Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Soon and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a) Christian Education is fundamental to the Great Commission and yet it appears that we are doing less and less of it with our children as Sunday Schools are dwindling.
What is not working:
1) Sunday School on Sunday – often that is a time for soccer practice, a weekend visit to the non-custodial parent’s home, or the time of the Sunday School is earlier than many people want to get up on a weekend morning. Many churches are finding that an alternative day of the week is working better. An after-school program can include Christian education as part of its program.
2) Vacation Bible School as the one effort all year. Many churches that don’t have much of a children’s ministry will still offer a Vacation Bible School with some success. For many parents this is something for kids to do and some will actually shop around and go every VBS in town just to keep the children busy during the long summer months. Follow-up is what doesn’t always happen. Invite those “one time VBS students to other events throughout the year. I know of a church that has a VBS type program during the month of December on a Saturday so that parents can drop off their kids and go shopping. Holidays such as Halloween and Easter also have tremendous outreach potential. The lives of the saints and light and hope can be taught at a Halloween social and an Easter Egg hunt can be combined with a Lent Fair that teaches about the Jesus and the resurrection.
3) Expecting parents to bring their children to church. I remember years ago having a judgmental attitude about parents who just “dropped off their kids” and did not go to church or Sunday School themselves. Now people often don’t do even that. The response of the church should be one simple word: “Go”. We should go out and bring in the children. If you have room in your car you can pick up kids and bring them to church. Transportation is often the thing that keeps it from happening, especially in these hard economic times.
4) The same Sunday School teacher who has taught for 50 years continuing to teach that little class. We need to teach in teams. Our “Safe Sanctuary” policy requires that there are always two teachers in every class. The dear elderly woman in the church who has always taught the children needs to have a second helper. This is protection for everyone as well as a great way to mentor a young person for the future. Remember that every classroom needs to have doors with windows so that everything can be seen from the outside looking in.
5) Taking care of the children of our church members only. That has never been a good way of operating because it insulates the church as an institution that only “takes care of its own.” The church should intentionally target the children that are not from the church family and those who live on the margins of life. We need to invite children of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, languages and abilities. Families with children with disabilities need the unique ministry of the church. Autism is a high incidence disability in our society and parents often find it difficult to have a meaningful faith community experience because of the behavior issues that often accompany this condition. A church that would reach out with an educationally appropriate class would speak volumes of love to that family.