Christians Engaged in Faith Formation

Forming Faith: The Blog of Christians Engaged in Faith Formation

  • 18 Aug 2017 4:22 PM | Christine Hides

    Blog post submitted by The Rev. Stacy Johnson Myers, Minister of Christian Education, First Congregational Church, River Falls, Wisconsin.

    Several years ago I was talking with a group of second grade Sunday Schoolers about Zacchaeus. I asked, “Why do you think the people were surprised Jesus wanted to go to Zacchaeus’ house?” A child answered, “Because they thought Jesus would go to Moses’ house.” I paused for a moment, or probably two. Then I remembered our lectionary-based curriculum featured Moses in the previous lesson. On Monday morning I gathered construction paper, scissors, and glue sticks and made a pictorial timeline—individual pictures representing specific Bible stories. From then on I could point out in a visual way that “Moses is way back there”; “Jesus is way up here.”

    The timeline worked wonderfully. It helped my students gain a perspective of time and the progression of the overarching biblical story. They learned how individual Bible stories, events, and people fit together. It also helped my students learn to interpret the art and Bible stories.

    Fast forward many years: the timeline is still in use in Sunday School, Wednesday School, and Confirmation, in my church in River Falls, Wisconsin. We decided to commission a new set of images from a professional artist. The result is Picture the Bible.         

    Picture the Bible is a set of 36 collages that tell 36 different Bible stories, from creation through Pentecost. The images are beautiful and engaging. They portray details of stories but are not overly laden with symbolism, so they can be quickly embedded in children’s imaginations. The Picture the Bible images have had a dramatic impact on the whole congregation’s biblical literacy and interpretive skills.

    Recently we completed a set of 36 student engagement pages to correspond to each image. The pages reflect an approach to biblical study that intentionally occupies the intersection of daily life and the Bible.

    The goal of the pages is not to “tell learners what to think.” Rather, the goal is to provide a variety of “conversation centerpieces” designed to engage learners and leaders in authentic conversation about their lives, the world, and the Bible.

    For example, the page dedicated to Slavery in Egypt poses:   

    • Read the story in Exodus 1.
    • Why do you think some people hurt others?
    • At first the Egyptians welcomed the Hebrews. As the Hebrews became more powerful, the Egyptians became afraid. Why might they have been afraid?
    • Do people have to agree to get along? How so?

    Then, learners and leaders talk about this Conversation Centerpiece:


    “Conversation Centerpieces” put Bible stories into their own cultural contexts and connect them to learners’ lives. The pages include Martin Luther King’s mountain top speech; Ruby Bridges; carbon-14 dating, architecture, Dr. Seuss, constellations, and a wide variety of other images and topics. The student engagement pages are flexible, can be used by a wide variety of ages, are colorful, and packed with ideas.

     For more information, please visit; follow us on Facebook at; or contact me at Congregations may purchase art reproductions, books featuring the art, a CD of images for projection in worship, and permission to download and print the student engagement pages.

    One of the great benefits of Picture the Bible is that it is truly intergenerational. The images engage young children, teens, and adults, drawing together people’s lives and the Bible—a central goal of faith formation.

  • 10 Aug 2017 2:33 PM | Christine Hides

    Laura Stahl is Director of Children’s and Family Ministries at First United Methodist Church, Duluth, MN (The Coppertop).  She formerly served in similar capacities at United Church of Two Harbors (MN) and Aley United Methodist Church (OH).  She lives in Two Harbors, Minnesota with her husband Dale. Together they have four foreign exchange daughters from Germany, Belgium (Flanders) and Jordan. 

    As the number of families in worship increased, it was time to move away from activity bags with crayons and children’s bulletins to more engaging worship resources that reflected the theme, scriptures, and/or season of the church.  Over time the Family Worship Resource Table has grown to include resources for toddlers through elementary-aged children.  Staff and office volunteers help to keep the activities fresh and rotate holiday and seasonal books and extras into the mix.  Below is a list of our worship table resources. For more pictures and seasonal activities, please download this Worship Activity Table Primer. 

    Children’s Bibles –Spark Story Bible, Deep Blue Story Bibles, Children of God Storybook Bible and others

    Basket of Books – board books, books for preschoolers, seasonal books (Advent/Christmas, Lent/Easter, Pentecost, All Saints/Halloween, Thanksgiving)

    Toddler Busy Boxes – homemade from large plastic canisters. I removed the center from the lid and added a slotted felt piece.  Inside are large items that toddlers can drop in and remove from the box.  Items are XL Pom Pom, Felted characters, small stuffy, large wooden doll pin, chunky heart.

