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Faith Formation Resources

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

To close out our series on faith formation, we asked folks to tell us about their favorite faith formation resources.

As we close out our June blog series on faith formation, we want to hear from YOU: what faith formation resources have…

Posted by NEXT Church on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Here’s what they said:

  • Illustrated Children’s Ministry: both it and Praying in Color “tap into some quality activities/lessons for multiple age ranges.”
  • Vibrant Faith: has been “particularly helpful in…continued learning as an educator.” The group aims to connect faith leaders to generate “adaptive change in Christian faith formation.”
  • APCE Annual Event: the yearly gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators
  • Storypath: a blog hosted by Union Presbyterian Seminary that connects children’s literature to scripture. “Being able to search by topic, Sunday in the church year, or scripture makes it so user-friendly!”
  • Faith Inkubators: an organization that strives “to make home the primary inkubator of faith for disciples of all age by replacing classroom models of education with parent-involved small group models.

Have other resources to add? Share in the comments!

Three Models for Intergenerational Faith Formation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on the Building Faith blog.

by Matthew Kozlowski

Intergenerational Conference
Back in October 2014, I attended the Lifelong Faith Associates symposium on intergenerational faith formation. About 100 practitioners from a variety of churches and denominations gathered to discuss intergenerational models of teaching and sharing the Christian faith. The following article summarizes much of what I learned at this outstanding conference. The three models described below are not the only ways to do intergenerational ministry, and this is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list.

The Sunday School Question
One issue that I want to get out of the way: intergenerational formation is not about closing or “killing” Sunday school. Many people doing intergenerational work have taught or coordinated Sunday school, and they understand its benefits. That being said, these leaders are willing to ask whether a classroom model (grouped by age or grade) is the best format for every church.

Intergenerational Model 1: Large Gatherings
Some churches that have transitioned out of the age-group classroom model host large intergenerational gatherings instead. All ages are invited to these monthly events, and organizers embrace the excitement and challenge of planning the large gatherings. I met representatives from several large Roman Catholic parishes that are fully committed to this model, and no longer offer traditional classes for children (sometimes called CCD). Instead, all families and children are invited to the monthly events.

The churches publicize the entire schedule in advance, expect wide participation, and even ask for registration and a small payment to cover food and materials. Intergenerational gatherings are often around two hours, and may include food, icebreakers, worship, music, and study. Some churches do include break-out sessions in which adults and children split up, briefly, for age-specific study.

Intergenerational Model 2: Small Groups

Many Christians are familiar with small groups, but intergenerational small groups are different in that adults, teenagers, and young children all meet, pray, and study together.

But how does the content work? Surely a 4-year-old cannot comprehend Bible study at the same level as a 44-year-old. This is true. But in an intergenerational small group, children are encouraged to participate as they are able, and to listen and be present. Additionally, the format is usually simple: sharing, scripture reading or devotions, and praying for one another.

The benefits, say proponents, far outweigh the drawbacks. Imagine a younger child praying for a teenager, while other members of the group lay hands on them. In intergenerational small groups, this is normal practice.

Intergenerational Model 3: Enhance Existing Programs

The intergenerational model that may translate well to many congregations is the “weave model” –  not an official term, but a phrase I made up for descriptive purposes. This model looks at all the events and formation opportunities that a church currently offers, and asks – in a very practical way – how can this become intergenerational? For example, do adults already make palm crosses before Palm Sunday? Invite all ages and create an intergenerational event. Does the youth group already deliver items to nursing homes? Invite older adults to help, and young children to tag along and participate.

Extreme Practical Planning
When considering any of the above models, there is a caution to keep in mind: intergenerational programming takes careful planning. For a leader, this means thinking up everything that could go wrong, and then stacking the odds in your favor. For example, a favorite Building Faith post explains how to ensure that multiple generations sit with one another at tables. As a leader, you can have all the best questions and activities in the world, but for the program to work you must create mixed groups.

