The Transformed Congregation

Last month I shared some fascinating information from Dr. Lisa Miller’s book, The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving. Her scientific research on spirituality has implications for transforming our congregations as we nurture the children, youth, and adults in their spiritual growth.

One of her key findings is that, while we are all born spiritual beings, 71% of that spiritual development is influenced by our environment. And our spirituality must be engaged on a regular basis or else it can become atrophied  — a sort of “use it or lose it” effect. This means that we need to rethink the common assumption that children are too young for spiritual nurture, and that confirmation is the best time to focus on their spiritual growth. This nurturing of spirituality needs to happen as soon as we begin engaging with them — even as young as infancy. Lisa Miller’s research shows that when we begin and continue spiritual nurture from this very young age, these children will grow up with healthier behaviors and a lower chance of experiencing depression as they navigate their way through adolescence.

So what might a congregation do with this information? How can a faith community nurture the spirituality of young children when its focus generally tends to be on older children and adults?

Let’s imagine what the life of your congregation might look like if this focus is adopted:

What if the entire congregation works to create a (worship) culture of hospitality and gratitude that welcomes, supports, and truly embraces all ages, wherever they are on their spiritual journeys?

What if the congregation acknowledged that anyone starting out on something new, including a faith journey, is bound to make mistakes, that they will “spill” something, and may initially express themselves in ways that are uncomfortable for others? What if the congregation took on a practice of being patient with each other, especially with those who are new to your congregational culture and are learning the ways of the faith community?

What if children and youth are included in as much of the life of the congregation as possible, creating new intergenerational relationships, and passing on the faith in as many ways as possible?

What if your service of worship incorporates all five senses, encouraging children, youth and adults to make meaning together through engagement in spiritual/Christian practices, mentoring each other no matter where each one is on their spiritual journey?

What if your congregation supplements the Christian practices that happen within the life of your faith community with online (and mailed, where appropriate) materials that can be used in every home throughout the week?

What if your congregation develops a confirmation process that engages the entire faith community on a weekly basis in supporting the confirmands (who may be both teens and adults) along their journey of spiritual discovery?

What if the entire congregation is engaged in telling stories together:  Bible stories, their own individual faith stories, how the Bible stories intersect with their own faith stories, as well as the stories of the congregation/faith community?

We are all spiritual beings.
We are all beloved children of God — no matter what age —
worthy of a faith community that welcomes, embraces, encourages, and supports each other on the journey of faith.

Imagine the possibilities for transformation in the life of your congregation!

This article was first posted on the Southern New England Conference site:
The Transformed Congregation