Instead, I am trying to discern: what next? So what? All this reading, research, writing ... and does it mean anything?
I think it does. My initial project was an attempt to help people under age 40 better articulate their faith so that they would be able to have conversations about faith with their non-believing peers. This is my attempt to take a little slice at addressing the "Rise of the Nones," the increasing number of people -- especially Gen Xers and Millennials -- who are not engaged with or interested in Christianity or church. My thought was that conversations with friends who do believe can offer insight and connection to faith for those who do not profess any faith.
And the project worked. Everyone who participated in it had a conversation about faith with someone they knew who did not share their faith. But more than that, it awoke people's interest in and passion for Christ. The participants were energized to be more engaged with their congregation, to take leadership roles, to explore new vocations.
So I expanded it into the parish. I trained five leaders who facilitated these same conversations for more than forty parishioners. And some of them experienced the same new energy and enthusiasm. Twenty of them wanted to do a second round, which we dubbed Speaking Our Faith 2.0. And last Saturday, twenty people gathered for a Speaking Our Faith retreat day. People are hungry for a safe space to talk about faith, work out what they really believe, and find others to travel the journey with them.
So I think Speaking Our Faith has legs. And as I try to discern how to share this work with the wider church, I am working on my "elevator speech" about it. I've printed it below, and I'd love to get your feedback. What do you think? What do you want to know more about? What questions do you have? What challenges you? What inspires you? Where do you think this should go next?
Let's have a conversation. A conversation about conversations about faith.
The Elevator Speech
Speaking Our Faith is a process of facilitated conversations about faith, designed to help people under age 40 sort out and articulate their faith, and to lead them to craft a statement of faith that works for them at this moment in their lives. The thought is that they then become better able to speak about faith with their peers who do not share their faith.
In the Episcopal Church we have a strong cultural bias against speaking about faith. We don't teach it, we don't preach it, and it's not in our DNA. This bias has hamstrung all the evangelical programs of the past 30 years (remember the "Decade of Evangelism"?). What I learned in my research is that people need to begin to articulate to themselves what they believe before they can begin to say anything to anyone else about faith. They need to have conversations in a safe space to ask questions, proffer their own theology, work out what they can and cannot say about God at this point in their lives, and begin to think about how they might speak about faith outside of this safe space.
In practice -- as I expanded it beyond the research group to 40 or more of my parishioners across all age groups -- this process has helped a wide range of people in my congregation deepen their spiritual lives, get better connected to people within the parish, and begin to be able to offer testimony -- whether that testimony is in a homily at our Vesper service on Sunday evenings, or in conversations with friends and family.
While I specifically designed this program to work with post-Boomers (GenX and Millennials) of faith, it also has proven compelling for people outside these generations (Boomers and Builders). However, my main interest and emphasis is helping to build competency in speaking about faith in believing Episcopal Christians under age 50. These are the generations absenting themselves from church, and because people in these generations build their understanding of faith in large part through conversations with friends (Robert Wuthnow's research on this is compelling), we need to help post-Boomers develop the skills to share their faith with their peers who are "going missing" from Christianity.