The Faith Arc is a strategy for the continual spiritual development of a young soul in the congregation. One of the definitions of "arc" is a "continuous progression or line of development."
We in the New Apostolic Church USA want to create this continual progression and have a path for developing souls into disciple of Christ. This can only be done with support from the whole congregation.
We are all the church, all the time.
As a congregation we have a holy responsibility to invest in the church, which includes devoting time into relationships with the people around us. By doing this, we show not only our love for each other, but for Christ.
To read some Frequently Asked Questions based on the various elements of the Faith Arc, or to watch District Apostle Kolb's "Next Steps" presentation, click the links in the menu to the right.
History and development
In 2010, at an international District Apostle meeting, the topic came up that there is a high number of youth leaving the church after Confirmation or after youth group.
This is a situation that isn’t unique to us in the United States, or even to the New Apostolic Church worldwide. A 2013 study by the Barna Group revealed that 6 in 10 millennials will drop out of church at some point in their life.
It would be easy to say, “but that is just the way it is” and accept it, but as a church we cannot stand for that. These are our children and grandchildren! We must try our best to show our children and youth the joys of loving and serving Christ and the value of preparing for His return.
So, we did our own study in the USA to help us better understand the issues and the causes. Parents, teachers, youth leaders and youth were surveyed and we noticed some trends emerge:
- adults and young adults were not being as effectively equipped for discipleship as they could be
- There was no clear path to help young adults transition into adult life in the congregation
- We lacked modern parenting and family teaching on how to raise a Christian child
- Confirmation was seen as a ‘graduation’ from Sunday School into the youth group, which diminishes the act of Confirmation which is a re-confirming of sacramental vows
- And the current expectations (socially, culturally, and in the church) differ from previous generations and we haven’t responded nor adapted very well
One of the definitions of “Arc” is ‘a continuous progression or line of development’. We in the New Apostolic Church USA want to create this continual progression and have a path for developing young souls into disciples of Christ. This can only be done with support from the whole congregation.
The Apostles, Bishops, the National Synod, have prayed for and discussed these matters over the last few years. We have received feedback from educators in and outside of our church and feel confident that these next steps are what is best for the New Apostolic Church in the United States.
The various aspects of this initiative will actually begin to be implemented next year, so please don’t be alarmed that everything is changing today.
For Sunday School, some of our lessons and schedules online have already started using some terminology that reflects academic grades rather than ages. Starting with the 2017 Fall semester, the Sunday School class levels will be structured based on academic grades. What does this mean? Students can enter Sunday School when they start Kindergarten.
The first level will be Kindergarten through 2nd grade.
The next level will be 3rd grade through 5th grade
The Religious Instruction class will be 6th and 7th grade
There is an international team of teachers and educators that are working on new Children’s Teaching Material. As this material is made available, we will refresh our lessons, as we do now, semester by semester before they get uploaded to our website. All lessons will continue to be available under the ‘Children’s’ section of nac-usa.org. These improvements to our existing lessons will help take the children from one level to the next.
Another important step for Children’s work that has already started with the ordained ministers is, background checks. Between now and Fall 2017, Sunday School teachers, as well as youth leaders, will be required to complete a sexual misconduct background check. As many of you probably have experienced before, a background check is a fairly automated process. Between now and the end of the year, we will be working with district contacts to ensure that we have accurate emails for those involved in working with Children. You will then receive an email invitation with a link to complete your background check with the church’s service partner.
We want parents, both inside our church and outside our church, to know that we take this matter seriously and background checks are a step in that direction.
The Bible outlines that the primary spiritual teaching and development happens in the home. In Deuteronomy 6 we can read, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house...”
Recently, these verses have popped up as the basis for a divine service in September, in VISION newsletter articles, and in a ‘For Your Journey’ episode to name a few. While the family dynamic is changing, the need for a parent to disciple their children isn’t changing. As a church, we understand that demands on our time are abundant, but when you look at the 168 hours in a week and realize that the children may only be exposed to an official church activity for 2 or 3 hours a week, it becomes clear…those few hours alone are not enough to prepare children for the Kingdom.
Recently, Chief Apostle Schneider used a Bible verse from one of the accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes. The disciples are suggesting that Jesus send the multitudes away to nearby towns so that all of the people could get something to eat. Jesus turns it around in Mark 6:37, and says to His disciples, “You give them something to eat.”
