5 steps to more effective children’s ministry

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This sobering article, Has the sun set on Sunday school?, ran in USA Today highlighting staggering declines in attendance. Sunday School is an old concept that has, unfortunately, not evolved much since the 18th century as chronicled in “Who Likes Sunday School?”

Sunday School-01Sure, we now have colorful environments, flat screen TV’s, and current music, but we are still using an outdated paradigm. If we were really honest with ourselves, it isn’t hard to see why many children are spiritually impoverished, biblically illiterate, and not loving Sunday School.

Here are 5 reasons why the outdated Sunday School model isn’t effective:

1. Not optimized for learning. Most Sunday school programs are designed for the most highly effective form of management, not engaging learning.

2. Not creative. Every week is the same. Sure, it’s a different story, but what kids “want” and “need” is determined by someone else, sometimes a whole team of someone elses, with no input or feedback from the kids themselves.

3. Not relevant when it’s not tech-savvy. For digital natives who spend an average of 4-7 hours online every day, children’s programming that is not digitally augmented is not speaking their language.

4. Not measured. Most churches simply execute their weekly program without ever gauging whether or not learning took place.

5. Not family-centric. The old model of Sunday School pandered to the 18th century practice of lax parenting, but we know from current research how critical the parenting role in partnership with the church is to the spiritual growth of children.

In our media-saturated world, culture is winning. Time spent on the spiritual development of our children is decreasing Even in the best-case scenario, a child who attends an hour of programming at their local church every single weekend only receives a total of 52 hours per year spent on spiritual development. Compare that to a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report revealing that kids ages 8-18 spend an average of nearly 8 hours per day interacting with media. Nearly ½ of that time is spent watching traditional TV.

52 hours is a drop in the bucket compared to a number like 2,920.

It’s time to create a new paradigm that bridges the gap and helps expand the influence of the Church, in partnership with parents, to increase focus on spiritual development.

5 steps to make children’s ministry more effective:

1. Rethink your programming and optimize it for student learning. Rather than expecting kids to “behave” under a one-size-fits-all definition, assess your curriculum and programming to make sure it engages the complete spectrum of learning styles in the room.

2. Be creative. It takes courage to change or try something new. There are many experienced practitioners, websites, and entities innovating children’s ministry who share their #kidmin ideas for free! This week’s challenge: figure out a way to take a learning style from #1 and incorporate it in either a participatory or co-creative way using input from the kids themselves—you can find some great resources and crowdsource creative content and ideas on CM Connect.

3. Make it relevant. Leverage technology by utilizing digital tools that speak the language of digital natives, will engage them and are accessible throughout the entire week.

4. Measure for success. Unless you are measuring success, how do you know whether kids are learning week to week, building their biblical literacy, growing in knowledge, practicing spiritual disciplines and bearing fruit? We have experienced and witnessed how shifting to an outcome-based ministry model has revolutionized the fruitfulness of our outreach and programs as we begin to measure for effectiveness.

5. Partner with family. Parents need to know what went on during the Sunday School hour and be equipped to reinforce and disciple growth throughout the week. We love what Orange is doing to better connect leaders and parents to influence the next generation—check out their weekly Parent Cue app that resources churches to partner with parents in the spiritual development of their children!

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Additional Resources:
History of “Sunday School”
Different learning styles