Theoretical Grounding

The theory underpinning intergenerational formation proposes that people learn faith through the community of faith. Notice that this is not a one-directional movement of adults to children. ALL participants in the life of the church learn through the insight, experience, support, and prayers of the other members of the community.

An 80-year-old can learn quite a bit by reading the parable of the laborers in the vineyard with an 8-year-old. Teenagers often have powerful lessons to teach about service and mission. And of course, as it has always been, trusted adults teach and model Christian faith to children in worship, study, and charity.

As Maria Harris writes in Fashion me a People, “The doers of education are the community as community… [We] are realizing that the church does not have an educational program; it is an educational program” (page 47).

Focus on Relationships
A good framework for any church considering intergenerational formation is a focus on relationships. That is to say, churches can create a plethora of opportunities for all ages to connect with one another in meaningful, faith-based, conversations and experiences. Yes, the events and the content must be well planned and well done, but the programming is not the end-goal. The goal is mutual learning, growing closer to Christ, and deepening faith. In intergenerational formation, people of all ages make this journey together.


Matthew Kozlowski manages, edits, and writes for Building Faith. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Danielle and two young daughters. Throughout his career he has been a teacher, camp counselor, school chaplain, camp chaplain, Sunday school teacher, parish priest, and Alpha course coordinator.

This article was first published in the Spring 2015 edition of Episcopal Teacher, a free magazine published by the Center for the Ministry of Teaching.

Instilling a Love for the Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sarah Dianne Jones

My earliest memory is of being four years old in Sunday school. It was there that I not only learned about Noah and the ark, Moses and the burning bush, and the Easter story, but also the importance of sharing my animal crackers with my friends, the need to say please when asking for the out-of-reach toy, and how much fun it was to be at church. Growing up, the church supported and loved me in ways that I’m just now realizing instilled my love for the church.

It was at church that there was a community that cared – deeply cared – about the ways I was growing and learning. The congregation wanted to know about the latest book I was reading, read the “newspapers” that my friends and I made in Sunday School about the things that we were learning about, came to my school events, and taught me what it was to be fully surrounded and loved by a community in the name of Jesus Christ.

This community raised me up in the faith, and I went to college assured of my place in the church. I had given the church my whole self, and in exchange my whole self had been shaped by the church. College was my chance to figure out what kind of relationship church and I would have, and I jumped in feet first, full of excitement. In college, I engaged with multiple congregations, each of which offered different experiences that helped to expand and deepen my faith. It was in the moments of great joy that I could celebrate in community, and in the moments of pain I learned to lean on the faith of others to hold me up when my faith felt weak.

As college came to a close, I needed to find what was next. The natural next step was to participate in the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, as it was a mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that would offer intentional growth opportunities that I had yet to experience. What better way to spend more time thinking about vocational discernment and figuring out what my next steps were? I was thrilled to be matched with the Washington, D.C. site, but almost immediately after accepting the placement, my brain filled with questions.

Was my faith strong enough to do this? What about my experience? Will 22 years of living in the suburbs have prepared me at all to live in a city? Have mission trips, Vacation Bible Schools, Montreat conferences, and countless Bible studies prepared me to live into this experience in the way it deserves?

I needn’t have worried. My experiences had not given me a history in working in situations like I do now in DC, but that did not mean that I wasn’t prepared. My faith had been formed and tested by the same community that still loved me. It’s not perfect, but it never will be. The important part is that I have seen the evidence for a strong community to surround you. My YAV year could not have been as meaningful, challenging, and fulfilling had I not been reminded over and over again throughout my faith journey of my place in the community of Jesus Christ.


Sarah-Dianne Jones is a Birmingham, Alabama native who graduated from Maryville College in 2016. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, DC, where she works with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The Blessing that Changed My Life and My Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Karen Ware Jackson

“God loves you, and so do I,” my son lisps as he kisses my forehead. I return the blessing, listening as the ritual of love echoes from sister to brother, from father to son. And I know it is true. Deep in my bones, in the darkest recesses of my soul, I know it is true: We are loved by God and by one another. Every night, my heart simply bursts with the love and grace and truth. But it wasn’t always this way.

