A New Time for Church School?
Over the past couple of years, our congregation has talked a lot about children’s ministry. In congregational forums and parents groups and meetings, we’ve been asking questions about how to most faithfully respond to the growing number of children in our church in recent years, and I think it’s time for us to try an experiment.
This coming fall, I’d like us to try moving the timing of church school—from its current spot right in the middle of the worship service to a spot at the end of the service and running through coffee hour.
It’s no secret that our children’s ministry program has been growing in recent years. We’ve seen more and more children coming to church with their families, and church school attendance has continued to grow: regularly 30 or more children on a Sunday morning.
It’s a gift! And it’s also an opportunity to think carefully about the purpose of children’s ministry. My sense is that we as a congregation are trying to do at least two things:
- Teach children to worship
- Provide age-appropriate Christian education – an opportunity to explore the Bible and Christian faith in engaging and accessible ways.
I think a different timing for church school may allow us to bring these two goals together even more fully. I have thought a lot about different configurations we might try, and I have talked with parents and teachers over the past months and years, and I’d like to propose an experiment for the fall of 2019.
What I’m Proposing
- We move church school to immediately following communion. Children would be with their families in the worship service up until this point. They can take communion with their families first and then head off to church school, where refreshments will be waiting for them. My guess is that this would be at 12h or a little before. Parents stay for announcements and coffee hour and then pick their kids up from church school at a set time (e.g. 12h45).
- We make some adaptations to the worship service to make it more child-friendly. This may include shortening readings, prayers, or hymns and including moments that deliberately involve children (music, actions, children’s message, etc).
- We provide a children’s bulletin insert with some coloring and other activities focused on the day’s themes. Not all children will use these, but for some, this may be a helpful way to be present in the service.
- We hire a nursery attendant to be present during the worship service and up until 13h, to help parents with children under the age of 3.
- We pause in January and talk about how the experiment worked. We would include parents, teachers, and the wider congregation in this conversation.
In addition, I would like to propose that we make a few changes in the church school teacher system. I propose:
- We look for a team of three teachers for each age group. These three teachers agree to cover all Sundays for their group during the school year.
Assistants can be more flexible and can sign up to assist in any class.
- We hold a training day for all teachers in late August to prepare for the year of church school.
Why I’m proposing it
I think this configuration has several possible benefits:
- It gives children the opportunity for deeper involvement in worship. When children are present for most of the service each week, parents and the wider church community have the opportunity to teach them how to worship and to show them that they belong here.
- It gives children a longer and more regular period of time in church school. The current setup gives them about 25 minutes, and the end time is often unpredictable, depending on what is happening in the worship service. This new proposal would make church school reliably 45 or 50 minutes, at the same time each week.
- It allows church school teachers to be present in worship. Teachers will miss announcements and coffee hour on their teaching days, but they will not miss the bulk of the worship service.
- My children really look forward to coffee hour! Will they miss it? No, we will be sure that some of the coffee hour treats are available for kids to have at the start of their class. This can be their own “coffee hour” and a chance to check in and settle into the class time. (And they will actually get to the treats earlier this way than in our current model).
- Will this make Sunday morning longer for my family? If your family normally stays for coffee hour, then no. The idea with this proposal is that families would come to church at 11 for worship and could be on their way by about 12h45 (when church school concludes).
When a child is baptized in our church, the whole community pledges to support the family in raising her or him in the Christian faith. I’d like us to approach worship and Christian education as two ways in which the whole congregation lives up to those promises together, and I think this timing may help us to embrace this approach more fully.
I’m excited about this proposal and think it may hold great promise for our congregation. And again, it’s just an experiment—we will pause to evaluate in January and can change course then if needed. Thank you for your willingness to give it a try!