Faith Formation

Best Practices from Real Churches

Congregations have always been charged with forming the faith of their members. Regardless of how well your church currently handles this important task, it is helpful to learn from the best practices of others. Of course, it would be difficult and probably unwise for any single church to try to do all of the ideas presented here. We hope you’ll use them to spark discussion and creativity in your own congregation.

Parents Sharing Their Faith with Kids

One church invited the parents of children in second grade children’s worship to take turns joining the children in their worship centers each week. Parents were encouraged to talk about their faith and, if possible, bring an item from their childhood that they could show the children. One dad brought a picture of himself in second grade. Kids noticed that he was missing the same teeth in that picture as his second grade daughter Julie! Another brought the Bible he had received from his church when he was a child, with his name engraved on the cover. The worship leader asked parents questions like these (given to parents ahead of time to help them think about what to say):

  • When did you first know you loved God?
  • Did you go to church as a child? Where? Was it like this church?
  • Did you see Jesus working in your life in the past? How do you see him in your life today?
  • How has the Lord helped you make decisions in your life?
  • What is your favorite Bible story?
  • Has God always provided for your daily needs?

Research indicates that most children of Christian parents seldom hear their parents talk about their faith. These sessions allow kids to hear the faith stories of their parents and others in their church.

Mentoring for Profession of Faith

Two Iowa churches use a mentoring program to help individuals prepare to profess their faith. A person wishing to make profession of faith meets with the pastor and suggests up to three people from the congregation to serve as mentor. The pastor then asks one of these people to serve, and the mentor agrees to meet with the person for an hour three to five times in the next few months to talk about faith, ministry, and the church.

During these meetings he or she writes a personal statement of faith. After these meetings, the mentoring pair attends the council meeting at which the mentee makes profession of faith; during the church service when public profession is made, the mentor leads the congregation in prayer. This mentoring relationship has been a blessing for both mentee and mentor.

Mentoring Newlyweds

One Michigan church pursues its goal of building relationships and stronger marriages by pairing couples with another couple from the church they would like to have as mentors. The mentoring couple must have been married for at least fifteen years, be strong believers, and have the pastor’s confidence in their ability to work in this program. Both couples commit to working together for one year, meeting once a month. During the first meeting the newlywed couple reviews their premarital counseling sessions with the mentoring couple. For the next eleven sessions the pastor provides a list of topics to talk about such as: “What is the biggest challenge in marriage?” or “How do you grow together spiritually?”

Post-High Group Works at Service and Accountability

Working at an inner-city church, serving at soup kitchens, and going on a summer mission trip to Mississippi are some of the activities for post-high young adults at one church in Michigan. This group of twenty-five to thirty young adults met twice a month to focus on community and church involvement and mission opportunities. In addition, they met in small groups to focus on being accountable to each other in their spiritual walk. They also found ways to use their gifts in other ministries at their church. This post-high group is “learning how to be Christian leaders in our church and in the larger world—both now and for the future.”

Sunday Evening Impact

In an effort to get more adults involved in faith nurture and education, one congregation shifted its education program to Sunday evenings. Only a handful of people were attending adult education when it was held between the two morning worship services. Sunday Evening Impact (held from 5:00-6:15 p.m.) begins with fifteen minutes of intergenerational gathering time over coffee, followed by forty-five minutes of classroom time. Adults are offered programs with a wide variety of speakers and topics that range from a participatory Bible study/sermon format to issues such as finance, parenting, spiritual gift identification and development, evangelism training, and more. The education program for youth and children is also offered during this time.

Another church encouraged adult education by changing their Sunday evening worship time to include small group study. The evening begins by gathering together in the sanctuary for a time of singing, prayer, and a brief introduction to the topic. Then high school students and adults together break into small groups for a forty-five-minute study. Children study the same topic, led by a couple of adults and middle school students. The first topic studied this way was worship. As a result, many members of the congregation came to worship with fresh ears and an enriched understanding of what happens when we gather for worship.

Bible Memory for All Members

Bible memory is the focus for both the education and worship times at one California church. They encourage the congregation to memorize Scripture in order to enrich worship and disciple new believers.

Each Sunday the pastors and worship leaders model this by memorizing and reciting (instead of reading) the Scripture used in worship. Children memorized Psalm 100; the youth group was challenged to work in small groups of five or six people to memorize a complete book of the Bible, each memorizing a section. When they completed the project, the young people recited the book during a worship service. This program helps make Scripture “part of the rhythm of the lives and worship of our members.”

Growing in Adult Education

The goal of one urban church is to “encourage, equip, and exhort one another to be rooted, alive, and bearing fruit.” Participants are encouraged to attend each of six core classes: a newcomers class, a Bible study, a “Foundations” group that answers the question “Do you know Jesus?” and classes called “Understanding My Identity in Christ,” “Understanding My Spiritual Gifts,” and “Understanding the Multicultural/Multiracial Church.” After taking these classes, members are encouraged to take classes in six ministry pathways: The Bible; Spiritual Maturity; Personal Growth and Healing; Saved to Serve: Understanding Your Purpose; Family Life; and Life in the World (Missions and Outreach).

This church stresses that the Bible is central to the curriculum of every group study. Adult education groups are an important part of their vision to build a community of diverse people who are being transformed by Christ.

Welcoming Single People

Kristen, a single teacher at the local high school, was looking for a church home. She ended up at a church that is intentional about using members’ gifts and meeting their needs. Her connection to the church began when one of her colleagues, a member of the church, noticed that Kristen sang alto—just what their Advent choir needed. One family invited Kristen to sit with them in church on Sunday mornings and invited her to their house for dinner afterwards. After the Christmas season, Kristen noticed that an adult education group was going to study Lauren Winner’s book Girl Meets God. She started attending and got to know even more people. When she found out that attending the church’s Wednesday dinners meant a night off from cooking and eating alone she was eager to be involved in that program too.

A line from Winner’s book describes Kristen’s sentiments well: “It’s nice to go somewhere where you are expected.”

Faith Memory Boxes

“Making Connections” is the mission at one suburban church in Michigan. For two Wednesday nights, families in the church gathered to talk about how God has been active in their lives. The first week each family was given a photo box purchased at a local craft store and asked to name their box (such as “Walking with Jesus”). The families then spent time talking together about their faith walk. Each family was asked to

  • make a list of events or times when they saw God working in their lives.
  • assign an event to each member of the family and brainstorm what to put in the box to represent that story.
  • bring those items to church the following week.

The second week each family decorated their boxes and added the items. They were encouraged to take the boxes home, put them in a safe spot, and plan to open them in five years. This process helped many families develop a deeper awareness of how God is working in their lives.

Laura Keeley (laurakeeley337@gmail.com) is codirector of children’s ministries at Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan.