Have you ever stopped to consider if Sunday School is really the best thing for your child?
Sunday school is a relatively new innovation, begun by British philanthropist Robert Raikes in 1782. Raikes wanted to give poor children a better chance at life through education. He used the Bible as his curriculum and taught on Sundays because the children worked every other day of the week. A century later, over five and three-quarters of British children were attending Sunday school. The trend was similar in the United States, and as government-run schooling developed, Sunday school changed from the teaching of reading and math to the teaching of the Gospel.
But here's the problem: Two-thirds of people (60%!) who grew up in Sunday school move away from the church in their early 20s.
In a new study by Britt Beemer – former senior research analyst for the Heritage Foundation and founder of the American Research Group – it was also found that kids who attend Sunday school regularly are more likely to question the authority of the Bible, and defend abortion, premarital sex, and same-sex marriage.
Why? Some (like Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis) believes it's because kids have been taught in school that evolution is real; but because the Bible teaches differently, they begin to question everything the Bible teaches. Others think that by ushering our kids into Sunday school, we're teaching them they aren't wanted in church. Still others say Sunday school is a symptom of our youth-indulging society that never asks much of children.
As a child, I attended both Sunday school and church. I must tell you I never learned much about God or the Bible in Sunday school. I learned much more in "big people church," where I wasn't expected to learn anything at all. I realize not all Sunday school classes are sun the same way, but I don't think many prepare children for the quiet thoughtfulness of church services.
I don't think it's "expecting too much" for young children to sit through church service. I also think there is great value in children seeing their parents worshiping in church. After all, study after study shows young kids most want to mimic their parents.
If you want to start taking your child into church services with you, here are some tips to get your started:
Start at home. Learning to sit and listen is a skill that will benefit your children for a lifetime. Begin when your kids are toddlers by having them sit quietly and listen to you read. For really wiggly children, give them a quiet toy to play with while you read aloud or listen to a book on CD. Play games that encourage quietness, like "How soft can you whisper?" and "Can you walk across the room carrying this bell without making it ring?" and "Let's see if you can close that door without making any noise," and "Can you hear this pin drop?" Start with just five minutes of quiet, wiggle free time, and move up as your child's skills improve.
Express your expectations. Let your kids know what you expect of them in church. Start the day before, then remind them on the trip to church.
Get dad involved. Be on the same page with your husband about what expectations are, how you will help your children behave during service, and how discipline will be handled.
Consider sitting closer. Some children stay more interested if they aren't distracted by a sea of church-goers. You can help by pointing out things, "That's Mary. She's going to sing a song about Jesus. That's the pastor. He's going to tell us how we can get to know God better," etc.
Babies. See if you can train your baby to nap during surmons; this means training her to nap at this time every day. This practice not only starts the family church time tradition early, it prevents your baby from being exposed to a bunch of runny noses in the nursery.
Toddlers. Place them between you and your hubby, with enough room to wiggle a little. They are almost certain to need some toys or snacks to occupy them, but don't offer these immedietly. Let them sit quietly for as long as they can before offering distractions. Be careful about crayons; they can scatter and cause distruption. Try offering only one crayon per service.
Preschoolers. Toys should be less necessary by now, but an Etch-a-sketch or Doodle Pro may be prudent. Many preschoolers will also now enjoy bringing their own Bible to church. And if you take notes during the service, make sure you child has paper and pencil to take her own "notes," too.
Cuddles. Make church time even more special for kids by putting your arm around them, kissing their forehead, stroking their hair, etc.
Praise. Always praise your children for good behavior in church, and don't be too hard on the youngest ones if they are wiggly.
If your child doesn't do well...think twice about taking her somewhere else for the rest of the church service. This teaches your child that if she misbehaves, she can "get out of" sitting still. Try taking them someplace private for discipline, then bringing them back into service.