As a family with two young children and two pastors serving two different churches, our home life is harried. You would think a family led by clergy would have faith formation covered, but the sad truth is church schedules and the challenges of professional faith leadership can wreak havoc on a home. We usually managed a bedtime prayer and a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” but it wasn’t enough. So, encouraged by the work of Rich Melheim and Faith Inkubators, we embraced the Faith 5:

  • SHARE your highs and lows
  • READ a Bible verse or story
  • TALK about how the Bible reading might relate to your highs and lows
  • PRAY for one another’s highs and lows
  • BLESS one another

In our house, we usually share our “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” at dinner and read a bedtime story from the Bible. Sometimes we talk about what we read and we almost always pray, but we never ever miss the blessing. It’s the sacred moment when our love for one another connects seamlessly with our love for God.

These simple, powerful steps transformed our family life, and we didn’t even need to buy a curriculum! Suddenly, all the things we were already doing – sharing, reading, talking, praying and even the “good night kiss” – became part of our family faith formation.

Soon I began to wonder: if this works so well in our home, what about in our church?

At Faith Presbyterian, we’ve been welcoming people of all ages into worship for a few years. We created a PrayGround at the front of our sanctuary to give families the space to move and engage in our traditional setting. We have a lot of fun during the service and love the joy and life the kids bring! But worshipping alongside children is not quite the same as worshipping with children.

We have the kids and the adults in the space, now how do we bring them together? How do we help them tell their stories and pray for one another? How do we foster relationships and build cross-generational community? How do we become the Body of Christ?

Inspired by my experience of Faith 5 at home, I decided to experiment with it in worship. After all, share, read, talk, pray, and bless are authentic and traditional service movements. If these practices could bring us together in the home, why not in the sanctuary?

In order to reduce anxiety and keep everyone open to new experiences, we kept the basic flow of the service, but before we began the prayer of confession, I encouraged folks to form small groups around the sanctuary or use Faith 5 as a personal spiritual practice in the tradition of the examen. I closed the PrayGround and guided anxious but willing kids and elders to share and interpret the Word together. It was beautiful! We practiced Faith 5 Worship every Sunday in October and we will return to it at least once a quarter, but one movement remains every week:

We form a circle around the sanctuary, literally knit together in a single body. As we gaze upon the faces of the family of God – young and old, black and white, refugee and native-born, long-time members and first-time visitors – we hear the charge, “… that the love of Christ that dwells within you can reach out and touch others through you.” Then we turn to one another, crouch down or reach up, grasp hands, touch foreheads, kiss cheeks, and know the truth: “God loves you, and so do I.”


Karen Ware Jackson leads cross-generational worship at Faith Presbyterian Church, a small but mighty congregation in Greensboro, NC. As the mother of two young children who worship front and center, she knows firsthand the joys and challenges of parenting a child while leading a congregation. She blogs about engaging all ages in worship at  www.karenwarejackson.com and tweets at  @karenwarejack.

From SERVING to Serving

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Boni Kim

Growing up in America, the only place I saw people that looked like me was at church. My parents were Christian and so I just followed them to church every Sunday. We started off at a smaller Korean church and later moved to one of the larger Korean churches in the area.

It wasn’t until eighth grade I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That was when I really started to explore what the church was. I had always liked helping out and volunteering for church and I discovered that I had been serving and being spiritually formed by my experiences even before I accepted Jesus into my heart.

During my college years, I went to an American church when I was at school and when I was home during the summers, I attended my home church. There was such a huge difference between the two churches that essentially did the same thing: worship God. When I attended church at school, I felt like I was learning so much and that I was getting something from the sermons every week. At home, I didn’t get the same kind of learning that I was getting at school. Nevertheless, after I graduated from college, I moved back home and started serving my home church.

