Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Ben Guess optimistic about options for faith formation

Youth and young adults want action-oriented faith formation.

Ben Guess workshop
Ben Guess leads workshop on faith formation approaches.

Formed in faith by camp, sermons and parent’s discussions, Bennett Guess, executive of the national UCC Local Church Ministries, said Friday evening at a Conference Annual Meeting workshop, it’s important to articulate beliefs in a safe place where others may hear and affirm.

In the book, Solomon’s Porch, author Doug Pagitt said the “important stuff” tends to be reserved for clergy—reading the lectionary texts and reflecting on them.  He believes everyone should do it, said Guess.

Pagitt says spiritual formation is the entirety of community life—hymn sings, potlucks, Sunday school—everything.

UCC Partners in Education consultants and Association of UCC Educators offer Christian education resources in each conference.

Guess also quoted theologian Marcus Borg who says culture indoctrinates people to value “achievement, affluence and appearance.”  The church’s role is to offer counter indoctrination—faith formation that allows people to think of the three A’s in different ways through the top 25 stories of the Christian tradition, Guess said.

Guess said that UCC President Geoffrey Black said the religious right “has had the microphone” to define the story for so long that many are confused about what is the Christian story is and how to tell it.”

The UCC “Faith Practices” resources—at—Guess said, are accessible for volunteers and professional educators, offering non-lineal activities.

The lessons, available by subscription, are on 600 practices, such as giving and receiving hospitality, keeping sabbath, loving neighbors, living stewardship.  It’s about play, love and joy, justice and witness, and living practices in daily life, he said.

“Faith Practices” offers ideas for integrating lessons into every setting of the church, such as talking about stewardship at choir rehearsal.

Ken Ostermueller, retired, developed the curriculum through the Faith Formation Research Project, which sought to learn how faith formation happens in the UCC.

Some use curricula of different denominations.

We spend OCWM funds on research to develop new curricula,” Guess said.  “In the past, the model has been that you give us money and we publish.  Now we are using many centers of expertise.

Guess listed five things drive changes in faith formation related to cultural shifts:

1) Technology’s impact on the way people form relationships has implications for the church as churches use social networks and communicate diverse ideas.

Email has expanded from reaching 2,000 congregations—35 percent—to reaching 90 percent now.

Congregational websites plateaued and then declined because of the difficulty in maintaining them.

Guess said that 40 percent of congregations use Facebook now, and 53 percent of UCC congregations use projection in worship.

“In more than half of small congregations, technology is lagging,” he said, “but half of churches with 250 or more members use technology.

“Embracing technology is crucial to reaching new audiences.  It is more than just a tool for the younger generation,” Guess said.  “Increased use of technology increases a church’s spiritual vitality.

“If we ask young adults what we need to do, we will find we need to be online.  If there isn’t a video, it hasn’t happened,” said Guess.  “To reach youth and young adults, that’s where they are at, so youth and young adults need to help shape curricula.”

2) Generally, younger people seek transformation less from hierarchical-intellectual means and more from collaborative-experiential forms. 

The average age in 52 percent of mainline or oldline churches is 65 years or older,  Guess reported.  Of them, the UCC membership is the second oldest after the Presbyterians.

Meanwhile, in the society, 34 percent identify as both spiritual and religious, 23 percent identify as spiritual—a total of 57 percent—and 14 percent identify as religious, he reported.

“What does it mean to be spiritual?  Believing in God gives purpose to life and gives a sense of inner peace,” Guess said.  “Only 10 percent claim no spiritual dimension to life.”

Youth and young adults want faith formation that is action oriented.  They are book smart and want to be street smart—integrated in daily life.  They want to experience God, but have short attention spans,” he said.  “Their brains processing information differently.  They want hands on and social justice opportunities.”

3) Churches’ vocabulary needs to change, he continued  Church language is not understood by the majority of Christian educators. 

“It connotes older models that are more didactic.  ‘Faith formation’ shapes learning by life and experience.  Spiritual formation does not sell a doctrine,” Guess said. 

In the UCC there is a shift in language from talk of Christian education to talk of faith or spiritual formation.

4) Inter-generational and family-centered movements recognize that not all faith formation happens in the church, he pointed out.  If they have resources, families can experiment with praying before meals and recognize that people learn across their life spans through caring conversations, daily devotions, service actions and traditional rituals.

5) Money has impact, he said.

“The decrease in funds drives how we envision faith formation and affects paid staff,” Guess said.  “As resources for congregations have decreased, morale has decreased.”


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © September 2012




Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share