Imagine visiting another country and walking into a church service, already in progress and being conducted in a foreign language.
You are unfamiliar with the style of worship and completely at a loss at what the words and songs being spoken might mean. Bewildered, you try to watch the actions of others around you to guess at the best methods to proceed; however, you still feel as though every eye is on you as you attempt to go through the motions.
Sadly, this can be the perceived experience of many visitors who come to modern church services or Sunday school classes. Although we are called to be the light of the world and communicate God’s love to all around us, too often Christians develop a reputation of closed-minded and self-righteously isolated tendencies. Even churches that make earnest attempts at dynamic and engaging environments can fall into habits that might seem quite foreign to an outsider. We speak “Christian-ese” and reference stories or passages as though all should understand and know them.
And in some ways these practices wind up hurting not only visitors but people within the church as well. When churches develop a culture all their own, we have an inclination to act under and communicate to kids an attitude of superiority and perfection. We tout a message of grace, yet warn youngsters of the evils and consequences of sin and mistakes.
The research is sobering. Each new generation in American has become “less reached” and today some 42 million young people in America have no church background. According to Barna Research, “The younger a person is, the less likely he or she is to attend church.” (Reference)
That’s not encouraging, but it’s the mission field God has given to us.
How We Can Build Seeker-Friendly Classes
As children’s’ ministry workers (or any type of ministry), we want to maintain a mindfulness to serve and respect human needs, bringing and keeping people in congregations for the sake of the gospel and its advancement. The same guidelines that maintain a welcoming atmosphere for visitors outside the church can also benefit and nurture those already participating. So what are some of these principles?
Invite Sunday school members (or visitors) to ask questions and voice concerns. Let them know curiosity and even doubt are acceptable.
Make sure students have opportunity to interact with one another, developing mutual respect and trust.
As much as possible, use comprehensible language (as opposed to terms only familiar to fellow members) and simplify concepts when you can.
Maintain an attitude of acceptance regardless of differences, mistakes, or opinions. If students feel there is judgment or shame in every action they undertake, they are likely to carry these fears and worries through past childhood.
Whenever necessary (which is probably frequently), bring lessons and principles back to Christ as the focal point of all creation and essentially, life.
Sunday school (and church, for that matter) ought to be a place of welcome acceptance and faith-nurturing learning. It is the human element that makes this atmosphere possible. More than doctrines or harsh rules or criticism, the message we give to children ought to be one of human love, care, and genuine interaction. Only then can we truly cultivate quality Christians.