Serving was my M.O. for most of my twenties. I believed that the only way I could grow spiritually was if I served. So, I served my heart out. I served as director for my church youth group for seven years along with serving and leading two summer camps for over ten years. During these years, I felt very tired and alone. There was only one person that was going through what I was going through, my best friend, and she was really the only person that I was able to talk to about my problems. Since she and I were pretty much in the same place in our respective churches, we just listened to each other and tried to encourage one another. In the end, I made myself believe that serving was the only way that I would learn more about myself, grow spiritually, and get closer to God.

Then, I burned out. I felt myself getting angry at the thought of stepping into church. Fuming when I had to sit through another meeting. I didn’t enjoy going to church. So, I stepped down from everything. I knew I needed rest.

During this time of rest, I learned that it was okay not to be in a leadership position in everything I was involved in. I learned to step back and be a participant and not volunteer. I learned to be more of a Mary rather than a Martha. (In my mind, I wanted to be perfect blend between Mary and Martha.) It was different because people around me have always seen me in a leadership position and have always asked me for help or asked me questions about certain events or camps. It was liberating to say, “I don’t know, I didn’t plan anything for this event.”

I also learned that it wasn’t JUST about serving. I didn’t just learn about God and my relationship with God only when I served. This time of rest was also apart of forming my spirituality. I learned that I could just sit and be a Mary and that was okay. It was definitely different and even uncomfortable at first. The more I was sitting back and not leading, the more I started noticing the small things with God. I never experienced just sitting back and enjoying God. This was a part of my spiritual journey that made me just sit and absorb God. Through just listening, God told me that I had done well in His eyes. All the serving that I did, was for Him and that He was delighted in me. When I realized that, I knew that servanthood was something that I couldn’t stop. It was just a matter of how much and what I wanted to be involved with.

Even though I told people I was taking a rest from serving, the servant heart inside me didn’t really let me stop for long. I was still involved with things here and there, so it’s not that I stopped serving altogether. I just learned how to say “no.” It took me a very long time to say no and to turn things down. It had to get to a burn out to say no. I learned how to balance and to know what my limit is.

I have by no means got my spiritual life figured out. I believe that’s something that is going to be an ongoing thing. I know that I just need to be connected to God first and foremost. After that, it’s really what God calls me to do to further the Kingdom. God is still working on me and I’m still discovering more about my relationship with our Father as well. In order for a relationship to grow, the relationship will always be going through some kind of transformation. That’s how I know that my relationship with God is still ongoing.

Currently, I am a deacon at my church and a Sunday school teacher. For now, that’s enough.


Boni Kim is an elementary school teacher at American Montessori Academy in Redford, Michigan. She has been a member of and served at the Korean Presbyterian Church of Metro Detroit (KPCMD) since childhood and is now a deacon at New Hope Church of Michigan, the English Ministry sister church of KPCMD. 

A Living Time Machine

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Christopher De La Cruz

Last year on the holiday the United States commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Christian rapper Lecrae posted the following tweet:

 

The response was swift: “Done supporting you bro. You make everything a race issues lately instead of a gospel issue.” “this is boardline unpatriotic… maybe thank a veteran rather than tear people apart.” “super disappointed with your tweet. Pics like this divide instead of brining unity.”

Lecrae, a black man, wasn’t saying anything incendiary or radical. He didn’t really say much of anything. All he did was force people to remember a part of our country’s history many Americans routinely forget.

The Church at its heart is a people who live to remember. Like siblings joyfully flipping through an old family photo album, we go through Scripture and recall God working through the lives of Moses, David, Ruth, David, Paul, Lydia, and, of course, Jesus. The Sacrament of Communion is literally a ritual of remembrance, given to us by the one who died for all.

At our worst, the Church becomes a museum, desperately trying to save relics for people to fondly gaze at – but not participate in. At our best, however, the Church is a living time machine, bringing lessons from the past and hope from the future and molding it into the present.

We live in a time and a place where remembrance is glossed over in favor of the ever-changing “now.” The United States has always prized itself as a nation on the frontier, rejecting the kings, wisdom, and ways of the moldy past in favor of America’s imperial-ish liberty. Our streets are paved with gold (paved over the blood and land of its native people), built by Africans shipped like cattle from their home and placed in shackles like prisoners. Human beings became objectified bodies, whose family bonds, friends, and cultures – in other words, whose memories – were erased all for the utopian now of the American dream for some.