    Toddler Meal Prayers or Prayer Books 

    Writing Utensils – crocks of pencils* and colored pencils* on table; bags of crayons in baskets, 1 pen & 1 dry erase crayon in each Elementary zip case

    Felt Mosaic packs – In each bag there is one piece of felt with lots of little squares or other shapes of felt.  I have some repeating suggested pictures for church seasons and regular services like communion.  I also make pictures that go with the sermon/scripture theme* of the day.

    Preschool Clipboards – Holds preschool age Children’s Worship Bulletin* (online subscription so I can choose scripture or theme)

    Elementary Packs – zip pencil packs contain 1 pen, 1 dry erase crayon, 1 small white board, 1 Pocket magazine, 1 Children’s Worship Bulletin*.

    Church Wi-Fi sign (Children’s Worship Bulletins have a game code that coordinates with the topic)

    Writing Pads & Bookmarks – I collect colorful scratch pads that charities mass mail for fundraising & change them with the season.  Curriculum bookmarks, Camp Registrations, and other resources for the taking.

    Preschool Leaflets – leftover class leaflets (aka “bulletins”) that fits the theme or from the week before. 

    *I download and copy Children’s Worship Bulletins and switch out some pictures for the Felt Mosaics at the end of each month. A regular office volunteer folds the bulletins, and switches out the bulletins and Pocket magazines. Volunteers also sharpen pencils, check crayons and straighten books.  I spend a very small amount of time checking the Toddler Busy Box and occasionally add seasonal items.  

  • 24 Jul 2017 8:27 PM | Christine Hides

    Rev. Lisa McGehee is an ordained deacon serving Good Shepherd (Richmond) as Associate Minister. Her specialties include Adult Discipleship and Communications.

    Small groups, bible studies and support groups are opportunities to meet people where they are on their faith journey. At Good Shepherd UMC (Richmond) our Discipleship ministry has grown from seasonal studies to multiple groups meeting weekly, including a new grief support group and a Mental Wellness Ministry. What steps can you take to grow a vital Discipleship ministry so that people can develop their relationship with God and live as faithful disciples in the world?

    • 1.       Pray – seek God’s guidance – “without a vision the people will perish” – without God’s vision for Good Shepherd’s Discipleship ministry we would not be able to discern topics, leaders and needs of the congregation and community.
    • 2.       Ministry Team – it takes a village of people to implement and grow a small group and support group ministry – again, pray. Ask God to reveal potential leaders that have a heart for growing in their faith. Who in your congregation has the gifts of encouragement, faith, discipleship and/or leadership? Who has offered to lead a small group or bible study? For support groups, who has expressed a passion for an area of support, i.e. grief, divorce, mental health wellness? Invite them to join you in praying and seeking where God might be nudging them to become involved.
    • 3.       Vision – come together as a ministry team and seek God’s will for your congregation and community. What does faith formation mean to you? How do you define discipleship? What are the needs of your community? For the past two years, Good Shepherd has been in a time of discernment and Strategic Design. Throughout this process we sought God’s vision for all areas of ministry. We prayed together and listened to one another about the ways our lives had been transformed through the ministries of Good Shepherd. We also reviewed data from The Fullnsite Report available through the Conference. This report was one way we discovered the needs of the community. We learned that 33% of our neighbors were seeking support in the areas of addiction, recovery, grief, parenting development, marriage enrichment and mental wellness. Additionally, 34% were seeking prayer and bible study groups. We added these needs to our prayers.
    • 4.       Discernment – equipped with prayer, stories and data, our Becoming (Discipleship) Ministry continued to discern how we could best live into God’s call on our community of faith. This discernment occurred during several meetings in the summer. We went back to the vision for Good Shepherd to be “a place where lives are transformed through grace.” Grace and hope are the foundations for all that we offer at Good Shepherd. We heard that our congregation had embraced Sunday School, small groups and bible studies for all ages but the missing link was topical support groups. Parents of children and youth desired to gather to support one another. Those grieving the loss of loved ones and those who were experiencing mental wellness situations sought faith-based support. From these conversations and prayer, we discerned that for 2016-17 we would offer a grief support group, a divorce support group, develop a Mental Wellness Ministry, and offer parenting support groups for parents. These opportunities would be available for the congregation and the community.
    • 5.       Implementation – we continue to surround these new ministries in prayer. The grief support group began in September with three facilitators and eight participants (with an equal number of congregation members and community participants). An information session was held about the ministry and the three facilitators each shared that because of their own experiences with grief and healing they felt called to the ministry. A group of mental health professionals, school leaders and staff have developed a plan for a Mental Wellness Ministry. A sermon in September kicked-off the ministry which includes an information page on our website ( and partnering with the local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to offer support groups. Our Children and Youth Ministries are partnering with parents to discern support group models that will fit their needs.

