The latest news from Faith Communities Today - with a new look and brand new research findings from over 4400 American congregations.
Teaching and Learning in American Congregations

We just released the report, Teaching and Learning in American Congregations, focusing on the state and work of congregational educational ministries in the United States. Below is a summary of this informative offering in our series of Faith Communities Today 2015 reports.

Religious education involves many components, elements and features. This latest report looks at the classroom and other educational activities from the viewpoint of congregations. It explores characteristics of congregations, their priorities, and vitality in relationship to their teaching, learning, and faith formation practices. Underlying the investigation and conversation is the belief that individuals' learning, development and religious formation involves both what learners bring to the educational situation and how they interact within the various environments in which they live.

Religious education ministries continue to play a critical role in the life and effectiveness of congregations even though, like the membership of congregations, participation in traditional delivery settings is declining. The Sunday school, or its equivalent for other faith traditions, is still a key avenue for congregations to transmit their teachings and beliefs and provides a stable means for participants to experience nurture and fellowship. Yet, congregations have identified and developed other settings to encourage and carry out their teaching, learning, and faith formation. The prioritization of educational objectives is a key feature related to congregational vitality. These and other issues are taken up in this report.
The report, Teaching and Learning in American Congregations, is organized in four sections:

Section 1: Matters of Congregational Sunday Schools explores Sunday school attendance, and several congregational characteristics: race/ethnicity; regional and local settings; size; theological orientation; views on Internet technologies; learning and fellowship with other Christians and faith traditions; and leadership.

Section 2: Congregational Priorities Matter examines the extent to which congregations prioritize six religious educational objectives and the degree to which those educational objectives contribute to congregations' vitality.

Section 3: Educating Beyond the Classroom corroborates anecdotal reports from Christian leaders that Sunday school is one, but not the only setting in which congregations' teaching, learning, and religious formation takes place. Section 3 reports on congregations' learning in settings beyond the Sunday school hour. A look at congregations' emphases on learning in the home through personal and family devotions and faith formation practices is discussed also.

Section 4: What Was Learned, What Congregations Can Do provides a review of the research in terms of ten key insights that the study either produced or affirmed. It concludes by identifying eight implications for action that congregations can take to support and strengthen their educational ministries.

Below are five of ten understandings gained or affirmed from this study.

1. A congregation's ownership of religious education ministries, expressed through a variety of priorities, practices, and emphases, is a viable means for strengthening its life and mission.

2. There are many matters of Sunday school that contribute to or inhibit the effectiveness of congregations' religious educational ministries, such as: attendance, attention to and awareness of learners racial/ethnic similarities and differences, regional and local settings, congregations' size, theological orientation, views on Internet technologies, openness to learning and fellowship with persons of other Christian and religious faith traditions, and diversity in the make-up of the leadership team who holds primary responsibility for the congregation's educational ministry.

3. Priorities matter. Identifying and upholding educational objectives that express the aspirations, beliefs, commitments and values of the congregation is important to its vitality.

4. Congregations understand the importance of teaching, learning, and faith formation practices in settings beyond the Sunday school hour. They distribute and integrate their beliefs, values, and commitments in a variety of educational contexts and through emphasis on formational opportunities in personal and family settings.

5. Pastoral leadership continues to be a major part of religious educational ministries. The report concludes with a listing of eight actions congregations may take up to strengthen and support their educational ministries.

Check out the full report for many additional insights into congregational Sunday school patterns and learnings.

About the author: Rev. Joseph V. Crockett, Ed. D. is an Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Christ in the USA. His responsibilities include staffing the 144 year-old publication, the International Sunday School Lessons Uniform Series, and the Convening Table on Christian Education, Ecumenical Faith Formation, and Leadership Development.

Recent Research of Value

The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years. However, one of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans. A recent report from Public Religion Research Institute entitled Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion-and Why They're Unlikely to Come Back explores this group and offers some new insights into the Nones.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, an excellent research center on all things Catholic (and a Faith Communities Today partner) has an informative FAQ as well as many other great resources.

Leadership Network (also a Faith Communities Today partner) has just released their biennial study of salary trends among very large churches.  This informative look at large church financial data can be found on their website: 12 Salary Trends Every Church Leader Should Know.

The Religious Research Association, a professional association of scholars, many of whom are affiliated with Faith Communities Today, is offering a unique day of teaching and presentations for clergy, seminarians and other interested religious leaders on October 28, 2016. For $35, guests have access to dozens of sessions of practical research findings.

Specifically, four 90-minute sessions are designed for religious leaders and clergy, seminarians and denominational executives. Along with informative presentations, there will be plenty of time for Q&A and informal conversation with presenters and other scholars. Attendees are also welcome to explore the other sessions at the conference. In these sessions, you will hear several hundred religion scholars and explore dozens of other religion research topics of greatest interest to you for a rich day of learning. 
WHERE: The Intercontinental Hotel 3315 Peachtree Rd NE Buckhead
WHEN: Friday, October 28th 8 AM to 4:30 PM (optional events till 7:30 PM)
INFORMATION & complete program:  

External Resources About Religious Education

The state and future of Sunday schools in congregations is a much discussed topic on the Web. What follows are a collection of links to various perspectives and theological traditions on this discussion which may be instructive to our readers.  Faith Communities Today does not endorse any of these, but offers them as part of the continuing discussion around religious education within congregations.
  • This selection from SBC and Lifeway leader Thom Rainer's book High Expectations addresses the topic and another interesting article from Rainer provides further thoughts on the matter.
  • This exploration of the topic by conservative Christian professor and researcher Elmer Towns.
  • Lifelong Faith Associates is a consulting and resource organization committed to helping congregations develop lifelong faith formation for all ages and generations, increasing the capacity of leaders and communities to nurture faith growth.

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