Do Your Children Enjoy Sunday School?

Not only is it back-to-school time, it will soon be back to Sunday school (or church school, or Christian education, or religious education, or faith formation, or whatever you call it). I know it’s a little out of step to call our faith formation programs Sunday school but if I used that in the title, “Do Your Children Enjoy Faith Formation?” some would likely go… what?

Sunday school tells children their needs are important and gives them valuable connections with special adults. Kids sometimes develop lifelong memories and love for their early teachers.

So names and concepts change but spending an hour or so on Sunday morning in age groups with peers has been around in most churches for over 150 years. Sunday schools though have an interesting, often forgotten beginning, back to the Industrial Revolution in Britain where many poorer children had to work in factories all week long. They had no opportunity to go to school or learn to read, the Christianity Today website reminded me as I did some brief research on the origins of Sunday school. So some Christian philanthropists worked to provide Sunday schools as a way of educating these children, and when child labor faded away, the tradition of having Sunday “schools” geared to religious education stayed on. “By the mid-19th century, Sunday school attendance was a near universal aspect of childhood. Even parents who did not regularly attend church themselves generally insisted that their children go to Sunday school,” writes Timothy Larsen in an article titled “When did Sunday schools start?” (

Our church doesn’t have Sunday school in the summer, I think many other congregations have gone that route. As adults, it is a nice break, whether you are teaching or participating in classes of your own. But I’m always happy to see the eagerness most of the children at our church have for their faith formation experiences. I have heard children expressing disappointment in the summer when there are no special classes and activities especially for them. I did not grow up in a church that dismissed Sunday school for the summer but I think I would have felt the same way: that there was no chance for me to be with my friends and do stuff I could understand.

At our church, children are downright excited to return to their very own program at church. Most Sunday school programs are totally geared to kids these days. We use the “Workshop Rotation” program where children rotate to different classrooms/interest centers from week to week with all ages studying the same Bible story but from different approaches using computers, apps, videotaping, art, cooking, theater, music, Bible figures to play with/act out stories, and the like.

Sunday school tells children their needs are important and gives them valuable connections with special adults. Kids sometimes develop lifelong memories and love for their early teachers. Not all these relationships turn out to be healthy, unfortunately, so smart churches have careful policies to guard children and adults (windows in classrooms) and screening of new teachers. (See for examples of other church guidelines designed to help keep children safe.)

My office is pretty excited right now. We’ve launched a brand new children’s curriculum, Shine. (See Of course, there are actually ongoing new lessons and material every week, quarter, and year. But most denominations and publishers come up with a whole new set of materials with a new name and theme every so often.

These programs and classes for children are truly foundational for faith formation. I give much credit to the dedicated teachers and youth group leaders at our church for helping our children grow in their faith. And the children I’ve known best at our church are those I’ve taught in Sunday school.

So if you are grimacing because you’ve been “roped” into teaching this fall or year, my hat is off to you. You will learn as much as the children—renewing your acquaintance with the Bible stories and truths as they hit home in new ways. At least, I’ve always found that happens to me. It takes work, time, and commitment but remember the bigger picture: you are not just teaching Sunday school, you are helping children form faith and explore what it means to have faith in God. What an awesome undertaking.

Children and families are pulled in many directions, though: sport travel teams that compete at great distances on Sundays often pull kids (and their parents) out of church and Sunday school. Sleepovers and birthday parties vie for alert minds and bodies. Technology creeps in (is it okay for kids to read a book in church? How about on a Kindle? How about playing with smartphones?). It isn’t easy to raise children today. But maybe we’d rather be back in the 1800s when everyone worked six to seven days a week?

It is never easy to devote time to activities that are important for children. But we can be glad there are lots of options and opportunities for Christian education that inspires and invigorates faith.

What have your experiences been in teaching religious education classes or as a child? For more information on Shine go to or call 800-245-7894. Or write to me for a small brochure: Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, or email.

Posted 8/7/2014 7:00:00 AM

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