Re-thinking youth Sunday School

As I noted in Why do so many children leave church when they go to college?, critical thinking about faith seems to make a big difference in whether children stay in church.  A big part of that is how Sunday School is done.*

I recommend that churches re-think how they do Sunday School, at least for high school kids.  Consider these facts:

  1. In high school, kids who have taken math their entire lives still have a huge range of classes depending on aptitude and experience.  It ranges from basic math to AP Calculus.
  2. In church high school classes, it is typically a one-size-fits-all approach, even lumping multiple grades together.   Some kids have been well-educated theologically their entire lives and some are new to the faith.

So we have a huge range of high school classes for kids who have had life-long training, and a narrow range of spiritual classes for kids who have had a much wider range of training.

Keeping the kids together for many lessons and activities is fine, but it is inevitable that some kids will be bored by lowest-common denominator material (like mine were, which is why they joined another church) and some will find the material too difficult.

My youngest started attending an adult class at their new church with some of her friends. It was amazing. I’ve had the opportunity to visit myself and I love it. The teacher spent three years in 1 Peter, which at first glance sounds like a recipe for disaster. Yet the class grew and grew and attracted people who wanted meaty lessons because he was so thorough and meaningful.  She would come home every week talking about the lesson.  I’m grateful that she had the opportunity to join the class.

One of the reasons churches may lose post-high school kids is that there isn’t a stable place to study. They can’t go to the high school classes any longer, and the young adult / college classes are too transient to be meaningful.

So why can’t kids with an interest go to adult classes? Are there any Bible verses against parents learning with children? If we expect high school students to learn algebra, Shakespeare, biology, etc., why do we have to dumb down the Bible for them?

Note: I would make the distinction that we should have smaller age / experience appropriate groups (i.e., Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, accountability groups, etc.) where people can share and interact.  In this post I am speaking of basic Bible studies.


* Reminder: Sunday School has a purpose, but parents still have the primary responsibility to teach their children.  The problem is that most are biblically illiterate.  They just take kids to church and hand the responsibility off to someone else.  If they actually read the Bible they’d know they were shirking their responsibilities.

Ephesians 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

That’s my youngest daughter’s life verse, by the way, though she prefers the translation that says not to exasperate your children (she likes to tease  me by saying, “You’re exasperating me!”). In case you think I’m kidding, this is a picture of her bedroom wall.  I’m glad my kids both kept a keen sense of humor!

9 thoughts on “Re-thinking youth Sunday School”

  1. Intergenerational ministry was the model of the early church, where the older and more spiritually mature catechised the younger/neophytes. They did NOT have Middle School Sunday School, K-5, High School, College and Career, and Over 40s groups…

    Age segregated instruction in the church is the problem, not the solution.

    My $.02


    1. “Age segregated instruction in the church is the problem, not the solution.” Why is that, exactly?

      How does your church do it, exactly? Because mine has both – age segregated AND age-integrated groups.

      How do *you* think churches should do study or worship during the week, early on Sunday mornings, late that day, or at any time other than the Sunday morning “everyone” service? Do you propose breaking into “diverse” groups, each with a smidgen of young and old? For that matter, if you disapprove of age-segregated study and worship, what are your views on separating people by gender?

      And if separating people by age isn’t mentioned in the Bible, how did the idea get started? It is hardly considered a radical concept today.


      1. It is a problem in that we end up with parts of the body not talking to one another and learning with/from one another. It also is a problem because we end up with different subcultures within the church that often cannot relate to one another.

        My church currently has age-segregated Sunday Schools although I have welcomed and encouraged people to join my Young Adults group who are by no means Young Adults. It has worked well. I hope this is the beginning of something really awesome for our church.

        I have no opinion on the when. My views on gender are the same as age.

        The idea got started by people who wanted to market a solution to a problem that didn’t exist instead of fixing the problems that did exist.


    1. Ha! Didn’t notice your smiley face until I read your post. Great piece on your part — I missed it because it ran when I was in Kenya (there was no way to catch up on 3,000 unread posts!).

      I’m not pushing dogma on this subject, just challenging people to re-think what they are doing and why they are doing it. Youth groups can have some value, but they are more about entertainment much of the time.


  2. I believe that this is one reason why our church beginning in Jr High, has a track which allows kids to become involved in leadership. In addition to the group activities and small group centered study, kids have the opportunity to apply for a leadership track which involves both more higher level spiritual development and training, but also the opportunity to participate in ministry to younger kids. It seems like a realy good way to pour into the kids who are ready, but also to let them pour themselves into younger kids. Again, not the only way or even the best way, but it sure seems to work well for us.


    1. Great idea on the leadership track. The most excited my oldest ever got with her early Sunday School years was when she and a friend got to teach. I wish they would have done that more often.


      1. Yeah, I really think it is a great way to interest/challenge kids who are further along in their faith. I also think that being able to lead is a great skill to have inside or outside of the Church.


  3. I really am intrigued by the idea of setting up different curriculum options for students. dumbing down to find the lowest common denominator sucks for everyone. smaller more appropriate leveled classes and let the students decide where to jump in. I think I might give it a whirl. peace.


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