“We listen, and God gives us the words.”
When Amber Espinosa and her church took on four research experiments to re-think faith formation this year, this was one of their statements:
Because we know that learning is only one aspect of spiritual care and nurture for children, we will experiment with a new ministry structure designed to provide meaningful experiences for children and youth in worship, community, learning, service, witness, and care.
When they started (you can read about it here), they knew that intergenerational relationships mattered for that spiritual care and nurture, and that was where they had to begin. Yes, it was this simple, and yet for many of you, it will be this difficult. Using the Vibrant Faith Research process, Amber and her team assessed the specific nature of intergenerational relationships at her congregation by both first listening and paying attention to their gifts as a congregation. Based on the findings, they implemented four specific experiments.
Experiment #1: Ending classroom-based Christian education
Amber’s church was one of the many churches throughout the country that struggle to keep classroom-based education going, so they stopped trying. Instead, they put their energy into activities that could nurture relationships, which were the next three experiments.
Experiment #2: Toys in the atrium
Amber and her team brought nursery toys into the atrium where all the adults stand and have coffee after church. And it happened. Families with kids stayed and played. And there were all kinds of new conversations that happened between kids and adults. And there were adults playing legos with kids instead of talking with other adults about football or the weather. This didn’t happen just once. It became a part of their church life together.
Experiment #3: Integrate children into worship
Amber and her team created bags for each child in the church. In the bags are journals and a variety of other items that children can use to “create.” The items get changed up regularly, and are loaded weekly with “prompts” to help children engage the story. Each week, during worship, all children are invited up to the front, and Amber or another adult tells the story. This is the same story that the rest of the congregation is listening to and working on that day. The children go back to their seats, and are invited by the prompts in their bag to get into the story in any of the creative ways that they choose. The children are also asked to share what they made or thought about with one other adult after the service. The sharing is facilitated by the presence of the toys in the atrium, creating an atmosphere of intergenerational conversation. Adults have shared with Amber that they have never had the kinds of conversations about the sermon or Bible Stories that they are now regularly having with kids after church!
Experiment #4: Family Retreat