In December of 2015, The Diocese of Texas came and assessed our children, youth, and family ministries. They found us to be in very healthy shape, overall. We had a strong youth program, the children felt loved and valued, and parents felt supported. They did note however, our very low Sunday school attendance compared to our size.
This was a trend they had been seeing in almost every church, and across denominational lines. Further research revealed two major reasons that parents did not take their children to Sunday school. One was that the kids would sometimes come out of the class asking questions that the parent could not answer. The other was that with the busy lives and schedules that families now have, if the family has to choose between being separated to attend classes and being together eating pancakes, the choice is going to be for the pancakes.
The assessment consultants and the Diocese asked us to begin a pilot program – one of hybrid formation: part online and part in person. We would be joining other churches across the nation to try to figure out how Christian formation can be done now, as well as in the future. From this program, we will be able to inform other resource sized churches, as well as smaller churches on strategies to use in the coming years.
We began a beta test group of 10 families in the spring of 2015. After some tweaking, we launched www.FormationAsAFamily.com. This is a two pronged approach to formation. The first is a website, dedicated to helping families talk about the Gospel on an age-appropriate level. The second is a once a month gathering of all the generations for a common formation time. This is held on the first Sunday of the month in between the 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM worship services. It is based on a rotational model and involves being engaged in the story, and using different learning styles.
Currently, we are about 7 months into the program, and it has been a great success. When we had traditional Sunday school, the average attendance was about 7 families each week. So far this year, an average of 68 different computers use the site each week. Approximately 80% of those using the site each week are repeat visitors from a prior week. People from eight countries and 42 states have viewed the site.
We see this as an important tool in furthering the Gospel. When families discuss the Scriptures together, their faith is deepened, and their relationships with each other are strengthened. We look forward to continuing the project in the future, and working to make it even more useful to families in the 21st century.