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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sunday School: Wired or Tired?


Kim Crawford, our Children's Director called for the meeting in my office to talk about Sunday School (SS). For many of us in the evangelical and protestant communities, SS is one of those legacy programs. It's been around forever, with pictures like that above to document its presence. I have my own personal stories (good and bad) about SS classes in Lafayette Indian and St.Paul Minnesota. Everyone went. Whole families showed up and divided off into children, youth, young adult and adult classes (sometimes gender or age divided and other times led for years by one distinguished teacher, E.T Thompson or Dr. Stanley).
But that's all changed today. Some numbers we wrestle with are: average worship attendance (low 300's and rising each year by 15%) growing number of children and families in worship and Children's Church (20-35), but a SS attendance (nursery to grade 6 of about 10-12) and similar lower numbers in Jr. Hi and Sr. Hi.
When we gathered anecdotes about why, some of the comments that came back were: "Sunday is the only day my kids can sleep in. They are so tired with all the activities and homework." "SS bores them." "We do spiritual formation at home." Does our culture so exhuast children, youth and families, that to expect more than one hour on Sunday mornings is stress-creating? Has spiritual formation been outsourced to organizations like Young Life, Veggie Tales, BSF, and summer camps? Has spiritual formation become more individual, like homeschooling, than corporate? Or have we (parents and churches) caved in to cultural pressures and relegated SS and intentional spiritual formation to the lowest rung on the priority laddder (next to traveling sports, music, drama, dance, SAT preparation, homework and travel)? What will be the long-term consequence if this generation of children just sleep into adulthood?

7 Comments:

At 12:23 PM , Blogger kent said...

Our challenge is in the area of families with reaslly small children because for them Sunday School doesn't fit with the child's rhythm, it interferes with the little tyke's nap. So they don't come. Or the offerings for the young adults are not interesting enough or thye are gonethis week end. or whatever... They simply don't show up.

The questions we are asking invlove the issue of is this the best way approach spiritaul formation given our community? is the model of school the best way instill disciplship? We don't have an answer yet.

 
At 1:16 PM , Blogger Beth B said...

"Has spiritual formation become more individual, like homeschooling, than corporate?"

I would answer yes. This is just one of the fruits of a nominalist worldview, whether we realize it or not (and one of the reasons nominalism has come to capture my interest.)

The question is: should we go with the flow, and try to find ways to work within that worldview? Or should we go a step further, and challenge that worldview?

Actually, I don't think there's anything sacrosanct about Sunday school; but I do think Christian formation is not meant to be a lone ranger affair. After all, God in His mercy rescued the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot from that dead-end.

I am confident different churches will arrive at different answers... ; )

 
At 2:57 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Thanks Beth, we too do not think the time-frame is sacrosanct, but discipleship is. How do you know it's getting done as a parent? How do you know if you are a parent that you are being a disciple?

 
At 4:08 PM , Anonymous Lyle said...

I expect that if the parents were excited about their SS experience, the children would look forward to coming to a well designed class as well.

Lyle

 
At 5:15 PM , Blogger Beth B said...

Such good questions!

First, I don't think we can ever know with certainty, nor do I think God expects that from us. But we can know with some degree of probability...

1) How do you know it's getting done as a parent?
I look for the following:

Articulating faith:

a. ever-increasing biblical literacy
(there's a post in itself, explaining what I mean by that!)

b. curiousity on the part of my child about spiritual things, and discussions over the dinner table about the answers she might be getting

c. an increasing ability to "give the reason for the hope within" her, as Peter recommends.

d. an increasing ability to both speak the truth in love, and love the truth.

incarnating faith:

c. increasing evidence that my child is participating in the life of the church, among different people, and not just with peers.

d. increasing evidence that my child is engaged in serving others outside church

e. increasing evidence that my child's character manifests the fruits of the Spirit, and that she is growing "in wisdom" as well as "in stature and in favor with God and man."

experiencing faith:

d. increasing evidence of a deepening prayer/devotional/contemplative life

e. increasing evidence that my child is finding growing connection to the Lord and His people through the sacraments, worship, and through his Creation.

2) How do I know if, as a parent, I am being a disciple?

a. Apply the above tests to myself, and have others (below) apply them to me, plus any others I haven't thought of:

b. find a spiritual director, a friend and/or a group/church to regularly model, "monitor" and encourage me.

c. Listen to those whom the Lord has placed in positions of accountability for me, (who I have not necessarily chosen myself) for feedback on how I am doing.

 
At 6:35 PM , Blogger blogadoo said...

"Sunday is the only day my kids can sleep in. They are so tired with all the activities and homework." "SS bores them."

Sadly, I think this has got to be the most real answer. While my views with the Catholic church vary in some degrees, I know my kids will grow up encouraged to embrace it. They will have lots of time when they turn 16-17-18 to resist it, but I think it's a parents job to reinforce the importance of having this in their lives. Did SS 'bore me' as a kid? You bet. Did I later appreciate the fact I was forced to go? You bet.

 
At 1:23 PM , Blogger Christopher B. Brooks said...

Great post Don. We have definitely got to rethink our methods if we are going to meaningfully engage this and future generations of overstimulated children and Youth. Many of the newer models are built around the research Chap Clark and Kara Powell from Fuller did for the book HURT. Good book, by the way; a must read for Youth and Children's Ministry Leaders. It will be fun to see what develops.

And thanks for the pep talk last night, SD.

 

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