My father used to tell me that I had a keen sense of the obvious. Unfortunately, even the obvious can elude me for long periods of time. However, one of my observations of the obvious completely changed how I thought about Sunday School and could potentially turn Sunday School ministry upside down.
A few years ago I was doing a lot of guest speaking in various churches. It became my habit to question my children about what they thought of the many different Sunday Schools they had the opportunity to attend. The funny thing was, that no matter how many puppet shows they saw or giant Noah’s arks they got to play in, they always wanted to go back to our tiny little church plant. It didn’t matter how big the church or how excellent the Sunday School program, they always preferred our home church. When I asked about this, they simply said that it was because that’s where their friends were.
When it comes to adults I have always been aware of the old saying: “People come to church for many reasons, but they only stay for one – that they’ve made good friends”. This is why I often tell churches that it isn’t good enough to be friendly, you have to be friends. Some of the fastest growing churches I’m aware of credit much of their growth to their ability to relationally connect newcomers to others in their congregation. However, until I talked with my children that eventful day, I had never thought of applying what I knew to be true of adults to children’s ministry.
Here is the big question: What would Sunday School look like if we made it a place where we encouraged children to make friends with each other. When you think about it, this is the exact opposite of what we traditionally do. In fact, we currently do everything in our power and our programming to prevent children from interacting with each other. We sing some songs (but don’t talk to our neighbour), we sit and listen to a lesson (but don’t talk to our neighbour), and finally we do a craft (but don’t talk to our neighbour). What would happen if we did everything in our power to create community rather than prevent it? What would happen to your church if your children would drag their parents to church rather than the reverse?
I’m not saying that singing, teaching, and crafts are bad things, but how could we do some of these things in a way that encouraged the building of friendships? Would it really be that hard to introduce games and activities that are built around co-operation and interaction? I don’t think so, and frankly, doing whatever we can to facilitate the birth of meaningful friendships seems like a very Christian thing to do.
But there’s more. True, if the children in our Sunday School and children’s ministry programs became close friends they would attend much more frequently, invite their friends, and drag their parents out of bed. However, we could use these friendships between children to do even more. One of the latest trends in children’s ministry is the move toward “whole family ministry” where we don’t limit our ministry to children, but we try to expand and minister to the whole family. What would happen if we leveraged the friendships our children are building to build friendships between the parents. I know from experience that this won’t really happen all by itself. But isn’t there a way we could facilitate the building of friendships between the parents as well?
People come to church for many reasons, but they only stay for one – that they’ve made good friends. If we transformed our children’s ministry into something that facilitates the building of these friendships we would keep far more of our kids and families from falling through the cracks. Beyond this, we could actually see growth and expansion as these same people who typically vanish off on the sidelines could become inviters instead.
Something to think about at the very least.