What to do when Sunday School sucks


Because my church is a medium sized church, Sunday School has been the bane of my existence for my entire career. 

(For my friends at large churches, you have managed to escape the hardest part of the job for most youth workers. Because our churches are not huge, we don't have critical mass of students which means we actually have to look into the cold, dead, eyes of students at 9:00 on a weekend morning.  Consider yourselves lucky!) 

For me, in my context, I have found that every 6 weeks or so I am faced with the awful reality that Sunday School sucks. And, would you have guessed, we are right on schedule. that means it is once again time to mix it up so that we can have some sort of benefit for the highest of sacred cows. 

To spice it up, here is what we have done and are going to do: 

1) Every 2 - 3 months we change our format.  Veriety is the spice of life. We all get bored, especially me. Intentional changing things also gives you some lattitude to try and fail at different topics and approaches. 

2) Include food. We have a waffle bar every week. Besides making the environment more comfortable, we kill 20 minutes out of our hour and fifteen minutes together.  

3) Address felt needs.   If the subject matter offers no value to their real life, then you will be talking to compleated checked out kids.   I know we all want to make sure kids learn certain things, but I have found that with out some buy in from them, they are completely content to continue to check out.  

4) Clarify that this is school and of course it is boring. Not everything has to be spoon fed. As you can tell, #3 doesn't really work, so if the topic won't add enough spice, then simply own the awfulness and ask kids to rise to the occasion.  Ask kids to step up or step out.  Sometimes there are burning Biblical ideas, facts, and truths that have to be communicated. Own that they are boring, but sell why they are relevant. 

5) Make sure you are not the only one talking.  How lecturing became the main mode of communication for the church is beyond me.  Unless the students can articulate their own options and attempt to process this information themselves, whatever you say will be like water off a ducks back.  Try a short teaching with plenty of discussion.  

6) Get them moving.  Sitting in chairs does not have to be their prison for this hour.  I hate sitting down for an hour, I am sure the students feel the same.  

7) Bribery always works.  I always get pushback from bribing kids.  But Jesus bribed us.  (If you want your life . . . (oh, you will have to loose it)  Incentives, bribes, it is how everything in the world, and even in the Kingdom of God works.  Find fun ways to incentivize attendance and participation.  

8) Mix up the format.  Just like is says.  Change everything all the time.  Take all the pieces and mix and match.  This, at least keeps kids on their toes.  

9) Let the students teach.  The best way to get buy in from students is to have them actually own it.  When they teach, at least those couple of students will learn something, because they had to prepare.  One kid learning, still beats 100% of the kids checked out.  Plus, by them teaching, they will gain empathy for how awful teaching Sunday school is and maybe be more gracious in the future.  (Maybe) :)

10)  Remember why you do what you do. We are called to love Students and help them love Jesus.  So whatever it takes to accomplish within the parameters of our context is up for grabs.  You may not be able to kill this sacred cow, but you can at least use this hour to your advantage if you are willing to be creative and mix it up.

Good luck fellow youth workers.  If you have ideas that work, please share them with me.  I am dying!