25 October 2012

Animate Faith: Finally, An Adult Formation Program I Can Love (Review)

Posted in Emerging, Church

Animate logoI generally run away from pre-packaged adult formation programs. I experience them as stiff, watered down, answer-oriented, and too focused on theological orthodoxy.

So, I am naturally skeptical when a “Wonderful! New!” adult education program rolls out.

Yet, I was hopeful when I heard about the new program Animate | Faith from SparkHouse. The speakers, including Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lauren Winner, and Lillian Daniel, encouraged me to give it a shot, and they did not disappoint.

We are currently doing the Animate series this fall at our church. So, I have reviewed all the sessions myself and done about half of them with our congregation.

And I have to say - I love it.

Here are the things that I value most about Animate:

Reasons to Love Animate

It’s not just Lutherans (or academics)

These aren’t the same old speakers. These are people who are moving the church, people on cutting edge. Most of all, they are practitioners not just academics - but they are theologically rigorous. This reflects a shift I see happening in church leadership, away from the academy to the parish, where the simple title of “pastor” or "ministry leader" is qualification enough to teach, if you have something to say.

It’s reminds me of NOOMA

I like Animate for the same reason I like the Rob Bell Nooma video series. It leaves room for questions and wonder. The presenters share something personal. They don’t proscribe. They invite conversation. There is more focus on lived experience than theological exactitude.

It fully engages post-modernity

This is the first program I’ve used since Nooma that feels like it speaks to the world I actually live in - the post-modern one. For example. Brian McLaren’s first session, opens the terriotry between certainty and mystery, asking people where they find themselves between kataphatic and apophatic traditions. People in my church talked about how they located themselves at different places at different times in their lives. 

It poses questions rather than giving answers

For too long we have treated and run the church like the place that dispenses answers - the "right" answers. In an age of Google we can pull answers up nearly instantaneously, what we need is a place to ask "Whay does that mean for my life, as I experience it? And life as we experience it together?" No longer are churches places that just distribute answers, as if they were a way to salvation, but places where we can ask questions that really matter.

It's Good for newcomers and the usual suspects

Animate seems well suited to reach people with doubts and suspicions about Christianity and the religiously unaffiliated. However, when you just get started using Animate, you may wind up with the "usual suspects" - the folks who already come to most programming at your church. This is a very good thing. I think it helps our seasoned members understand where people may be coming from, to speak the vocabularly, and be better prepared to talk about the intersection of church, culture, theology, and faith as it is today and not twenty years ago. These folks can help you host future rounds of Animate as you use it to reach beyond your congregation.

The materials are high quality and contain no straight lines

  • The videos are around 10 minutes long. The speaker is shown against an animated background that is being drawn as you watch. It’s effective for reinforcing the message. It also acknowledges that we all have shorter attention spans these days and need something to watch as we listen. It works!
  • The leader’s guide has way more material than we can use in an hour program. It’s non-linear, so you can pick and choose what ideas and suggestions to use. It shows you how to get the most out of the Animate Journal.
  • The journal is excellent. It looks like a classic black Moleskine. It has illustrations and quotes from the videos, but there are no fill in the blanks, no straight lines. You decide how you want to use that space. Sketching is encouraged.

You can order them here.

How We’re Using It

At our church, we have used Animate as a fall Wednesday evening series. We gather for at 6:00pm dinner, watch the video around 6:30, and break out into small groups of 4-6 people. The small groups meet for around 30 minute and we return to the large group at the end to share our reflections.

We also think this will work well for intentional small group gatherings, such as youth or young adults. You could show them at someone’s home (I’m a big fan of these kind of gatherings) or even a pub or coffee shop and discuss.

Give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

Let me know about your experience with Animate. Do you have other adult formation programs you'd recommend?

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