In America today, we are perpetually transformed by the re-“now”-ing of our minds. Our phones text us news alerts that drag us always to the “now” – ironically, a “now” somewhere else that prevent us from fully appreciating the “now” in front of us. Our obsession is productivity. Our coping mechanism for our society-inflicted anxiety is “mindfulness” – a useful tool that I myself use, to be sure, but it is telling that our emphasis is literally thinking about nothing else but the present.

The prophets of the Old Testament, though, never allowed Israel to forget. Remember the Israel who saved you from Egypt? And now you oppress the poor and forget the needy?

Jesus always wants us to remember. Grounding us in a specific past historical event – the birth, life, death, and resurrection of a Palestinian Jewish Messiah – is how Jesus teaches we are to live as new creation.

Being transformed by the renewing of our minds doesn’t mean flushing every memory away. Even Jesus’ resurrected body carried his scars. The NEXT Church should be a church that remembers. We should be a Church that recalls the good news of the gospel and shares it. We should be a Church that isn’t afraid to remember sins that its people has yet to repent from, sins of the nation the Church resides in, and even its own active part in that sin.

The Church by definition is a body whose roots extend far beyond the spirit of the present age. I pray that the NEXT Church remembers to remember, even as it adapts.


Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica. Follow him on Twitter @cdlc.

Love Letters: The Intentional Practice of Remembering Baptisms

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Vickie Caro Dieth

In a family where juggling meetings and appointments and practices and laundry and meals is no small feat, it’s easy to forget things… especially when they happen only once a year. Luckily, my children were born on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, so their birthdays are easy to remember. The anniversaries of their baptisms? Not so much. The time of year is helpful, as one was baptized on Mother’s Day and the other, the first Sunday in Advent. But remembering the actual dates of their baptisms has been difficult for me and I’m most grateful for the reminders my phone gives me each year as the days near.

When my first child was born, my husband orchestrated what has become one of the most significant faith-sharing events for our family. Unbeknownst to me, he asked friends and family to write letters to our child about her baptism. As he collected the letters, he put each one into its own manila envelope, sealed it, and slipped it into a notebook where they would all be kept together.

In his planning, my husband requested enough letters to allow for one letter to be opened every year on the anniversary of our daughter’s baptism until she reached the age of confirmation. In the spring of this year, she completed our church’s confirmation process, and we read the last letter.

Some years we’ve done better at honoring the day than others. Some years there were cupcakes and some years the letters were read a few months late. But every year we’ve read a new letter.

It’s always a fun surprise to open one of the letters. I was never told who was asked to write to my daughter, and several years and two moves later, my husband doesn’t remember who responded, but they were all significant members of our own faith family. There were notes from the pastor who led the service and the elder who poured water into the baptismal font. My father’s letter shared his appreciation for the congregation that promised to nurture his granddaughter in her faith in God. There were letters from members of the youth group and their families. Some people chose to include pictures of themselves so she would know who they were. Each message spoke of the gift of belonging to the family of God.

Pastors and church educators are often telling us, “Remember your baptism,” but in a denomination that baptizes infants, this can be difficult to do. We encourage parents to share with their children the stories of the big day, but sometimes the family luncheon afterward or the heirloom gown worn by the baby claims the bulk of the memories, rather than the theological significance of the event. I am grateful for this collection of letters that reminds us of the promises made the day our faith community recognized Christ’s claim on our daughter. It is my prayer that it will help her make connections between her baptism and the day she claims the Church’s faith as her own.

I don’t really know what this notebook means to my daughter. She only knows or remembers some of the people we talk to her about. But to me, it is one of the most special gifts she will ever receive. Each year when we gather around the book of letters, we laugh and we remember. Each year we get to learn a bit of someone else’s faith story. Those who contributed took the time to reflect a little about their own faith and what it means to welcome a child into the church family. In their letters, people shared with our daughter their adult faith. The fact that she doesn’t know some of these folks reminds us of the universal nature of the baptismal vows we make. And every time she opens the book, my daughter is reminded that there has never been a time when she hasn’t been part of a faith community, that there are people other than her parents who love her, and that she is a child of God.


