Curious, comfortable or committed

Adult learning at different stages of participation in a church

NewScoop YYC is excited to partner with The Flourishing Congregations Institute, Ambrose University to host online conversations.  The next conversation is at 12:00 pm on May 7 on adult education with members of Church communities . We hope you can join us! Register here.

John Pentland describes three circles of belonging in a church. The people who are the curious, the comfortable, and the committed. What does it mean to be a disciple in these three circles of belonging? The Greek word for disciple is mathetes which means a learner. To be a disciple is to be a learner. So, what does a learner look like in these three circles?

The curious are folks that might step in for the first time to the church and they come because someone has invited them or perhaps they want deeper connections with others. They are normally the quiet ones but they want to learn about this place called church. Pentland states that they ask these type of questions: “What will happen? Will I have a chance to figure out what I believe or will they want me to believe something first? Will I know what to do in this service? Do I have to do things I don’t want to do?”

The curious come to church initially not because of what the church believes, but for a sense of belonging, exploring their spiritual experiences. They are there because of curiosity and hope. One of the things that we found in our research that helps the curious to explore faith is the Alpha program. This program is designed to guide people exploring Christianity through a series of talks and discussions on core Christian beliefs and practices. What was interesting is the pastoral leaders were mostly from Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Conservative Protestant ecclesial families. And so, the question is how do we engage the curious learner who have come into, say, our worship space, this community space, and engage with them so that they feel a sense of belonging?

The committed circle are those folks who would be there in the thick and thin, the ups and downs of church life. They have strong commitments and are the glue of the church. For the committed circle, issues of power and entitlement need to be addressed by inviting them as learners into a deeper experience of faith.

The comfortable circle is the lively and enthralling bunch of folks who are not yet fully committed and not unfamiliar or frighten of the church community. They are glad to be at the church and they do feel a sense of belonging. Faith is wanting to be realized and they are curious and want to grow. And so, in terms of their discipleship learning they might want to see faith as journey that describes where they have been and where they might be going—they are keen to discover how it is they are being called to make faith deeper and real.

For all three circles of belonging, what might the spiritual formation process look like? Since discipleship is closely connected to learning, what might transformational learning/discipleship be like? Are there ways to demonstrate connections between principles of spiritual formation and principles of adult learning theory that have not previously been articulated that truly create committed followers of Jesus?

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