One of my classes this semester is called "Psychology of Religious Development." We've looked at the major developmental theories and theorists, and are just now getting to the Big Names in faith development, Fowler and Parks. Time and time again, we come to the conclusion that in order for adults to grow in faith, they need faith experiences (as opposed to dogmatic instruction) and relationship (as opposed to reading, for instance, or... dogmatic instruction).
Then of course, the question becomes: how does a church do this? How does an institutional church manage to help all its adult members have conversion experiences, have religious experiences, form deeper relationships with God? We agree that it's a hard thing to do, agree that most parishes seem to be fine with their adults lingering forever in a low-to-middlin' level of faith, and that it's easiest for parishes to provide quantitative programs like dogmatic instruction, and hard to guage progress in such a qualitative goal such as these.
So today, a class member said "well right now, parishes in Boston are participating in this wonderful program, RENEW."
I rolled my eyes.
This year everyone who's participating in the Renew/Arise program has been raving about it, and... I believe them. I'm sure it's a great program, a great opportunity for people to share faith, meet new people, grow in faith. But I also believe that all the other panaceas (Alpha, Small Faith Communities, Life-Nights, Disciples in Mission, etc.) have just as much value. None is significantly different from the others (and all of them are basically copies of good ol'fashioned YOUTH GROUP models tweaked for adults) and all of them come to an end.
The thing is, all of these are great programs. But they're temporary, and don't address the Big Issue. These programs are great for the joiners in the parish, but don't address the seekers who won't go to a program. They teach people to share faith, but once they're over, they're over. Parishes who will gladly rave about their successful Renew programs won't, in any other way, address the idea that adults faith formation should be their focus, won't stop pouring their resources into elementary-level CCD programs. The paradigm needs to be addressed in order to make efforts like Renew (and all the others) have sticking power. In my opinion.
It's like the alcoholic who takes up yoga. Sure, she feels stretchier and lither, but the systemic issue is still there, keeping her back from true health.
I almost wrote "but hey, it's better than nothing!" but it's not. These band-aid programs keep the church busy and keep them from addressing the systemic issue, because they look like they're doing something.
Beware the brand-name program... work to change the paradigm.