Vickie Caro Dieth is a Director of Christian Education and ruling elder at Christ Presbyterian Church in sunny Tallahassee, FL. Her doctoral work at Columbia Theological Seminary addressed teaching emotional intelligence as a tool for faithful discipleship. She is married to Rev. Danny Dieth and they have two daughters, Hannah and Abby.  

Why We Should Pay Attention to Brain Research

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators blog.

by Holly Inglis

Why should the church pay attention to brain research? With everything else happening in and around us, why should we attempt to understand and apply scientific research about the brain? What difference would it, could it make? Consider these scenarios:

  • Catherine, age 10, has attended Vacation Bible School for as long as she can remember. She tells her mother that she learns more at VBS than she does at Sunday School. Why?
  • The youth group has just returned from their mission trip to help rebuild homes in a part of the US recovering from a natural disaster. During their presentation in worship, several youth tell how this experience was transformative and made them feel closer to God. Why?
  • A worship service last summer focused on all the mission and service ministries of the church. But more than just talking about each of those ministries, individuals from the congregation were visibly present at the front of the sanctuary engaged in the ministry. There was bike repair happening, communion being prepared, small flower arrangements created from the Sunday morning arrangements in the Sanctuary to be delivered to homebound members. Months after this worship service, many people continue to comment that it was one of the most meaningful services they can remember. Why?
  • This year’s stewardship campaign was more successful than any in recent years. The stewardship committee was puzzled because everything was the same as usual: pledge cards, sermon series, personal phone calls. The only difference were the “moments for generosity” that were shared right before the offering was received each week. Individuals from the congregation told personal stories of ordinary acts of generosity that had great impact on their lives and on their faith. Many of those stories were quite touching. Could this have made the difference?

We want to believe that what we do in the church and in our various ministries make a difference and have a lasting impact on students. The greatest impact we can have is not merely by imparting wisdom or knowledge but by gaining a better understanding of how learning occurs and how learning can be reinforced and become part of the long-term memory of individuals, impacting not only their thinking and reflection in the current setting, but their actions and behavior in settings beyond the walls of the church. If we become more aware of the way our brains learn and remember and if we are able to make some shifts in what we teach and how we teach, we may have a greater likelihood of being agents of transformation for those who participate in our ministries.

Let’s look at the answers to the questions posed in the scenarios above as a way to understand some of the implications of brain research for the church.

  • Why does Catherine learn more at VBS than she does in Sunday School? Brain research indicates that repetition is important to learning and the formation of long-term memory. Most traditional Vacation Bible School experiences meet daily for several days and for several hours at one time. Songs are repeated, often with associated movements. Themes are repeated and reinforced through Bible stories, crafts, games and even snacks. Several senses are engaged intentionally and brain research indicates that the more senses we engage the greater the likelihood that the information will stick. The use of visual props and decorations enhance the excitement and experience for the participants and once again, brain science tells us that vision tops all our other senses and is a top priority for our brains.
  • Why are mission trips, retreats, and similar experiences so often transformative for the participants, particularly for our youth? Part of the answer may lie in the fact that the participants in these events are often physically moving, whether that is working on a job site, working on a challenge course, walking or hiking, or playing games. Exercise boots our brain power. Then there are the emotional connections that are made during these experiences. Emotion is the glue that makes memories stick. Regardless of whether the emotions we experience are positive or negative, our brains retain items of information that significantly engage one or more of our senses and evoke strong feelings.
  • What made the mission and service oriented worship service so memorable? First, there was something visual for participants to watch while people were talking. More of our brain is used to process visual information than other kinds of information, like auditory. Unless your worship services are unique, most of the content is auditory. Because there was something visual for worshippers to focus on, they may have paid more attention. We don’t pay attention to boring things. Emotions were also aroused as stories of the impact of these ministries were shared. Remember emotional memories last.
  • Why was the stewardship campaign more successful this year? There could have been many factors, but the fact that the one additional element was the Moment for Generosity stories, tapping the emotions of the listeners and interjecting something unexpected into the worship service, thereby grabbing the attention of the listeners as well. There is one more thing that may have affected the outcome of the campaign – mirror neurons. We learn by watching what others do and while the worshippers did not see the individuals directly engaged in acts of generosity, as the individuals described their experiences, the listeners’ brains were making pictures of what they heard, so in effect they did “see” what was being described, as if they were present.

