Rethinking Sunday School

I just received in my inbox the Synod’s E-Letter (Sign Up Here). Included is the most recent issue of “The Lutheran New Yorker” featuring an article about rethinking Sunday School. Click here to see the article. It shares how one church changed from the program they had been doing for years and embraced a different way of worshiping and teaching kids.

As a follow-up to this article, I’d like to suggest a few questions to ask of your church’s Sunday School Program. Regardless of whether it is in trouble or thriving, these are basic questions to be thinking about.

    1. Who are you serving?
    Think about the age groups and abilities of the kids who come, but also think about who doesn’t come in your church. Is there someone left out from Sunday School and why?
    Most likely we are looking to serve children — but who else do we serve? Do we serve parents by helping them be able to focus on worship? Do you provide a way for parents to talk to your kids about faith afterward? Do you welcome parents who want to come to Sunday School with their kids?
    What about the adult leaders — Do they get fed by the Sunday School lessons also? How can you foster that growth in leaders?
    2. What do you expect to happen?
    Do you have a long-term mission? What are your learning objectives for each session? Some curricula will write them for you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend time thinking about these things on your own — every community will be a little different and look to nurture different things.
    Have you ever sat down with a team of leaders and asked, Why do we have Sunday School? What do we expect to come from it? Realistic answers may be that you want children to have a solid biblical foundation, that you want families to be more involved together, or even that you want kids to understand worship so they can participate more fully.
    For each week’s lesson, I have found it helpful to write out a learning objective that is shared with all of that week’s leaders. This is as simple as finishing the sentence, “Kids will learn…” or “By the end of today, Kids will be able to”. Examples of finishing this phrase could be “Kids will learn that they can make a difference by helping another person.” or “By the end of today, Kids will be able to recall at least one of the Ten Commandments.”
    3. What works in this community?
    Perhaps one of the best questions to ask, and to be asked often. When a particular lesson or activity connected well with the kids, how can we do something similar again? Or conversely, when something did not work at all, how can we avoid that in the future?
    About a year ago we did a craft that failed — monumentally. What should have resulted in cute pasta sheep, looked more like a failed cloning experiment. The lesson learned was that those techniques (gluing pasta to cups) don’t fit with our small craft time frame (15 minutes). On the other hand, we did another craft where every child was given a blank sheet of paper and we asked them to fill the paper with what it might look like to be angry. They all grabbed for dark colors and scribbled harshly. After a few minutes of this and talking about what we did when angry, we folded our papers in half and cut out a heart. As we glued our heart to another piece of paper, we talked about how Jesus is able to always see the beauty and can help “cut away” our rough edges.
    Everything you present to kids does not have to work, but, it is always important to be asking questions like, will they connect to this? Will they have the time, space and materials to do this? Can every age do this?

I’ve had many parents and kids tell me of Sunday School that it is their church. Do we take it this seriously? Do we strive to make Sunday School matter? If so, I think that these questions should be asked and hopefully we will have the courage to move forward, asking questions like these and not simply relying on what we may have done in the past.

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