Best Practices and Overcoming Barriers to Small Church Christian Formation
By Suzanna Green, Bishop's Deputy for Christian Formation
Small churches have both unique challenges and unique gifts to bring to Christian Formation. The challenges of low numbers and no full-time clergy are met with the gifts of faithful attendees and strong lay leaders. Let me get this out of the way right at the beginning of the article; Christian Formation does not have to be clergy-led! I’ll let you in on a little secret, while clergy do study theology and the Bible in depth in their Seminary classes they do not usually have a class on facilitating Sunday school or Bible study groups. In other words, if you are working from the same curriculum, a lay person is just as qualified as a clergy person to lead a Christian formation group.
Other barriers to starting a group might be that folks are nervous about being the leader or facilitator of a formation group. If this is you or the person you are trying to encourage to lead a group at your church check out this video from the Christian Formation committee on this topic: https://vimeo.com/730389876. The video includes some great information about who can lead groups, how to choose curriculum, and tips and tricks for facilitating adult study groups.
Now with that out of the way, how does a small church do a study program with few financial resources and low numbers? First, do not let the numbers determine your program. Remember that where two or three are gathered, God is there. Sometimes the richest discussions on a topic can be had with just a few folks and that is why small groups are a popular tool for Christian Formation. Also know that every church, regardless of size, deals with spotty attendance for certain types of groups.
There are a few ways to handle spotty attendance, either by making the group as low-prep as possible or by requiring folks who attend to help in some way. For the first one you might choose a curriculum that could be read aloud during the group’s timeframe or a video that can be played and then discussed. For the second method, you could have each person in the group lead one session of the study or simply assign each person a day to bring food or drinks for the group.
As far as financial resources, there are many studies available that are free or low-cost. A few that I would recommend for starting a new study are:
- The Bible Project (find out more about how to use this as a small group here)
- Centered: A Christian Discipleship Experience
- Exploring the Bible
- Diocesan Bible studies on the Adult Christian Formation page
- Lesson Plans that Work
- Transforming Questions
- Yale Bible Study
If you or folks at your church are still on the fence about starting a formation program please contact me. My job is to support Christian Formation at all the churches in our Diocese. Often this looks like curating resources, sending out emails, and writing articles like this one. But, my favorite part of my job is when I get to work with people directly and I would love to work with you to create something that is sustainable and life-giving for your congregation. You can reach me via email or phone to set up a conversation.