“Sunday School is boring. We listen to some of the same stories we already know and it feels like school. KidZone is different. We feel in KidZone.”
Our Christian Education Department decided to make a change to our Sunday School. Attendance was low, and with our church implementing a tutoring program and band academy, it was a great idea to transition the summer months differently to keep those same children coming to the church. They decided to move Sunday School for children to Wednesday nights, which would be later referred to as, KidZone.
Wednesday Night KidZone hosted anywhere from 40 – 75 kids weekly, with the majority of them from local neighborhoods we picked up, ranging from preschool to High School. My normal routine after dismissal on a Kidzone night was to stand in the front of the Fellowship Hall to be available to listen to any of the children that wanted to approach me with a thought about the lesson, a complaint about a sibling, to show me their new outfit or to share what happened at school that day. There was one particular conversation with a child I will never forget. We had just finished wrapping up a lesson from the unit I was teaching entitled, “Hearing God’s Voice,” and she walked up to me with a puzzled look on her face. She asked, “Why is KidZone so different from Sunday School?” After asking her what she meant, it didn’t take long for her to rattle off the differences that she believed were between the two. “Sunday School is boring. We listen to some of the same stories we already know and it feels like school. KidZone is different. We feel in KidZone.” she shared.
I have traveled to many churches and taught children, conducted trainings and workshops, and one particular question has always been a constant, “How do we keep kids in Sunday School?” My answer to that question is very bias because I always reflect on my own personal Sunday school experience. I would ride on the church van in anticipation for Sunday’s Class. It was typical for my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Kathy Ransaw, to pop into our class in full costume and an altered voice to present to us the biblical character of the day. We would rush to make sure that our activity books were completed just to have her check our work and doodle a picture of herself with curly hair and a smile, and you could not forget the dangling earrings she would draw. I would marvel at her teaching methods. She would play games, make up songs for the lessons and she carried an enthusiasm and cheerful disposition that made you never want to miss class. She knew how to bring the bible to life, to make application real and teach in a way that you didn’t want to leave class because you could feel the power of Gods’ word. We would remember every word she said hanging onto the scriptures as if they were golden treasure, which they were.
Today, teaching this generation of children has become a difficult. Growing up, our parents made attending Sunday school a priority. Many children are given this option and for some, it’s not even thought of. Oftentimes parents won’t even attend but will encourage their children without being an example of why it’s important in their own lives.
So many say that attendance is one of Sunday school’s biggest challenges. Sunday mornings are now in competition with sports and due to the pandemic, children are not interested in attending zoom sessions after sitting in front a computer for hours of formal education. Children viewing Sunday school over digital outlets like Facebook or YouTube has it challenges because it is so easy to switch from an online Sunday school class to watching a child make slime or give toy reviews.
I believe the major challenge in Sunday school is keeping the attention of children. In a digital world, with so many distractions, our children are getting bored easily with Sunday school. Secular movies, cartoons, video games, apps and streaming services have become our competition. If we take a look at the secular world, it has never went the easy route in capturing the hearts of children. It always has been several steps ahead of the church. In creating shows for children, research is conducted daily to study trends and what children like. YouTube views can attest to what is the latest “thing” our children are interested in. Not only has the world become cunning with the types of shows they create for our children with hidden messages and ideas that do not have a biblical world view, they are also not leaving any rocks unturned when it comes to topics of gender, sexuality, social justice and the supernatural, that the church should be the forefront of discussing.
I believe many Sunday schools are doing their best to provide what they feel children need and want but even with high quality curriculum, videos, state of the art facilities and Sunday School Rally days, we need a deeper solutions to solve these issues. According to statistics, once children reach thirteen to seventeen years of age, the numbers who continue attending church decrease and even a smaller number continue to attend church after high school. Over the years, we have watched this happen. What will we do about it? In KidAone that Wednesday night, the child made a statement that was an effect of radical change, “KidZone is different!” What did we do in KidZone to see attendance increase from 10 weekly to 60 to 75?
We changed the day. Sunday school on Wednesday was a hit. Parents/Guardians were already coming out for Adult bible study so it made it easier for the transition. Although, Wednesday attendance became so large that the adults moved their bible study to Thursdays.
We changed the name from Sunday school to KidZone. Be creative. A name change won’t take away from the purpose and effectiveness of the ministry.
We changed how we taught curriculum and why? It was more important for our children to know, in their daily lives, the voice of the God that David served verses how many stones David picked up to the kill Goliath. “Children can’t live on bible stories alone.” They must know his voice as sheep. (John 10:27 – 30)
We implemented a new structure model. We removed the school teaching model and structured each session with a biblical teaching and application, equipping and activation to use their spiritual gifts and an encounter time with God’s presence.
We changed how we viewed children from birth to teen. We began to see children after the spirit and not after the flesh. Their ages had no bearing on our view of them from the eyes of God and as our brother or sister in Christ. Children don’t have a junior Holy Spirit became our motto.
We let children use their voice. We placed a microphone at the front and allowed children to share a message or testimony, pray, sing or share what God had placed on their heart.