The Chief Apostle went on to explain that the spiritual education of our children is not the responsibility of the ministers and teachers of the Church. The Chief Apostle directs the exhortation “You give them something to eat” primarily to parents.
Please understand, this isn't to imply that parents aren't already investing in their children’s spiritual development, but rather emphasizing the importance of such efforts. As a church, we want to partner with parents and help them better disciple their children.
To help parents prepare and debrief their child’s Sunday School lessons, there is a parent version of each lesson for each class level.
Additionally, a national parenting newsletter is available to the congregations for the parents of Sunday School children. Each month features a main article and then some suggested games and activities you can do with your children that help them understand a highlighted gospel principle. Sunday School teachers or coordinators can email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the distribution list.
A new resource for parents is a monthly parenting video and email. Each month, the parents that have subscribed via our website will receive a brief email and a short video on a relevant parenting topic such as: ‘how to help your children choose friends,’ ‘technology boundaries,’ and ‘sibling rivalry’. Parents can subscribe to this free monthly resource by selecting the “Parent” option from our subscription dropdown menu at the bottom right of this page.
Whether you utilize the Parent Sunday School lessons, the newsletter, or the monthly videos, we encourage parents to get together, perhaps on a Sunday morning while the children are in Sunday School, and discuss the topics in these resources and simply support one another in the responsibility of teaching our children the importance and value of being a disciple of Christ.
Being a parent comes with great responsibility. Parents often think that they have little or no influence on their children, especially as they get older, but research suggests otherwise. The church, as an organization can’t replace the influence that parents have on their children. But what we can do is help parents be better teachers of the Gospel and the resources Mark talked about are our next steps towards that. So, we’ve heard about the changes coming to Sunday School and some additional tools for parents.
We will be structuring our youth group around academic years, and starting with the 2017 Fall semester, the new NAC USA youth program will only include students from 8th -12th grade.
As per the current norm, the confirmands getting confirmed in the Spring of 2017 will be able to join the youth group after their Confirmation in the Spring of 2017. Nothing is changing for the group that is currently in Confirmation instruction and will be confirmed next year.
After next year, the entrance to the youth group will no longer be Confirmation, but rather the Fall of when a student enters 8th grade.
This new youth group has goals, based on the international mission and vision statements.
- in order to better ‘align their lives to the Gospel of Jesus, the new youth program will deepen spiritual maturity
- in order to ‘reach out to all people’, the new youth program will focus on expanding the missional reach God has given us in our spheres of influence
- with an amplified focus on soul care, the new youth program will build stronger relationships with students and engage parents in the process
In addition to other youth activities, the primary teaching element of the youth group will be structured as small group discussions. A new curriculum will be introduced starting in the Fall semester of 2017. This curriculum is categorized into six semesters using the THRIVE membership expectations, introduced earlier this year, and combines the existing Confirmation material, youth discussion materials, as well some new resources to create a new structured and consistent learning experience. These youth small groups are designed to occur weekly, but the exact frequency may need to be customized based on the local needs. When these youth small groups take place is also flexible to the local area, whether it be as a Wednesday midweek experience, a Friday evening, or a Sunday afternoon.
With this new youth program, we’re taking the youth group to the next level and need leaders and parents that will do the same. We want to expand our team of youth leaders that are dedicated to positively impacting the lives of students for the sake of the Gospel. If you’re interested in the possibility of joining the youth leader team, please contact your apostle.
To equip youth leaders to best serve the students that God has given them to care for, all new and existing youth leaders will be expected to complete online training courses that will be available on NAC USA Development Institute learning platform starting January, 2017. These online training courses will focus on topics such as the Mission and Vision, the refined youth goals, discipleship, and inner authority. These courses will help youth leaders establish or strengthen their understanding of these subjects as we all pursue continual learning together.
Every age group and season of life is important, but we must pay special attention to those in this youth age because pivotal decisions are being made, not just about what school they’ll go to or what field of work they want to pursue, but also some crucial formation of identity, choosing a life partner, and the discovery of calling and purpose. An important decision that is made during these teenage years is the decision to make the Confirmation vow and receive a Confirmation blessing.
