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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Exploring the Four Sunday School Models: Which One is Right for Your Church?

Kids going to Sunday School
Sunday School

Sunday schools aim to fulfill a multifaceted purpose, including reaching out to people of all ages, teaching biblical lessons, winning souls for Christ, and providing spiritual care. They are integral to the church's mission to educate and nurture faith among its members, particularly children and new believers. Sunday schools often precede church services and focus on catechesis for Christians, encompassing children and adults.


Since my first post went viral, “Rethinking Sunday School: Strategies for Revitalizing Programs and Engaging Today's Youth,” My readers have been clamoring for the follow-up post.  Two observations struck me regarding Sunday School ministry.  Some followers recognize that Sunday Schools may have run their course.  In our parishes, the number of involved families needed to sustain the structure does not exist.  Several observations were made by readers to explain this lack of interest.  Our Sunday School curricula are not relevant to the shifting culture our parents are living in, according to some parents.  Other readers think we need to stay the course and push harder to make Sunday School meaningful again.  There are still others who regret even discussing this topic.  Then there are those who blame parents not taking their responsibilities as parents seriously by enrolling their children in Sunday school. 


The four primary strategies I have found to be effective in family ministry have come across in my research on this topic.  Now we're switching from Sunday School to family ministry.  Several churches don't offer traditional Sunday School programs anymore, so I'm doing this in understanding.  Whatever Sunday School program you run, you can use these insights. 


We will explore four different family ministry models, their distinctions and similarities within the local church, today in order to challenge your rationale.


In this discussion, it is important to point out that family ministry is a relatively new term in modern churches.   In what ways can you minister effectively to parents, youth, and children through family ministry?  Let's look at the four models in more detail. 


Model 1: Integrated Family-Friendly Model.


In this model, children are not separated by age groups. The atmosphere is conducive to families worshiping together, studying together, and growing together. Parents are responsible for disciplining their children. Family-friendly churches cater to the needs and desires of families. All generations can come together without adding to their already hectic schedules. The demands placed on the family are reduced when the activities are limited. Things are done together in families.  


An example would be a family picnic or a family retreat. The purpose of church events is to unite the church family. The focus of this model is to create a fun environment for families.  The program aims to get families and parents out of their regular routines to play and laugh with their children.  Discipleship opportunities are limited in this situation. You probably want to develop relationships with those families and incorporate them into the church's life.



Model 2: Family-Based


An alternative family ministry model is based on the needs of the family. Smaller congregations will greatly benefit from this model. It is already more common for smaller churches to operate as family systems. This setting places a high value on the family unit as the foundation of the church. Sunday school divisions or age-appropriate classrooms are gone. There is a sense of family, and everyone works together. Teaching emphasizes intergenerational learning, and everyone in the church participates in spiritual formation.


Model 3: Family-Sympathetic


The third model is a family-sympathetic model. The church recognizes the complexities of today's families. There are many different family structures and needs in urban ministry and now nearly every community. In the 21st century, the breakdown of the family has led to dysfunction in our households. The church has the opportunity to take on the role of helping these complicated new family systems become spiritually healthy.  


Our traditional ministry models will not be able to meet those needs similarly. Your church can start divorce recovery ministries that are not only for parents but also for their children. In addition, 12-step recovery programs can be helpful for those struggling with addictions. Many courses, like Financial Peace University, will help people become financially healthy and better stewards of their money.  


This is the model for your church if you are passionate about guiding people through life's treacherous highway.  By counseling, guiding, encouraging, and supporting families where they are in life, the church brings spiritual, mental, and family health to the family.


Model 4: Family-Equipping 


The final approach is the family-equipping model. This model empowers families and parents to take on the role of spiritual leaders in their homes. It harkens back to the practices of our spiritual ancestors, where parents were the primary educators of faith to their children. In this model, different age groups may gather on Sundays and worship separately from their parents. The main emphasis is on equipping and motivating parents to assume leadership in their children's spiritual growth. While fun activities and programs from the other three models are still present, the focus here is on preparing parents to be the primary spiritual guides for their children.

The pastor’s role in this model is to guide, encourage, train, and equip these parents as they take on the role of primary spiritual leader.

In conclusion, I know I have given you much to consider and think about. I want to get the brain juices flowing so that we can truly reclaim the church's impact on this generation of families. Let's continue the conversation. If you want to join the discussion, please share it with those interested. 

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