A Good Reason to Cancel Sunday School In Your Youth Ministry?

Is it possible that canceling ‘Sunday School’ for your youth ministry once a month can actually help your students develop a stronger faith and connection with your church? Well, apparently this is true. According to a gigantic study by Fuller Youth Institute, two of the greatest indicators for a life-long faith after high school include: 1) Being a regular part of church worship services 2) Serving within the church. For many of us who have a Sunday morning student ministry program, we are aware that many of our students only attend our student specific programs, and there is the potential that they will hardly ever serve in church or attend regular services.

This could be a detriment to their faith walk…

Significant Changes In Sunday School Programs: Recently I have been highly interested in a number of posts being written by Kurt Johnston and Josh Griffin from Saddleback Church, in Southern California. Their articles have been focused on the recent changes to their Sunday morning student ministry program. Kurt, Josh, and the leadership at Saddleback are so convinced that students need to be in church, that they have canceled their student ministry programs once a month to allow students and families to ‘Worship Together.’

Huge Undertaking: This is a huge undertaking from a church of this size and could have huge ramifications. However, the fact that they are prepared to make such huge changes should grab our attention.  It should cause us to consider how we can get students involved in worship and service in our churches. We might not ‘cancel’ once a month like they have, but we should seek to find greater ways for students to ‘stick’ in church (and their faith), by making changes to our traditional programs.

I would maintain that if students spend the majority of their student years in our youth specific programs, (and not the larger church), we are hurting their ability to ‘stick’ in the church and stand on their faith for the long haul.

You can read more about how they are doing with Worship Together by clicking here and you can watch a video interview with Kara Powell from Fuller Youth Institute and author of ‘Sticky Faith – Youth Worker Edition

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8 Responses to A Good Reason to Cancel Sunday School In Your Youth Ministry?

  1. gwen bliss October 18, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Our church does this-and I have to say I agree. We have teens in the worship band and outreaches right along side grey haired guys. Some of our outreaches have been coordinated by teens. I think it is esp. important for High schoolers who need to start thinking more like adults than children in prep for life/faith w/o mom and dad to have more and not less contact with the older, more mature members of the faith. Having other adult and senior members interacting w the youth also gives further support to what youth pastors and parents try to pass along. God bless your ministry Pastor-those kids are in good hands.

  2. Phil Bell October 18, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    Thanks Gwen! It’s great to hear how students are serving alongside the grey haired guys! These grey haired guys don’t even realize that they have become youth workers overnight!!! Shhhh! Don’t tell them, just let them keeping ministering to the students!

  3. Dan Bergstrom October 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    Huh? I guess I don’t understand the concept of students NOT being in “Big Church” — especially at a place like Saddleback! Not that I don’t get that we can create a 75 min program that is more cool than BIg Church, but what are we trying to do? If this is our MO, then should we even be surprised at all of grads ditch church? That’s what they’ve been discipled to do! What good is it to have 100 students at your Sun morn program, only to see 25-50 “stick” around for the long haul? Why not have 50 students come and 40 of which follow Jesus for the long haul? I TOTALLY believe EVERY teenager needs to hear about Jesus — I’m all for sharing the gospel with the crowds, like Jesus did, but seriously? Not having students in Big Church every Sunday is sorta like teaching kids that Halloween Candy really is dinner – no wonder they wouldn’t want meat and veggies.

  4. Phil Bell October 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Dan, you are in agreement with what Sticky Faith and what Kurt and Josh have been saying for a while. I spoke to Kurt about his ministry a few weeks ago. It’s very easy to look at Saddleback from the outside and think we know what is happening in a large church like this… You might be surprised…

    Saddleback has many students in worship and serving already, but they wanted to take things a step further. For those students who were only coming to the student services, they wanted to ensure that church or serving was the only option. In addition, Kurt and Josh are an active part in these ‘Worship Together’ services and it has been a win win for everyone involved.

    Again, to be clear, I am advocating that churches find greater ways to involve students in the overall church rather than divide. Many youth workers I talk to are ministering in churches that have the old ‘silo’ mentality and it has been hard to get leaders, parents, (and students) to buy in to the ‘church together’ idea. It’s not as easy to change this for some of us…

    However, let’s all stay focused, positive, and celebrate anytime we hear about another church taking bold steps to incorporate students into church and see their faith stick…

    On the same team.

    Phil <><

  5. Timbo October 19, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    I am definitely a strong believer in this area. We actually made the move at my church years ago to cancel Sunday School altogether to make sure that students were attending “Big Church” and encouraged them to get involved. We focused our discipleship time around our mid-week programs (youth group, small groups, service projects, and youth events) while making sure that students learned to be a part of the larger church body on Sunday by volunteering, attending main service, and going to church with their families. It’s our hope that by doing so our graduates will be less likely to graduate from church when they graduate from our youth ministries.

  6. Phil Bell October 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    Tim, would be interested to hear how you guys reach out to unchurched students as part of this strategy. This has often been our greatest challenge. I would love any insights you have?

    Phil <><

  7. Justin October 21, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Phil,
    I find in your question something that has always puzzled me in churches focusing or trying to structure church for the unchurched, especially in youth ministry. The following quote is from a friend and mentor in youth ministry ‘s philosophy of ministry. “The student ministry will never seek to compete with the consumer-driven entertainment-oriented fads of the world in order to make the church “attractive.” Such an approach is reactionary, changes with the latest trend, and does not encourage discipleship. Rather, by intentionally fulfilling the purpose of producing disciplined followers of Jesus Christ, young men and women will be the attractive church in the world, not merely members of a church seeking to be attractive to the world.”
    In short I think if we focused our church or youth ministry efforts on building disciplined followers of Jesus, those followers will in turn take the gospel to the unchurched. Then when those unchurched come to know Jesus, they will look for those churches who teach how to become a “disciplined” follower, and the cycle continues.

  8. Phil Bell October 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    Justin I agree. 🙂

    However, doesn’t discipleship include raising young people to be involved in the body of Christ that is the church? That is part of discipleship…

    The point of this article is to challenge us all to consider whether or not our discipleship process involves helping students to become a part of the body of Christ or whether we are teaching them to become like the Christians the writer of Hebrews challenges to “not stop meeting together as some are in the habit of doing…” (Hebrews 10:25). While many of the Hebrew Christians had a great foundation, many of them were not meeting regularly. In the same way, it is easy for student ministries to build a great foundation for students faith walk, but miss out on getting them to belong and connect in the local church after high school…

    Again, I agree, we should be teaching students to become disciples who become self-feeders in their faith. A part of that involves helping them to be a part of the body of Christ. So many of us have inherited ministries that have silo mentalities and keep students out of church altogether. While having student specific programs is a great thing and teaches discipleship, it can miss out on a vital component of discipleship which is church involvement.

    This article was written to create discussion and help us to look to see whether our ministry programs help or hurt students lifelong involvement. Thank you all for your great comments!

    Phil <

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