Confirmation is another key element of the FaithArc. In our current model, students get confirmed in the year that they turn 14. After the class that will get confirmed next Spring in 2017, the Confirmation vow and blessing won’t be the year that a student turns 14, but rather when they are in 10th or 11th grade. Therefore, when a student gets confirmed becomes a choice. We believe it is truly a decision and commitment that the student should understand and if they are not ready, they can wait an additional year to be confirmed.
Students enter the youth group the Fall semester of their 8th grade year, so after next year, Confirmation is no longer the entrance into the youth group because those students will already be in the youth group.
When the THRIVE youth small group curriculum launches in Fall of 2017, this will be the material that prepares a student to be confirmed. There will be no separate Confirmation TEACHING. There will however be some additional CONVERSATIONS when a student decides to be confirmed. In the Fall of their 10th grade year, there will be a conversation with the student, their parents, their youth leader, and rector to determine if the student would like to pursue Confirmation for that upcoming Spring. If they decide to do so, there will be additional conversations between the student and the rector leading up to Confirmation.
If in the Fall of their 10th grade year, the student and their support system decide that they are not ready and would like to wait another year, a similar conversation happens in the Fall of their 11th grade year to determine if they are ready to be Confirmed in that upcoming Spring.
Our Catechism states that the age of confirmation varies around the world. It depends on the religious maturity and/or the stage in life at which adolescents are generally able to assess the consequences of their actions on their own and assume responsibility for the continued development of their faith. So to summarize, the youth small group THRIVE curriculum is what prepares a student for confirmation. There is no separate Confirmation instruction, the instruction happens in the context of their youth group through the small group discussions. And then, once confirmed, whether it is in 10th or 11th grade, the student remains active in the youth. Confirmation is a vow and a blessing that shifts the responsibility from the vow the parents made at Holy Baptism and Holy Sealing to the student to be self-responsible. Part of that responsibility is to continue learning. These changes to Confirmation address what was formerly the entrance into youth and now we’ll hear about what happens after youth with young adults.
Years ago, the transition out of youth was clear…it was usually when someone got married. However, marriage trends have drastically shifted over the last 50 years. Marriage can’t be an assumed transition into adulthood.
We see anyone 18 or older as an adult and because of this distinction, they are no longer a part of the youth group. We want all adults of all ages to actively and responsibly pursue a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, perhaps you’ve heard the term ‘pillar’ in recent years. That was a group of people 21 and older that may have had different social events together, or perhaps service projects. Like the pillar group, the young adults can definitely get together for service projects or for a social events, but hopefully with the idea to also integrate with other adults in the congregation. Going forward, we’d like to dissolve the ‘pillar’ brand and utilize the ‘young adult’ phrasing. And perhaps you’re thinking, “what does it matter?” But, names and words are important. Pillars was sometimes referred to as just ‘older youth’ and the young adults aren’t ‘just older youth’ they are ‘young adults’.
What makes someone an adult can’t be whether they are married or not, or whether they have children or not. This group of people aren’t ‘older youth’ they are ‘young adults’ and we need to treat them as such.
Perhaps you’ve read all of this information and said, “That’s great, but none of this information applies to me” What is the church doing for me?”
Eventually, we have to realize that we are all the church, all the time. And that we are not large enough to have specialized groups for every situation of life. But what we can do, is understand that as a congregation we must remain and serve together. Individually and as a congregation, we must continually learn, not only because of our culture and society, but more importantly, because God expects this of us. Hopefully, as a congregation, you took the opportunity with Fall Family Day in October for generations to interact. We need to find new ways to interact, more than just the divine service and a few minutes before and after.
District Apostle Klingler from Germany retired this summer. In an interview prior to his retirement, he said something quite interesting, “We have not inherited the church from our parents, but have borrowed it from our children” As a congregation we have a holy responsibility to invest in the church, which includes devoting time into relationships with the people around us because we are all the church.
It is important to know that the goal of our faith remains the same. We strive to prepare for and experience the return of Christ. We seek to know our Savior more intimately, to feel our Father’s power more majestically, and to rely on the Holy Spirit more intensively. This time period, like all that have preceded it, has unique challenges which cause concern. There are limitless demands on limited resources. But, challenging times require bold and decisive people that will rise to the challenge. Some of these things will take time and patience. We must have a sense of urgency because we have to adapt and grow, but growth takes time, strength, and endurance. As we take these next steps together, everyone is encouraged to not only have understanding or acceptance for each other, but also foster a love in the manner of Christ.