What Sunday Schools Could Learn from Public Schools

What Sunday Schools Could Learn from Public Schools
David Staal


Trends in public education apply to children’s ministry.

Children spend more time at home than they do at church: this convicting truth fuels family ministry initiatives across the country. From providing parents with materials to use throughout the week to producing events that moms, dads, and kids attend together, churches continue to place emphasis on the hours that impact a child outside of the one (-ish) spent attending a children’s ministry program.

Another block of significant time, though, deserves more attention. A typical elementary student spends 35 hours a week at school (unless homeschooled, of course). Second only to home, children spend more time at school or in school activities than anywhere else. For that reason, churches can learn plenty by paying close attention to public education trends; these three seems like a good starting point.

1. Pre-kindergarten school readiness.

Educators, government officials, even business leaders in a growing number of communities actively promote the need for young children to possess academic skills prior to entering school. Gone are the days when learning started in kindergarten, after snack and nap time (my favorite topics in kindergarten, by the way). Whether one agrees or disagrees with this trend, no one can deny it’s a big deal.

What can churches learn from this trend? In essence, expectations have emerged in our country to engage a pre-school child’s ability to learn. Does your church’s children’s ministry approach the youngest kids in similar fashion? Many take the opposite approach and simply seek to keep toddlers through five-year-olds entertained, occupied, and as quiet as possible.

Develop a better plan. Look for appropriate lessons to share guided by this bit of wisdom: “It’s never too early for God’s created people to do the very thing he created them for: have a deep friendship with him,” say Dr. John Trent, Kurt Bruner, and Rick Osborne in their book Teaching Kids About God: An Age-by-Age Plan for Parents of Children from Birth to Age Twelve (Tyndale House).

Yes, offer short and bite-sized lessons for the littlest. They can handle it and parents will soon expect it—if they don’t already.

2. Character development/campaigns of the heart.

Recently, a school district invited me to speak at an event for parents of students in every grade. While I talked about the need for parents to truly engage their children, school officials shared an initiative, called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts ™,” in full operation at every grade level. They also presented information about the district-wide anti-bullying efforts. Both are solid programs—and represent well a growing trend of schools guiding behavior and personal decision-making through character-building.

Oh, how this topic draws criticism from the faith community. For a moment, though, let other faith leaders argue with society about who talks with children about sex—there’s so much more to this trend. Respectful behavior, conflict resolution, the courage to speak up when others are bullied: an increasing number of schools now cover these topics and more. Why?

Kids clearly don’t receive adequate instruction in these areas, that’s why. This represents an opportunity for a church to partner with the local schools. Shouldn’t a ministry that seeks to make a difference in children’s hearts (church) find the efforts of others doing something similar at least of interest?

Working with schools does not mean faith-centeredness must be lost. In fact, something quite interesting could happen. Imagine the amount of attention that a church and a school would capture if a child heard an occasional consistent message from both entities. Or the attention of parents. This co-existence worked quite well at the parent event mentioned earlier—school officials shared about their program and gave strong endorsement to my clearly-faith-based book, Words Kids Need to Hear: To Help Them Be Who God Made Them to Be (Zondervan).

3. Homework, athletics, and volunteer recruiting—a.k.a. time.

Parents, get ready to say “amen.” While some research says that homework assignments have dramatically increased, others say the change is less than one might imagine. I suggest asking real parents about homework—they will tell you it has increased and takes more time to complete. In addition, there are high expectations for athletic participation, with longer and more frequent practices and off-season leagues and training. My son recently graduated from high school, where he played quarterback and maintained solid grades. He certainly learned some valuable time management skills.

Let’s also consider that schools continue to press harder for parents to volunteer. As schools receive smaller budgets every year, the need for unpaid help grows. Whether during the day at the school, on a weekend working the concession stand, or as a chaperone for the band trip or science team competition, parents receive plenty of requests for their time.

And all the parents said, “Amen!”

The time required from kids, and the time requested from parents, both serve as competition for participation in anything at church. Want to offer a parenting class? Good luck finding a “good” night—for people to attend or for people to help set up chairs. That middle school ministry retreat? Weekends are crammed full already. Reading during the week as part of a ministry curriculum? Seriously?
Yes, people must prioritize and make the right decisions. Churches, though, are wise to consider what truly competes for their attendees’ time and attention. Demands are on the increase. The number of hours in a week stays the same. So plan smart and compete well.

You’ll be tested tomorrow.

Class dismissed.

David Staal, senior editor for Building Church Leaders and a mentor to a second-grade boy, serves as the president of Kids Hope USA, a national non-profit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students.

The above article, “What Sunday Schools Could Learn From Public Schools,” is written by David Staal. The article was excerpted from www.buildingchurchleaders.com website, where it was published June of 2012.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”