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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
INSIGHTS LEARNED OR CONFIRMED
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.