    We are excited to see not only the development of these new initiatives but how lives will be transformed through the healing grace of God.

  • 28 Jun 2017 8:42 PM | Christine Hides

    One of my favorite summer reads so far is The Book of Joy, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams © 2016, Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Few could argue that both spiritual leaders have suffered greatly throughout their lives, but when these octogenarians got together to celebrate their birthdays, they giggled like a couple of kids. The book is drawn from conversations held during a week in Dharmasala.

    Each chapter contains golden nuggets mined from their years of experience. From beginning to end they model the way that people of faith who practice different religions can live together peaceably and joyfully without any type of diminishment. They echoed something that Vaclav Havel said to the U. S. Congress more than 30 years ago:

    The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility. Accessed 6-23-17,

    The two declared that “lasting happiness…resides only in the human mind and heart, and it is here that we hope you will find it.”

    Their conversation ranged from scientific research to faith to human experience, from the reality of suffering and the obstacles to joy to chortles of glee amid a world full of fear.  In the final section of the book they name “the eight pillars of joy”: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.” The book also includes “joy practices.”

    It’s a delightful, thought-provoking read. I recommend it.


    Patty Meyers

    CEF Board President

  • 31 May 2017 8:05 PM | Christine Hides

    Help us get the word out about Curious.Church happening in 2018!  Our Save the Spot promotion is still available through this Registration Link.

    Workshop Proposals are being accepted through June 7, 2017. We welcome yours!

    Please share these flyers at your Annual Conference and beyond:

    CEF flyer.docx

    Curious Church Annual Conference flyer.pdf

  • 01 May 2017 5:51 PM | Christine Hides

    Angelina Goldwell is the DRE for the First UMC of Olympia ( . She received her Masters of Divinity from the Claremont School of Theology in 2012. She has nearly a decade of experience doing ministry with all ages and is particularly focused on intergenerational ministries. She's also shared an "An All Ages Lent" on our site.

    Download the session outline

    Intentionally scheduling all-ages or intergenerational events are crucial for strengthening the bonds of the church family. Church is one of the few spaces where different ages can intermingle with the explicit goals of growing in relationship and learning from one another. Intergenerational events also model for children and youth that faith formation is a lifelong process because they are able to witness adults engaged in learning. For the adults, I believe it’s important to provide them with opportunities for creative learning. Adult faith formation sometimes gets boxed into an endless series of book/video studies. Intergenerational discipleship time together is an extension of worshipping together. When planning an intergenerational event I believe it is important that what happens at the event echoes and reinforces what happens in the worship setting by using a parallel flow, containing parallel thematic elements, etc. Here you will find a session outline for an All Ages event to take place during a Discipleship/Sunday school hour. 

  • 01 May 2017 5:37 PM | Christine Hides

    Congratulations, you’ve just unlocked a “secret” benefit to membership in Christians Engaged in Faith Formation – being listed on our blog roll! The best thing about being a member of CEF is becoming part of a community of people passionate about Christian faith formation. Below is a list of our member websites and blogs that we encourage you to check out. We read through our member blogs and share the best of the articles with our 3000+ social media followers. If you don’t have a blog of your own, we’d love for you to submit to the CEF Blog: Forming Faith.

    Do you want to be listed below? There are two quick steps:

    1.       Be sure your membership profile is updated with your site address by logging in to

    2.       Send an email to letting our content manager know about your website.

    CEF Member Blog/Website Roll:

    Dr. Gladys Childs,

    Rev. Laura Darling,

    Bradley Fiscus,

    Melanie Gordon,

    Mrs. Delia Halverson,

     Suzanne Harris,

    Dena Kitchens,

    Rev Jeff Lowery,

    Minister Denise Marshall,

    Mrs Anita Millar,

    Dr. William Randolph,

    DeDe Reilly,

    Mrs Kim Reindl,

    Daniel Schlorff,

    Hanna Schock,

    Rev Cindy Serio,

    Rev Lynne Smith,

    Christine V. Hides,

    Please remember: Christians Engaged in Faith Formation (CEF) is a membership organization. This list is provided as a service to our members to further connections. The list is not an endorsement by CEF of any opinion, view, or product promoted on these websites. 

