so far #6: school? on sundays?

Yes, this is a blog about College Ministry & Sunday school, and all I’ve seen in this area during my trip so far. But even if you don’t have Sunday school at your church – or even if you don’t think you’d ever be allowed to tweak Sunday school at your church – don’t worry! You might still learn somethin’.

Note to readers in the Bible Belt: Did you know that lots and lots of churches – even big, traditional, or historic churches – don’t do the “Sunday school” thing? Really, it’s true! I know – I didn’t realize it, either! Yes, some churches do some sort of big group meeting for their youth and children Sunday mornings. But some don’t even do that. And when it comes to college ministry, most don’t, as far as I can tell. In fact, as I decide churches to visit each weekend, only one area has ever offered many “college Sunday schools” at all – the Southeast, during that Southern Blitz portion. Really. It’s true.

Note to readers outside the Bible Belt: Did you know that lots and lots of churches in the South and Southeast – especially big, traditional, or historic churches – have a very strong emphasis on Sunday school? Really, it’s true! I’ve amazed various college ministers along the way with this very piece of info. It means that in plenty of these churches, there is no possibility of a College Minister doing away with a Sunday morning Bible study time, in favor of a different “big group meeting” time. Sunday school is simply too connected to the tradition of the church, the expectations of the community, or the philosophy of the leadership. In other words, for a lot of churches, it really is best. Really. It’s true.

But in this difference, like most differences, we get the chance to learn from each other.

On the one hand, those who have their “big group meeting” for college students on Sunday mornings actually have certain advantages:

  • The students are already at church, so it’s an easy transition and their time is maximized
  • The college ministry is quite clearly part of the church
  • If the church does have children, youth, or others meeting Sunday mornings, you don’t have a “gap” for college students
  • Students who come to “big church” have an easy assimilation into the college ministry
  • Adult volunteers find Sunday mornings a much more “normal” situation
  • The ministry avoids conflicts with local campus-based ministries (and other student schedule problems) during the week
  • The ministry avoids conflicts with church administration, who simply feel Sunday school is the best model for their situation
  • For those who need to “do Sundays” but find it difficult, necessity is the mother of some pretty creative inventions. More on that in a sec.

On the other hand, others have attempted different arrangements for their “big group meeting” – if they have a big group meeting at all. Usually, this is one night a week, whether at the church or elsewhere. They, too, have found some advantages:

  • A non-morning crowd of collegians is usually a happier crowd!
  • A non-morning college minister is usually a happier college minister! (And a better teacher!)
  • This can actually encourage students to see both the weekend church service and the college ministry meeting as important – and different
  • More resources are often available – in amount of time to meet and space to fit
  • The space can “fit” students better sometimes, too – like a room set up in a “contemporary way,” or the chance to meet in a home
  • College students often appreciate the mid-week “spiritual rejuvenation” experience
  • If this meeting is supposed to be a “front door” to the church, students may have an easier time inviting their friends
  • For multi-service churches, this avoids the “which service?” difficulty
  • It avoids having two big group meetings – one on Sunday mornings and one another time during the week
  • Students are often gone on various weekends, so this can produce a more consistent group

(I’m sure there are more advantages to both arrangements. Feel free to put your thoughts in the comments!)

In light of all these issues, what has been highlighted for me this year is the enormous responsibility we have to think it through. In your setting – your church, your campuses, your students, yourself – what is the best configuration? Sunday mornings? Sunday nights? Another night altogether? No big group meeting – or less than once a week?

And some – especially those who need to have a true “Sunday school time” but have found it tricky – have been forced into creativity. Oh, that we would all be forced to think creatively about our ministries!

Later this week, I’ll note some of the creative “tweaks” I’ve seen in churches that traditionally run a collegiate Sunday school. [Here is that post.] Hopefully they’ll inspire us all to “invent” a little more – whether we’ve got a Sunday school arrangement or scoff at the idea!

written from Saddleback Community Church, Lake Forest, CA

4 Comments

  1. Jon Nitta

    The other thing I would add to having a gathering of collegians separate from Sunday morning is philosophically it makes a statement that students who come want to be there. Most of the calls I get from parents complaining (and that is just a handful) that there is no Sunday morning time for college students. The problem is that these students come with their parents to church. They sit with them in worship service and then are “expected” to attend college Sunday school. That’s one reason why we did away with it. We began to wonder if these students really wanted to be here or they were expected to show up by their parents. This flies against all of the literature that says this is a very crucial time to identify the faith as one’s own.

  2. Aaron and Charity

    This is a big sticking point in our church in Cedar Hill, TX. There is no way we would be allowed to do away with Sunday School. So we have tried to make it purposeful. Many of our students either don’t come to or do not identify well with our “blended” service, which we go to first, so we offer them another model at 10:30. We have music for around 15 minutes followed by smaller classes for girls, guys, and coed that are designed to go deeper than a large group teaching atmosphere can.

    We’ve just tried to be intentional about what we do to make the most of it in the context of our weekly college schedule since we really have not choice.

    Interesting post.

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