3 things you can do with kids that might serve them better than Sunday school

In many people’s minds, Sunday school or the Sunday morning children’s program is the standard for the spiritual development of children. When a child doesn’t like their class, parents are often greatly concerned. I’ve had many ask me to help persuade their child to give into the parent’s pleading and go to the class.

My response to the parent is that if your child is comfortable in the service with you, let them come. Children’s ministry is a good option for many children, but it isn’t the supreme way of discipling them. Here are 3 things that parents and churches can do to help children grow in their faith that are just as good, or better, than sending children to an age-graded church alternative program.

1. Take them with you to the worship service.

Children’s church and youth worship alternatives were started in the 1970s and 1980s, as developmental theory became the guiding rational for our spiritual development programs. Developmental theory comes from the world of education. Education (gaining knowledge of a subject matter) is a part of spiritual development, but it isn’t the whole, or even the main, aspect of spiritual formation. Along with understanding the Bible better, people grow as disciples when they (1) experience God’s hand moving through the church in action, (2) pray in a community, (3) see mature believers in action, and (4) when they humble themselves by giving up something special to them in order to benefit another person.

Many churches write these sorts of things into their children and youth curriculum, but they don’t have to come through those avenues. These things are happening already in the church, in worship service gatherings, and through opportunities to interact with different people within the church body.

2. Teach them to serve.

Faith is not a spectator event. Children learn a lot from watching their parents and others involved in spiritual exercise, but children will learn more by participation. Churches and parents should be looking for ways to get children involved – collecting offering, handing out bulletins, helping disabled people participate, pouring coffee, reading prayers, cleaning the building, or whatever other opportunities people can dream up. When children are an active part of the worship services, and they aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Older people will be blessed by their energy and involvement.

I do not encourage junior preachers. Children and youth many want to give testimonies from time to time, but preaching is a complicated art that come with excellent knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. There are many other places where a child can find their calling.

3. Allow them to participate in spiritual exercises with other spiritually mature adults.

If parents don’t think they can sit with their children for a worship service, there are others who can. Perhaps parents don’t feel that they are emotionally strong enough to sit next to a squirming child. Perhaps parents are active in the service and cannot keep a close eye on their child. These parents need not expect that they have to send their child to a separate class; these children can sit with someone else through the service. Many teens like sitting with younger children. Senior adults might like an opportunity to be close to youth too. There is no special training necessary, and the children will learn how broad the family of God can be.

11 thoughts on “3 things you can do with kids that might serve them better than Sunday school

  1. The only thing I’d add (off the top of my head) is to talk with them about ministry scenarios you’ve been involved with (names not necessary). That way they are able to know what “hands on” ministry looks like from your perspective.

  2. Dwayne

    I have to believe kids and students receive more discipleship in an environment that is geared toward them. Thais not happening in a environment geared toward adults.

    • Dwayne,
      Thanks for your comment. You might be right in some ways, but many kids don’t like children’s programs or are too shy to attend. These are ways to engage them.

      Also, resent work by FYI, Christian Smith and Lifeway seems to demonstrate that even though we have thought for 40 years that age graded ministry was better for kids, it’s actually creating a higher “dropout” rate. It’s good in a place, but when kids are isolated in age-group ghettoes they never learn to be part of the church.

      My goal isn’t to put kids in adult environments, but to make environments that are cross generational.

    • Samantha

      We take kids and put them in a classroom with their peers all week, activities with their peers after school, and church with their peers on Sundays. How do they ever learn to function as adults? Who is to say that the Sunday worship service isn’t relevant or appropriate for these children? Why can’t it be appropriate for all ages. I would encourage EVERYONE involved in ministry or parenting to read Parenting in the Pew and other sources like that. It is possible to teach children to worship alongside adults. Give them credit! They understand more than you think. Of course, there will be a learning curve for kids who spend all of their time among their peers and are never exposed to environments with multi-generations. They won’t know what to do at first. But teaching them this way is doing them a huge favor. I grew up attending “big church” with my family and learned to worship and eventually to take sermon notes and to search out the nuggets that God had for me to apply to my life each week. I have always taken my children to the service with me and that feels normal to them. They don’t feel like they went to church if they just go to a children’s class. They each have ways that they participate in ministry.

  3. Daniel Geer

    Despite our best abilities, students learn from their parents or adult care-takers. That is God’s design. Therefore, we must engage them in both age appropriate was and in the context of the whole church. Our church has 6 to 12 year olds in the main worship service. Nursery and 3 to 5 year ods are in their own service. They get more from direct interaction. I agree with all three key points.

    • Daniel, thanks for you comment. I have no problem with nurseries during service. It sounds like you have a nice plan that works for you all.

  4. ken johanson

    ideally the points should work and benefit everyone in the church…hmmm, if only lead pastors could embrace the concept and teach the Bible to all ages according to each persons ability to understand. Model serving for kids and let them loose! Gather all ages into one fellowship and see how everyone goes beyond supposed age limitations.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ken. I agree. I wish more lead pastors would understand, but its more than the LPs holding back this vision. I think LPs will be onboard as we change the culture of the church. This means changing expectations of parents, elders, seniors, and youth. This will take a lot of work, patience and working together. I’m glad you, and the other commenters, are excited about this vision.

  5. I agree with all three points. I think kids miss out on seeing how adults worship (or lack there of). They miss out on seeing/hearing other men and women of God pray and sing. I think kids are missing theology because they don’t know the great hymns anymore. Children’s Church has become a glorified nursery in many churches. I agree children need to be discipled on their level. That’s why I’m involved in Awana on Wednesday nights. But Sunday morning is a great time for families to worship together and even discuss the sermon afterwards. Great communication and fellowship can take place between parents and kids that is missed when everyone has their “own” worship service. It is the role of the PARENTS to disciple their children. It’s the church’s job to equip and supplement when the parents need it. Thanks for your article!

    • This is a great comment. Discipleship of children is certainly the responsibility of the parents. I’d dare say it is the responsibility of the whole family of God. It’s best done in community as a relational and cross-generational, practice isn’t it?

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