Ever since my first day in student ministry, my number one goal has been to cancel Sunday School. I mean, come on, everyone knows that Sunday school is the dumbest ministry model on the planet. It is awful on just about every level. 9:00 on a Sunday morning is the absolute worst time in the entire world for any sort of ministry, especially to adolescents. We try and try and try to make this hour of spiritual formation relevant and matter to a group of kids who could actually care less. But it seems as much as we try to put a nail in the coffin of this antiquated mode of ministry, I could never muster the political capitol to pull it off. That is, until the perfect storm of events allowed me to do just that.
This last spring we had to move our entire church off our main campus to a hotel ball room while we underwent some construction and renovations. We went from two services with spiritual formation and student Sunday school during the first gathering, to a situation where we were only going to have one service. The best part is that I didn't even have a choice. There were logistically not enough rooms to do church, children's ministry and Sunday School for students.
When I was approached with this dilemma, I hung my head in grief and said that I would, reluctantly, take one for the team and cancel Sunday School. On the inside, I was freaking out! It just happened. My dream for almost 20 years became a reality and it actually gained me political points instead of costing every point I have ever earned.
And I have to tell you, those first few months of not having Sunday School was a dream come true. There was no more Sunday morning anxiety or dread for having to face a room full of apathetic and judgmental kids. No more dealing with the zero feedback on the incredible curriculum I have put together for the morning. Yes, my only responsibility was to simply glad-hand students and their parents as they walked past to their seats, and again as they left. I WAS FREE!!
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR:
Soon after this switch I started to notice a little bit of a culture change within our student ministry. At first I didn't pay much attention to it because I was too busy celebrating the success of canceling the worst form of ministry ever created. But as the months wore on, I started to have this awful suspicion, that Sunday school actually did matter to the spiritual and relational fabric of our student ministry and of the students themselves.
You see, with no common place for students to meet, hang out, or land, they simply gravitated to their one or two friends and would sit with them and them alone in big church. While it was a good thing to have them in church, the large community feel of our student ministry was replaced with tiny clusters of friendships. For those most committed kids with the strongest friendships, this change didn't matter in the slightest. But for the 80% of kids who were not as connected, they were lost and began to vote with their feet by simply no longer attending big church and this even spilled into our mid week youth group.
SUNDAY SCHOOL WORKS, JUST NOT HOW WE THOUGHT:
What I realized is that Sunday School was not about spiritual formation and communicating some biblical truths to our kids while there parents are at church. When you think that it is, you too will come to loath Sunday School and the apathy that is on prominent display.
But the truth is, Sunday School is actually a community building event that uses biblical truths as the excuse to be together. Now, don't get me wrong, we teach great things in our Sunday School and any student who is paying attention is getting top notch content. However, the truth of the truth is that what makes Sunday School valuable is that there is not a place for students to gather during one of our services.
Our most committed kids, their friends, fringe kids, visiting families' kids, and whoever doesn't fit into a category now has a place to land. They have a place where they will be greeted and engaged by me, by my staff, by other adults and by their peers They are no longer part of the crowd in big church forced to sit with their parents and feel unseen as other students sit together and laugh. They have a place.
A QUICK DISCLAIMER:
Even though I am flip about the content of Sunday school, I do so to make a point. The point is simply that community building is far more significant to spiritual formation than biblical truths taught in a Sunday School environment. And even though I am flip about students attending big church, I firmly believe that when students have a strong sense of community, then attendance at big church will become more desirable, attendance at Sunday school and youth group will be more desirable. For it is the accumulation of all these formation experiences combined with a strong sense of community, spiral formation will occur.
What do you think?