Why did we make these radical changes? Whatever attitudes and associations our children develop early on regarding God, His word and belief system will stay with them for a lifetime. We didn’t have time to waste. It was our mission to seriously disciple them because the world was not letting up and we understood they were well capable of understanding God’s word more deeply because of how they were engaging in the secular world. If we didn’t change our methods to capture their hearts by the time they were ten, eleven and twelve years of age, we knew it was possible we would lose them when they reached their teenage years. In talking to several of the children, they wanted something more. They were bored and no matter how fun we tried to make their teaching, it didn’t capture their hearts until we changed our method. They didn’t want to be forced, bribed, or manipulated into coming to Sunday school. Incentives no longer worked. Feeding them didn’t work. All they wanted was to experience and encounter the God they learned about in their own lives and learn how to live out loud the faith no matter what their home or school experiences were like. For our Christian Education Department, That was enough for us to change the way we did Sunday school aka “KidZone.”
Where Do We Go From Here
Now that we understand what this generation of children need, how do we get there? How do we stop the decline in attendance and increase the hunger for God that will keep our kids coming to our Sunday schools and inviting their friends? Here are a few suggestions:
Change starts with you. As the Sunday School Superintendent, teacher or assistant, the amount of study and care you put into your relationship with God will show in how you view Sunday school and your teaching. Kids are smart and they know when you know what you’re talking about and when you don’t. They know when you believe what you say and when you are just teaching it because you have to. Teach because you believe it. Let your faith shine through.
See the Children as Christ Sees Them. Think about young Jesus in the temple sitting around the leaders teaching and sharing. Think about children in that same way. They are well capable of learning God’s word and even sharing their heart. Don’t underestimate their potential and don’t use their age or behavior as a means to limit them. See past their flesh and into their spirit. They need Jesus, give it to them and do it with everything you have!
Bring the Bible to Life. Teach with and from a Bible. Encourage kids to bring and use bibles as part of your teaching (scripture races and bible sword drills). Allow them to stop and ask questions about the bible as they read. Provide reading plans or bookmarks to the children and reward the progress. Create reading challenges or allow them to act parts of the scripture. Make the bible something you and the children use and not just something you talk about. Create a quiet time moment where you can talk about things God taught you through the Word.
Bring Curriculum to Life. Be enthusiastic! Enhance your curriculum beyond the pages. Use objects, songs and games to reinforce teaching. Theme and decorate your teaching space based on the lesson. Dress up in character. Use puppets and skits. Have children pre-record videos to use as a segment to teach, share a testimony/story or tell a joke (this can be an opener to the class). Share the biblical narrative from the lesson, show emotions that are real. Allow the children to share how they feel.
Worship Energetically! Be an Example! Get up and dance. Make worship and praise a part of your class. Don’t just play a song, engage in the song. Play soft instrumental music during prayer, as you are giving the children the application to “Go & Do” from the word, or as a call to responds to the message. Allow the children to create a playlist of song they like to use during class. Create that playlist on YouTube and send to families. Share scriptures about praise and the goodness of God and why we worship him.
Involve Parents. Parents are the main disciple makers for their children. Children show up to Sunday school when parents encourage them. Make sure you are connecting with parents. Sometimes we talk specifically to the children for them to give their parents messages from us. We should weekly reach out to the parents via telephone and share the lesson for the week and how we can help partner with them to disciple their children at home. Use social media to create reminders, take home worksheets to download or graphics to share the lesson. Table talks or devotionals are good for parents to use at home with their children as well. You can create videos to help parents too.
Teaching Virtual Sunday school. Whether you are in Zoom or creating videos, your graphics are important. Find someone that can help you create backgrounds in zoom for your lesson or graphics to overlay to help enhance your class. Children are visual learners. Make sure your Zoom isn’t blurry and clean your camera lens daily for clear viewing. Visit YouTube for tutorials on how to add music and create better presentations for your class.
Have fun! Kids are naturally born to be active. It helps them to grow. Search online for games, icebreakers and more. You can visit www.kidzmatter.com for tons of Children Ministry items to use in your lessons.
Equipping. Kids do not want to just sit and learn, they want to be involved. Teach them – Show them – Involve them. In the example of teaching them how to pray, you should teach them, you should show them using scriptures and you should involve them. Allow them to pray for you and others in the class. Equip them to use their spiritual gifts at the age they are now. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the spiritual gifts of the children in your class and how He wants to use you to help cultivate those gifts in them.
Encounter Time. In KidZone, every session had 15 minutes of encounter time at the end. That was the most important time of the class. Allow children to experience the presence of God. This is a powerful moment. Turn on instrumental worship music and have them draw what God is speaking to them concerning the lesson, themselves or even others. If some children choose not to draw, it’s okay. Make sure you are consistent with this time in your class. This is where you will began to see change in your children and even in yourselves as they share what God is speaking to them about.
There is not a one-size-fit all model to Sunday school. You should never conduct or model your Sunday school after another church or ministry. Just because it works for one church does not mean it may work for you. Prayer is the key. Pray concerning your Sunday school. Access the needs of the children that you teach. How do they learn? What methods are effective for them? Evaluate your methods and see where you need to change. Implement changes in moderation and then evaluate if they are successful, if you need to get rid of them or if you need to make modifications. Reach out for help. There are so many resources and those talented in creativity and helping you to enhance your teaching and structure. Remember, you’re not teaching public school, you are teaching God’s word, spiritually, that has the power to change and transform the lives of children for generations to come. You have the best seat in the house and a field that is ripe for harvest.
Ms. Angela Marks is the Director of Children for the Dunn-Lillington District of the AME Zion Church. She is the co-writer for the Beginners and Primary Quarterlies in AME Zion Church Office of Church School Literature. In 2009, she founded With His Hands Puppets, which provides Christian educational and themed puppet shows. https://angelamarks.sellfy.store/