Engaging Adults: Your church can't thrive without effective adult faith formation

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Engaging Adults Workshop produced by the fine folks at Vibrant Faith. I was drawn to this workshop by one of the founders, Leif Kehrwald, who pointedly asks, “We are a nine- or ten-decade culture, so why does the church focus most of its faith formation efforts on just the first two decades?”

Vibrant Faith’s focus on adult ministry not only fits my portfolio, but it also seems unique to most of the other conferences on my radar.

The daylong Engaging Adults Workshop (9 am-3:30 pm) is not comprehensive, but it does not aim to be. Vibrant Faith recognizes that many churches are stuck in an education model instead of a formational model of ministry. Vibrant Faith is seeking to partner with churches to explain the need for a shift and to help make that shift seamless.

The Vibrant Faith staff come from a number of denominations: Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic. There is much to be gained from the insights of Vibrant Faith, even though its staff are not distinctly Wesleyan or Methodist.

Although I had heard much of the content previously at John Roberto’s Lifelong Faith Symposium, I still found the workshop beneficial.

Over the course of the day, we named our vision for adult faith formation, took time to articulate the characteristics of a maturing Christian adult, and explored emerging models of ministry with adults. To address the needs of adults across the lifespan, adulthood was divided into four seasons: young adults, midlife adults, mature adults, and older adults. We discussed each of these seasons with regard to adults’ needs, their gifts, and ways to engage adults in ministry. Our facilitator gave specific examples of how some local churches were being creative in their ministry to these specific seasons of adulthood.

One idea that was new to me was the concept of “just-in-time” learning. Adults go through various experiences during the many decades of adulthood. “Just-in-time” learning focuses on meeting each adult at his or her place of need.

The workshop also contrasted a traditional church educational approach that focuses on the classroom, curriculum, and the church hall with a networked approach that emphasizes formation, life experiences, 50+ years of adulthood, on and off campus, and so on.

There were some real gems of wisdom that I took away from the day. Three quotes from Dr. Nancy Going, Executive Director of Vibrant Faith, and facilitator of the event, were especially meaningful:

  • “We often do adult ministry as if all adults are in the same season of life.”
  • “We have focused on curriculum ad nauseam, as if the curriculum will do the transformation.”
  • “There is a big difference in asking people to be in relationship than being in charge of a program.”

Vibrant Faith is holding Engaging Adult workshops all across the country, so I recommend finding one in your area. As part of their attempt to help churches make the shift toward a formational model of ministry, Vibrant Faith is also inviting those wanting a more intense learning experience into a two-year academy called Vibrant Faith University. This program is targeted beyond adults, as it aims to explore the faith formation of an entire congregation.

Vibrant Faith’s Engage Adults workshop is not only a great way to network with others who focus on adult ministry, but it also provides intentional time for reflection on your own local church’s ministry with adults.

I also want to thank event hosts Lakeland United Methodist Church and Warren Pattison, Director of Adult Ministries, for their wonderful hospitality.