  • 17 Apr 2017 12:37 PM | Christine Hides

    Debbie Kolacki is a Certified Christian Educator and Certified Lay Servant in the United Methodist Church. She is also an online instructor for BeADisciple. Her blogs include FaithGeeks and Practical Resources for Churches. She is the Senior Consultant for PRC -- Practical Resources for Churches where she works with people in all areas of ministry and leads webinars, workshops, and retreats.

    If you’re involved with children and Sunday school, then you’ve probably heard people lamenting that things have changed, and not for the better. Those days when there was barely enough room in classrooms while waiting for the new Sunday school wing to be built are over. Instead many Sunday schools find that they’re contemplating multi-graded or one room classrooms due to a continuing decline in attendance.

    What’s a Christian Educator to do? Many are pondering this question and venturing into new territory. Some see the lack of young people in the church as the result of children who never learned to worship with the rest of the congregation. Silo ministries which separate the generations must end and worship must become welcoming of all ages. Others may be experimenting with a different way or a different time for faith formation and emphasizing the importance of the family in their children’s faith formation.

    PRC – Practical Resources for Churches is an ecumenical resource center for churches and has been offering webinars in all areas of ministry since 2011. There is no charge for these webinars which are supported by denominational organizations and private donors. Last year PRC decided to offer a series of webinars called Alternative Sunday School Webinars. These would include churches which were offering alternatives to Sunday school as well as alternative ways of doing Sunday school. They are recorded and can be viewed by visiting the Recorded Webinars page of PRC’s website.

    The first of these webinars was broadcast on September 22, 2016 and was titled Curriculum + Service + Spiritual Practice. It was led by Marissa Letscher, Director of Children & Family Ministry at First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She talked about how the church decided to no longer have Sunday school and worship at the same time. They created a new Sunday morning program for children focused on learning, service, and spiritual reflection and gave the children the opportunity to worship with the rest of the congregation. 

    On October 20, 2016, Katie Rode Carided, Director of Family Ministry for St. John’s Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas, led a webinar entitled It Takes a Village. She talked about The Village, a whole community Christian education concept which encourages families to take Christian Education back into the home and ministers to all, even those who don’t regularly attend church.

    Bonnie Deroski, Director of Child and Family Life at Grace Christian Church in Tinton Falls, NJ, led the next webinar in our Alternative Sunday School series called Vivid Worship, which was broadcast on November 10, 2016. Vivid Worship is a monthly opportunity for edu-worship across generations.

    Our next Alternative Sunday school webinar was on January 19, 2017 and was about the Messy Church program at First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, PA. It was led by Anais Hussian, director of Christian education. Messy Church is an all-ages, worldwide, fun way of being church for people who may not typically attend or feel comfortable in a traditional church setting.

    On February 16, 2017, Sarah McCaslin, organizing pastor of Waffle Church, an all-ages service of St. Lydia’s in Gowanus, Brooklyn, led a webinar called A Taste of Waffle Church which talked about their all ages-service which encourages the participation and leadership of children in worship.

    PRC is in the process of planning our next season of webinars which will run from July through December 2017. On August 22, Rich Melheim, author of Let’s Kill Sunday School (before it kills the church), will lead a webinar with the same name. We hope to add two additional Alternative Sunday school webinars. We expect to be listing our upcoming webinars sometime in May; you can check them out on the Webinars page of PRC’s website or add your name to our email list by contacting us at  

  • 03 Apr 2017 7:49 PM | Christine Hides

    Rev. Lynne Smith is a Deacon in Full Connection in the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. She serves as the Minister of Education of North Georgia Family Counseling Centers and works with churches to create ministries that influence family wellbeing. For more information about the Life Compass and Faithful Family Life Curriculum go to

    The church is the one place in our culture with the ability to address the entire family throughout the developmental life cycle. Think about it. We perform marriages. We baptize infants. We give Bibles to 2 year-olds and 3rd graders. We mentor adolescents through Confirmation as they learn about their faith and choose to accept the vows of membership for themselves. We stand with Seniors as they graduate from High School and send care packages while they’re away at college. We celebrate retirements, visit those in the hospital, and grieve our losses. Every major developmental milestone is recognized by the church in some way.  So what are you doing to equip your congregation to navigate these milestones in a healthy way?

