Have you ever asked yourself why your church has children’s Sunday School? So ask yourself now: what do you think is the goal of Sunday School? Whether you are a parent, church leader, or even a congregant without school-age children: what do you think should happen in the “Children’s wing? of your church”
Before you answer, let me define some terms. By “Sunday School,” I mean age-appropriate classes for children that meet at the same time as adult classes or the worship service. In most churches, grades and structure may be arranged differently, but typical elements might include a teaching, small groups, singing, and possibly games or a craft.
What’s the Point of Sunday School?
So, that’s the structure of these classes. But what’s the point? How do you know if your Sunday School is “working”? If I had to guess, typical answers might include:
- The kids are occupied in a safe environment so the child’s parent(s) can worship without distraction.
- The kids develop positive feelings about church so that they keep coming back after they graduate high school.
- When kids have a good time in church, it will draw the whole family back the following weekend.
- Kids get their weekly Bible lesson.
To varying degrees, these answers aren’t entirely wrong. But I would like to propose a bigger vision. I think Sunday School can and should be about so much more than safety, fun, and a Bible lesson. Sunday School should instead be the time the church comes around parents to support them in the important work of discipleship.
The Foundation for Sunday School
First, let’s start with the foundation. Parents are given the primary task of discipling their kids (Deut. 6:6-9; Eph. 6:4). Parents will someday give an account for how they stewarded every gift they have been given, which includes their children (Matt. 25:14-30). This means that parents must take responsibility not only for their children’s physical, social, emotional, and developmental needs; but, most importantly, they must proactively develop their children spiritually.
However, it would be wrong to assume parents can and should do it all. Parents are primary, but they need help. God has given every Christian h to supply accountability, oversight, and different giftedness to help us run the race (Gal. 6:1-2; 1 Cor. 12:7; Heb. 13:7). Sunday School then is one of the primary ways your church can come alongside you in discipling your kids. Sunday School is a time for your church to fill in your gaps, support your testimony, and add their strength to yours (Ex. 17:11-12).
Sunday School at Your Church
Here’s what this can look like: Beginning even in the Nursery, seek to lay a foundation on the truths of God’s Word and prayer intentionally lay a theological framework rooted in God’s word. Don’t neglect the hard doctrines: if they don’t get it now, they’ll have to wrestle with it later when you may not be there to guide them.
In all of this, we aim for the goal: that our children, by God’s grace, will trust in Jesus and have an unshakeable faith in a big God—a faith that does not waver in the face of childhood fears, peer pressure, or the disappointment of not making the soccer team. But we also want this faith to mature so that someday, they can face adult problems with confidence in God’s providential care over all things. We want our children to take the next global crisis in stride because they know God is in control and is working for their good.
Can Sunday School be fun? Sure. Should it be safe? Absolutely. But those goals need to support the primary goal: discipleship. Parents, church leaders, congregants: make sure your Sunday School is accomplishing this goal. Invest in Sunday School, not as the primary means of discipling the children in your church, but as a necessary help. And then, enjoy the fruit in a couple of decades.