’s a distraction. As you plan your gathered experiences for faith formation ask who do you want in the room, and plan accordingly. If the program will benefit from virtual presence, then build in ways for people to connect virtually, gather insight there, and bring it into the gathered setting. If the program needs to be “closed” to just those physically present, then take appropriate steps to insure that.

Mirror. How can we mirror our physical plant and our gathered activities in the digital setting? For example, when people come to church on Sunday, we typically have greeters at the door to make them feel welcome. So, when a visitor comes to your web site, how are they greeted and made to feel welcome? Also, in gathered settings we typically conduct learning experiences and faith-forming experiences. So, how might we utilize digital tools to empower online faith learning and online retreat experiences? For your gathered programs, how can you create online interactions before and after the group gathers?

Social. Put the social in social media. Begin to be intentional about both directions of the conversations. Spend as much time commenting, retweeting, repining, and sharing other posts and blogs as you do creating content to push out.

Share Control Factors. Because of the digital revolution, it is now possible for people to highly personalize their learning and growth experiences. We have to respond by designing faith formation programs in such a way that we share the key control factors of time, pace, path, and place. Make use of digital tools like CoursSites.com to create powerful online learning experiences that can be highly personalized. Faith formation programs can no longer be designed solely on our terms, on our campus, on our schedule, etc.

St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, CA has put these principles to work in their Confirmation program. St. Mary’s Church in Swormville, NY has put these principles to work in their Family Faith Sharing program, utilizing faith-forming activities from Vibrant Faith @ Home.

When it comes to the digital world, be like Martin Luther, who in his day, had one idea related to the extraordinary technological innovation of the printing press—ah ha! The printed Bible! What is one idea that you could embrace as your entry point into the digital/online setting?

If you want to dig deeper on this topic, my colleague Jared Rendell has written a terrific series of blog posts on Digital Faith Formation. You might also consider his new digital training experience called Outer Courts.

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