For the most part, this is not new information. Taking the time to apply these principles to areas of ministry outside the Sunday School classroom can be somewhat challenging, but holds the potential to be literally and neurologically transformative.

To put what you’ve just learned into practice in your own setting, give this article to others and plan to discuss the implications. Come up with your own scenarios and ask the “Why?” question for yourselves.

Additional Resources

The Synaptic Gospel: Teaching the Brain to Worship by Christopher D. Rodkey (University Press of America), 2012

Sticky Learning: How Neuroscience Supports Teaching That’s Remembered by Holly J. Inglis, Kathy L. Dawson, Rodger Y. Nishioka (Fortress Press), 2012

Implications of Brain Research for the Church by Allen Nauss (Lutheran University Press), 2013

Brain-based Worship by Paula Champion-Jones (WestBow Press), 2014

Brain Rules by John Medina (Pear Press), 2014 (original edition 2007)

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina (Pear Press), 2014

Brain-Savvy Leaders by Charles Stone (Abingdon), 2015


Holly Inglis is a Certified Christian Educator currently serving as the Associate Pastor for Nurture at Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, where she implements whole-brain strategies in worship and education. She is also president of the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE).

Faith Formation, Forming Us

by Sarang Kang

Consciously and subconsciously, our lives are filled with moments of faith. These moments, with intentional efforts of our families, friends, and organized groups, continue to help us form our faith. Faith is not a singular aspect but a multifaceted, living – and at times breathing – thing. Faith changes as we change, and as our faith changes, it changes us. In other words, we inform our faith formation, but our faith in turn forms us.

During the month of June, the NEXT Church blog will visit various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. Lynn Turnage and I, blog curators for the month, hope that the posts help you consider how your faith has been formed, and how your faith has formed you. Ultimately, we hope this series will be foundational material as local churches work on planning for the fall.

But first, let’s hear from you: how has your faith been formed and, in turned, formed you? Leave a comment below or on the NEXT Church Facebook page!


Sarang Kang is an adult third culture kid that has self-identified as Korean American since 2011. She is a Christian educator currently exploring the intersection of vocation and calling, as well as identity imposed, identity imparted, and true identity. She is a member of the NEXT Church strategy team.

Adult Education – Small Groups

Our May 2017 Church Leaders Roundtable focused on adult faith formation. Some of the conversation centered around small groups as a model for adult Christian education. While small groups are popular, they can burn out pretty quickly. Participants in the roundtable discussed models of small groups they found to be most successful.

One model of small group is a supper club where members of the group share meals at each others’ home. This model offers great fellowship, but can be lacking in the Christian education/faith formation area. Another model that offers good fellowship with a bit more faith formation offers small groups that stem from a particular area of interest: running, knitting, grandparenting, etc. Church staff and the Christian education ministry team offer a devotion that is used by each of the small groups, and the groups commit to use the devotion in each meeting and pray for one another.

There are two common models that are based primarily on deepening faith and education. One is an intense, weekly model that requires daily work. This could be a group using the Companions in Christ or Disciple curriculum, or other long term studies. The second model that is popular is a short-term (6-8 week) study around a particular topic or book that the whole church is focused on, often that is supported by a sermon series. There would be multiple small groups that congregation members could be a part of, all of which would meet at different times so that there are options for a wide variety of schedules.

What models of small groups have been successful in your own adult faith formation efforts? Let us know by commenting below!