Faith Formation 2020: Designing the Future of Faith Formation, by John Roberto (Naugatuck, CT: Vibrant Faith Publishing, 2010).

Americans’ attitudes toward the church are undergoing radical change. Few people still see a local congregation as the best environment for their spiritual growth, because it tends to offer packaged answers to spiritual problems of growing complexity; yet they have not found a better substitute for the community of faith.

Instead of seeking a “next big thing,” some religious educators believe we need to renew healthy church life as it’s described in the New Testament. The most articulate among them is a Roman Catholic educational consultant named John Roberto.

Roberto explains in Faith Formation 2020 that American Christians fall into four distinct categories. Either they have: (1) vibrant faith and active engagement in a religious community, (2) spiritual hunger without being engaged in a religious community, (3) no affiliation and no interest in a religious community, or (4) regular participation in a religious community without being committed to its life (19). He concludes that a healthy congregation will address all of these multiple faith scenarios with multiple ministries.

Rather than waiting for this time of spiritual discontent to subside, we can affirm its potential for transformation and become effective change agents within it. “Leadership would be an easy and safe undertaking if organizations and communities only face problems for which they do, in fact, have the necessary know-how and procedures,” he writes. But now church leaders must “make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in the new environment” (88).

Critics may accuse Roberto of pandering to religious consumerism. However, he doesn’t believe we should engage in these different ministries simply to provide a smorgasbord of tantalizing choices. He insists that Christian faith formation has always required “participation in a church community that forms its members in and through koinonia (community and communion), leiturgia (prayer, liturgy, and worship), kerygma (preaching and proclaiming the Word of God, diakonia (service), and didache (teaching)” (123).

As the American public loses interest in well-worn church educational programs, Roberto says it’s time for local congregations to renew the ministries Christ mandated to them in the Great Commission (Matt. 24).