Question: "It seems like our Sunday School attendance is largely dependent upon whether or not we have members with young children-- which, at the moment, we do not. I'm sure there are children in our community who would enjoy Sunday School, but how might a branch church go about connecting with young people and young families that have no connection with Christian Science?"
Response 1: Mark Unger (Mark is the current Sunday School Superintendent at The Mother Church)
A couple examples were just shared in a meeting the other day of how Sunday School attendance was proven largely dependent on the openness, readiness and welcoming thought of the members. It’s apparently not just a matter of opening our doors to children, but also a matter of opening our hearts and minds. We might ask ourselves, are we ready for children, and our members prepared to teach each Sunday--expecting to teach? Are we praying for the children in our community and desirous to meet their needs? Are we ready to wholeheartedly welcome them and their ideas and involvement in our church? Do we think youth are important in our church to keep it going after we are gone, or to keep it lively and progressive today? Is our respect for them evidenced in providing a nice space for them, as nice as we have for adults? All these thoughts and prayers are felt in our community.
There is a wonderful example of how righteous prayer can work, shared with me by my friend Laurie Scott. It took place when Laurie was a young mother with a lively 2- year-old daughter, the only child in a branch church that was not very lively. She took on the Superintendent’s job and after praying about where to begin, asked four members if they would like to teach. They agreed and all came together in the Sunday School each week expectant and ready to teach. They spent the entire time praying through the Sunday School hour, rather than going to the church service, even though no kids came. The entire membership was also invited to pray with them for Sunday School. Shades had been kept lowered before because the members assumed no children would be coming, but those shades were now open each week, and a sandwich board sign was placed outside where the community could see it announcing Sunday School classes.
Several weeks went by with no children. Laurie mentioned the doubt, dismay and even awkwardness she had to wrestle with at times. But they held steadfast, and little by little families with children began to come. Within a few months, there were four active classes with multiple kids in each class. With all those kids, only three of them were children of members. The prayer had been directed toward meeting the needs of the children in the community.
As we think about our neighbors, we can be clear, as our Master was, that Christian Science is natural to everyone. It is the only truth there is, so undoubtedly everyone has a connection to it.
Click here for another wonderful example of growing a Sunday School. It may bring tears to your eyes.
Response 2: Ginger Mack Emden
I’ve been thinking about Sunday School as a way to hone a spiritual thought model. I’ve had to be honest and ask myself, “What is my model of Sunday School? Is it routine? Is it Spirit-filled?” This idea of models comes up in the chapter “Footsteps of Truth” in Science and Health. Mary Baker Eddy writes: “We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives. Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love — the kingdom of heaven — reign within us” (p. 248).
At it’s core Sunday School is based on joy, youthful discovery, expectancy, eagerness, and learning. This means that we are never too old for Sunday School, and we can engage with Sunday School even before the students show up.
There is no foolproof formula for recruiting students. However, maybe your church could start a Bible study and invite some young people? Maybe you could take a survey of people in your community and ask them what they value about church, Sunday School, or a spiritual education? The underlying question is: What are your thought models? Are you willing to have these models expressed in ways you’ve not yet considered?
Allowing Sunday School to take shape first in thought helps us to see it as a place “without borders.” It is big and inclusive, allowing us to be plugged into our communities.
In our Sunday School, we’ve found that the Bible is a familiar book for many newcomers. Christian Science helps Bible readers to unpack this rich book in simple and practical ways. One of our church members had done some volunteer work through the local school system. This work developed into a meaningful relationship with one student and his family. Gradually, after continued mentoring beyond the school day, this boy expressed an interest in coming to a Wednesday night service. After the service, he was invited by the high school Sunday School teacher to attend class the next week. The student did come and brought his brother the following week. It was his initial response that was most telling to me. He said that at our church he felt, “recognized.” That’s it! Our spiritual thought models are not elusive. The joy we feel about Sunday School naturally overflows to reach out to any student who is hungry for truth and God’s embrace.