Rethinking Sunday School

Have you ever stopped to consider if Sunday School is really the best thing for your child? Sunday school is a relatively new innovation, begun by British philanthropist Robert Raikes in 1782. Raikes wanted to give poor children a better chance at life through education. He used the Bible as his curriculum and taught on Sundays because the children worked every other day of the week. A century later, over five and three-quarters of British children were attending Sunday school. The trend was similar in the United States, and as government-run schooling developed, Sunday school changed from the teaching of reading and math to the teaching of the Gospel.

But here's the problem: Two-thirds of people (60%!) who grew up in Sunday school move away from the church in their early 20s. In a new study by Britt Beemer – former senior research analyst for the Heritage Foundation and founder of the American Research Group – it was also found that kids who attend Sunday school regularly are more likely to question the authority of the Bible, and defend abortion, premarital sex, and same-sex marriage. Why? Some (like Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis) believes it's because kids have been taught in school that evolution is real; but because the Bible teaches differently, they begin to question everything the Bible teaches. Others think that by ushering our kids into Sunday school, we're teaching them they aren't wanted in church. Still others say Sunday school is a symptom of our youth-indulging society that never asks much of children. As a child, I attended both Sunday school and church. I must tell you I never learned much about God or the Bible in Sunday school. I learned much more in "big people church," where I wasn't expected to learn anything at all. I realize not all Sunday school classes are sun the same way, but I don't think many prepare children for the quiet thoughtfulness of church services. I don't think it's "expecting too much" for young children to sit through church service. I also think there is great value in children seeing their parents worshiping in church. After all, study after study shows young kids most want to mimic their parents. If you want to start taking your child into church services with you, here are some tips to get your started: Start at home. Learning to sit and listen is a skill that will benefit your children for a lifetime. Begin when your kids are toddlers by having them sit quietly and listen to you read. For really wiggly children, give them a quiet toy to play with while you read aloud or listen to a book on CD. Play games that encourage quietness, like "How soft can you whisper?" and "Can you walk across the room carrying this bell without making it ring?" and "Let's see if you can close that door without making any noise," and "Can you hear this pin drop?" Start with just five minutes of quiet, wiggle free time, and move up as your child's skills improve. Express your expectations. Let your kids know what you expect of them in church. Start the day before, then remind them on the trip to church. Get dad involved. Be on the same page with your husband about what expectations are, how you will help your children behave during service, and how discipline will be handled. Consider sitting closer. Some children stay more interested if they aren't distracted by a sea of church-goers. You can help by pointing out things, "That's Mary. She's going to sing a song about Jesus. That's the pastor. He's going to tell us how we can get to know God better," etc.

Babies. See if you can train your baby to nap during surmons; this means training her to nap at this time every day. This practice not only starts the family church time tradition early, it prevents your baby from being exposed to a bunch of runny noses in the nursery.

Toddlers. Place them between you and your hubby, with enough room to wiggle a little. They are almost certain to need some toys or snacks to occupy them, but don't offer these immedietly. Let them sit quietly for as long as they can before offering distractions. Be careful about crayons; they can scatter and cause distruption. Try offering only one crayon per service.

Preschoolers. Toys should be less necessary by now, but an Etch-a-sketch or Doodle Pro may be prudent. Many preschoolers will also now enjoy bringing their own Bible to church. And if you take notes during the service, make sure you child has paper and pencil to take her own "notes," too.

Multiple Kids. If you have more than one child, it can be helpful to not let them sit together. A parent between is more apt to make church service more peaceful.

Cuddles. Make church time even more special for kids by putting your arm around them, kissing their forehead, stroking their hair, etc.

Praise. Always praise your children for good behavior in church, and don't be too hard on the youngest ones if they are wiggly.

If your child doesn't do well...think twice about taking her somewhere else for the rest of the church service. This teaches your child that if she misbehaves, she can "get out of" sitting still. Try taking them someplace private for discipline, then bringing them back into service.

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1 comment

  1. WE go to a non-denominational charismatic church. Other than the visiting families, we are practically the only ones that keep our children in church with us. Since my first (who is now almost 7y.o.) we have been keeping them in church. Our services usually last 1.5 hours, sometimes a bit more. At first it was really hard, specially on me. I would lose my patience and get angry at my child for not cooperating. Slowly I realized that it was more important to train them and me on different aspects of character than sitting through services without interruptions. today, my children 2, 4, 6y.o. sit in service quietly. They worship with us, cuddle, read their Bibles, actually pay attention and respond to pastor when he addresses the congregation, write on their notebooks, play with quiet toys, and sometimes I do leave with the youngest and go wait in the hallway until church is over. But, Praise the Lord, today there is no more anger. This passes so quickly and they are such a testimony to other families in church. Not one service goes by that someone doesn't come up after church to tell me how blessed they were to see my child dance during worship, or raise their hands, or sit quietly. I think Sunday school or Children's church reinforces separation of families. When I was growing up, I wasn't a Christian, but my family was Catholic, so I remember Sundays as a time when we spent time together as a family going to Mass, sitting together and going out for lunch as a family. After a whole week being away from Mom and Dad because of work and school, Sunday was a really nice change. I believe children need to stay close to their family. I believe some of the reasons children/ teens turn to gangs and other peer pressure situations are the lack of unity and sense of belonging to their families. I truly enjoy my children with me...another reason I homeschool too. BTW, great article. Thanks for bringing up such important issues. :)