Week 82: "How can our Sunday School connect with young families in the community?"

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.  

  1. These responses are so uplifting - thank you both! I'm also reminded of a recent article in the periodicals about numbering the people; I will try to find the link later, but isn't so much of our dismay about dwindling Sunday Schools entirely dependent on 'numbering the people'? We can replace that numbering with joyful acknowledgment of the good that is present and that is so valuable to our communities! That light cannot be hidden, and it is so good to be aware of it ourselves :-)

    You know, we actually meet weekly, over conference call, discussing ideas about engaging more deeply with Sunday School and our communities - how can we really LIVE Sunday School? It would be so wonderful to have you all join these calls! They are every Tuesday at 12:15 PDT / 3:15 EDT / 8:15pm German time, and more info is available here: http://christianscience.com/member-resources/for-churches/sunday-schools/radical-acts/weekly-conference-calls-for-teachers-and-sunday-school-staff

    Hope you can join in - but no matter what, it's so good to be united with you all globally in loving our communities and Sunday Schools!

  2. Fairly new to Christian Science and living in Paris, I was asked to teach a class of 10 year olds. I wasn't sure how to proceed, so I got some ideas from the parents about the children. I was told that they read the lesson every week. What came to me to do was to write a letter to each one with a list of questions to find the answers to through Bible study/SH reading. They loved getting the mail every week from me. Plus it forced me to dig into the Bible Lesson in advance, to see what would be relevant to them. It made Sunday teaching so fun. A sister of my student (9 yr old) asked if she could visit my class, because she saw how much fun we were having. Spiritual growth resulted for all of us.

  3. To me Sunday school is so important because if you have no Sunday school you have no future. These children are the future of the church. In our town another denomination wanted to start a church. They knocked on doors, not to ask the adults if they would attend a new church, but if there was a Sunday school in town would they want one for their their children? The answer was "yes".
    Today that church is the busiest in town!

  4. Why not offer Bible study to students. This can start around a kitchen table with neighbors, and then graduate to invitation to Sunday School at the church. Or the invitation can originate
    from the church property with a banner across the church driveway when children need interesting things to do during Easter vacation or summer vacation.
    Have we ever considered holding after-school Wednesday testimony meetings for young people in our community? Or Sunday AFTERNOON Sunday School which is in some communities a more
    probably time when students could attend?

  5. A lot of neighborhoods in my city have loosely organized homeowners associations and newsletters. Why not let the neighborhood know (using these tools) that 1) A Sunday School exists 2) it is FREE of charge 3) a summary of what is taught and 4) an invitation to drop by anytime.

    So many parents I know would happily drop off their children for some religious education, even if the parents dont attend church themselves. A lot of my older friends who are Scientists tell me this was their own experience: the kids went without the parents.

  6. I think that is a fantastic idea mari -- thanks for sharing it. It makes so much sense that parents would love to have a place to take their kids where they are learning scripture, the commandments, beatitudes, Lord's prayer etc.

  7. Hi Mark. It's Jack Phillips. I want to send you an idea from our SS. Can you email me?

  8. Hi Jack,

    You can be in touch with Mark at The Mother Church Sunday School email address: TMCSundaySchool@christianscience.com.

    All the best,
    Church Alive Team