                Maybe take a moment to reflect on your own experience. Personally, I knew everything there was to know about raising children…until I actually had children. When my firstborn turned two, I’m pretty sure I purchased every book on the market about how to raise a strong-willed child. It didn’t take long before I realized that she hadn’t read any of those books. When there was a workshop at church on parenting, I went. Turns out, she didn’t study that material either. 

    Fast-forward a few years to the start of high school, fourteen years old. My daughter was excited about everything. I was afraid of everything. In case you’re wondering, that’s not a good combination. Fear says “no” a lot. And when you say “no” to a strong-willed teenager, a lot… I’ll let you imagine what that might be like. This time, I was incredibly fortunate that the church wasn’t just offering a workshop of best practices, rather the church created a small group experience that explored why the teenage brain is excited about everything, and studied what is happening in my brain when I’m constantly afraid. This group also offered a safe environment in which to explore the origin of my fear so that I could move toward an attitude of courage to face the fear, and not act out of it.  I learned skills, proven by scientific research, to reduce reactivity and nurture connectivity. I learned how to establish healthy boundaries and how to clearly state those boundaries in ways that affirm and value the others in my home. Most of all I discovered that if one person learns healthy skills in a family system, the whole system becomes healthier.

                My daughter is an amazing person, as are her siblings. They are uniquely who God created them to be. I’m so grateful that the church saw fit to teach me the skills of healthy relationships, frameworks to help me understand developmental transitions, and methods to help me navigate the journey so that I have the skills to enjoy and appreciate the amazing people that they are. For me, this is and has been a spiritual journey, and I would be thrilled if all churches could become places in their communities where families could come to learn the skills of healthy relationships simply because it’s what we do – not because there’s a problem.

                The ability to do this work begins with awareness. In the Faithful Family Life Curriculum , awareness is part of the centering practice. It’s impossible to transform something if I don’t know about it in the first place. When I can focus my attention in the present moment without judgment, I can:

    • orient to the energy of God’s love at work in the world and choose how to participate in that energy;
    • safely explore and understand my thoughts, sensations, and feelings so that I respond to others with truth and love;
    • connect past memories to present behavior through story and sacrament;
    • value learning, and recognize that what I know (and what I do) is different from who I am.

    From this centered place, I can point my Life Compass to the reality of my life, and access skills, frameworks, and methods that connect me to my family, my church, my community, and the greater world with love, joy, kindness, and compassion. So can you. And together we can create a place where families can learn the skills of healthy relationships because that’s what love does.

  • 17 Mar 2017 3:19 PM | Christine Hides

    Members of the CEF Communities of Practice group on Ministries in Transition spent their conference sessions discussing change in the church. These are their top recommendations:

    Transitions, by William Bridges

    Whether it is chosen or thrust upon you, change brings both opportunities and turmoil. Since first published 25 years ago, Transitions has helped hundreds of thousands of readers cope with these issues by providing an elegantly simple yet profoundly insightful roadmap of the transition process.”

    Running through the Thistles: Terminating a Ministerial Relationship with the Parish ,  by Alban Institute books

     “Can how you leave a church affect your feelings about leaving or create baggage you take to your new congregation? Gain insight into termination styles and how they affect both you and your parishioners. Using real-life illustrations, Oswald guides you through Alban Institute research findings to help you prepare for a departure.

    I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, by Paul Nixon

    God has called all leaders--lay and clergy--to lead healthy, GROWING congregations. In this best-selling, highly- readable book, church-growth expert Paul Nixon outlines six critical choices every congregation must make

    Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler Bass

    For decades the accepted wisdom has been that America's mainline Protestant churches are in decline, eclipsed by evangelical mega-churches. Church and religion expert Diana Butler Bass wondered if this was true, and this book is the result of her extensive, three-year study of centrist and progressive churches across the country.

    Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect the Earth’s Climate, edited by Mallory McDuff

    From evangelicals to Episcopalians, people of faith are mobilizing to confront climate change. This unique anthology brings together stories from all over North America of contemporary church leaders, parishioners, and religious activists who are working to define a new environmental movement, where honoring the Creator means protecting the planet.

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