I have recently come across a Christian blog post entitled, “Killing the Church with Sunday School”. “Oh no!”, I thought. How can Sunday School be bad for church? What could we be doing wrong? I had to read.
Luckily, the point of the post is not that Sunday School is hurtful, but that when attendance in Sunday School takes children out of the main corporate worship, it can result in a lack engagement with the church body as a whole. The premise is that having kids worship with adults gives an opportunity for adults to model their faith for children and for children to form bonds with congregants of all age groups, not just other kids.
Many of the Lutheran congregations I have attended in the past had Sunday School at the same time as the regular morning service. The parents would arrive with their children, drop them off at Sunday School, and enjoy a serene, undisturbed hour of worship with the other adults. Not so at Trinity.
At Trinity Sunday School staff, clergy, kids and parents show up a 9:00AM. Some mornings it takes a while to get going, but in a few minutes our music director has the kids gathered around the piano singing. Some songs are silly, some are sublime, all will touch your heart when you hear the children’s voices. This is followed by the main lesson from Pastor Longan. All ages are together. The older ones help the younger. They read out loud from the Bible. The lesson ends with a prayer. The kids then file out to the parish hall for a reinforcing activity such as a craft or game. Pretty basic. But Trinity is not done with kids yet.
Now it’s 10:30 and time for church. The children sit in the pews with their parents and other adults. Those that are serving at the altar have put on their robes and are getting ready to process. After the opening liturgy and prayer there is a children’s sermon. All kids come up to sit by the altar, the smallest held by their moms or dads. The children’s sermon is interactive, with kids giving answers to questions. Quite often a child’s response shows a surprising degree of spiritual insight. At other times, just hilarious honesty.
There are additional points in the service where children actively participate: sharing the peace, bringing votive candles to the altar, and communion. The older kids have turns in reading the scripture lessons. Sometimes things get noisy. Sometimes kids have a hard time sitting still. Sometimes an infant will cry or a toddler will wander off. At Trinity we have a response for that: “What is worse than kids in church? No kids in church!”.
When I see our Sunday School kids performing a song or a skit I see confidence. Church is where they feel comfortable and accepted. I see engagement. They want to have input: whether it’s new words for a song or a new script for the Christmas play.
Having kids in church is good for adults, too. We get to know all the kids. We know which ones like to be in the spotlight and which are more quiet. We get to offer encouragement. And, as the children contribute to the joy of our worship service, we get to watch them grow in stature and wisdom. This is the Trinity family.
Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belong to such as these.’ Matthew 19:14