When I was growing up, the kids pretty much
tagged along. The adults did what the adults wanted to do and the
kids just tagged along. I don't remember my parents asking me,
"Where would you like to go for supper?" except for special
occasions like a birthday. Families were oriented around the parents
and the kids came along.
Reaching a kid-crazed culture
Not so much, anymore. Anymore, families are
oriented around the kids. The kids are much more at the center of
families. Evenings are dominated by soccer schedules and kids'
stuff. Parents cart the kids around like taxi drivers to do what the
kids want to do. The parents' needs, wishes and desires tend to take
a back seat.
It is not the purpose of this article to
discuss the relative merits of this approach, or to explore why this
trend came to be. I just want to point out it creates an opportunity
that many churches are taking advantage of for the cause of Christ.
Do not prevent them
Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and
do not prevent them;" Matthew 19:14 [NAB] It is easy enough to brush
this off. No one actually prevents children from coming to Christ,
do they? Actually, churches do it all the time. The main way we
prevent them is by making church boring to kids. We frustrate them
if we do not teach to their level--asking questions that are too
difficult, or too easy. We sometimes do not give them the dignity of
being treated like a real human being and including them in what is
happening. But the main thing is, in many churches, church is boring
There are three levels for kids:
- Kids don't want to go. At the
lowest level, kids don't want to go to church. They actually
resist it. They complain about going. They ask to sleep in. They
ask if they can do something else. They complain about being sick
when they are not sick. They smile and put on a happy face when
they get there. They look pretty all dressed up in their
Sunday-best. But, don't let the smiles fool you. Make no mistake-they do not want to be there. This is more common than you know.
- Kids don't care whether they go.
At this level, kids don't resist going, but if you ever gave
them a choice, they would certainly take a cut. They are not
opposed to going, but they don't particularly want to go,
either. They are neutral, apathetic, bored.
- Kids want to go to church, look
forward to going to church, and, if necessary drag parents
along. There is a movement among churches to get into this
top level. It is not that hard to get there, and it pays big
Bill Hybels is fond of saying, "Even
unchurched, irreligious parents will take their kids where the kids
want to go." They take them to Chuck E Cheese and McDonalds and
Disneyland, not because they want to go, but because the kids want
to go. If the kids want to go to McDonalds, the parents take them.
If the kids want to go to Chuck E Cheese, the parents take them. If
the kids want to go to church, the parents will take them. Not
necessarily because the parents have a Christian conviction about
taking their kids to church, but because the kids want to go. This
approach is the theme of the book, Making Sunday the Best Day. .
The #1 trend I am seeing
People often ask me, "What are you seeing out
there? What is new? What are cutting-edge churches doing to reach
people for Christ?" Clearly, this is the cutting-edge trend I am
building Northpoint-inspired, Nickelodian-style, Disney-class
space for their kids.
Churches are building spaces for
kids that make them say, "WOW!" They are building big, attractive
stages with lots of bells and whistles and colors and flags and
characters and Plasma TVs. We have seen all kinds of themed spaces for kids:
Space that looks like caves
and is complimented with a rock-climbing wall
Space that looks like a
Noah's ark / water/ ocean
Kid Bible stories illustrated
Space space--looks like
rocket ships and has stars and galaxies and planets
One church had a huge slide
that went from the second (or was it third?) story down to the
ground floor. It was big. And the kids thought it was really
cool. The kids wanted to come to church and they drug their
parents with them.
Can't picture it? See this web
The vast majority of people who
will ever come to faith in Christ will do so before they leave their
teenage years. Many of them will come to faith in Christ before they
reach their teenagers years, or not at all. It just makes sense to
go after the most reachable segment of society: kids. And today, if
you reach the kids, the kids will drag their parents along with
Of course, it is not just space.
Calling a first rate Children's Minister is huge. Training is huge.
Everything matters. Even space.
Let me close this brief article
with a statement of the obvious. Ultimately, it is not about theme,
the decorations, the slides, or the plasma TV. Ultimately, it is
about Jesus and teaching kids about our Lord. The slides and stuff
are just a hook to get them in the door and listening long enough to
hear about Jesus. It is one way we can make the gospel attractive
received this thoughtful response to this article:
I love to see
Christian Educators and Sunday School Teachers create a learning
environment that “hooks learners attention”. I think the
learning environment or the teaching room is the “silent
teacher”; sometimes it says, “I’m ready to teach my learners the
Bible!” but all too often it says, “I don’t care about my
learners or God’s word enough to prepare my teaching room.” It
may also be saying, “I just don’t know how to prepare a learning
environment.” We need to help them at this point.
you shared as the #1 trend tend to be the mega-churches’ answer
to the huge numbers of kids they have coming. They deal with
these numbers often by sitting the children down and “puttin’ on
the ritz” or a big show. This entertains the kids, but the
results of this may be that the children are becoming
frenetically excited about someone they do not know. These
churches are often simply doing what they can with their
mega-situation, and that is not always the model to go by, nor
do they mean for it to be.
knows anything about how children, youth, or adults for that
matter learn knows that only a few learn best by sitting and
being verbally entertained. I’m all for making learning fun; it
should be, but learning must be more than a big show. When we
set up these “show” models as the example toward which we should
all grow, I think we’re doing a disservice to excellent
Christian Education. When a child or a learner enters the
teaching room, he should visually know what he is going to be
learning about. The visuals and focal wall should immediately
be pointing their minds to the lesson to be taught. Do we want
that to be the “Central Biblical Truth of the Session” or do we
want it to be “all about caves, jungles, oceans, rock climbing
walls, or for that matter Noah’s Ark every single Sunday”?
I’ve had the
opportunity to visit several of these “show” models, and I’m
convinced that many are doing some good things. But to honest,
if a leader in a smaller or medium membership church develops a
modest learning environment that focuses the room on the
biblical truth of the session and then keeps his/her learners
actively involved throughout the session in “discovering for
themselves biblical truths that are life-changing” by using a
variety of teaching methods, then this more humble model will
beat-out the “show” model every time when it comes to real
learning and transformational teaching.
sharing the importance of creating a good learning environment
for Sunday School. It is extremely important. However, I
propose that we help the average Sunday School leader with some
practical steps to create a learning environment that supports
the biblical truth. Then the teaching room will become the
“silent teacher” that says, “My leader is ready to teach me, and
I can begin learning as soon as I walk into the room simply by
letting me share my views.
forward to having you in N.C. in 2007.