The traditional approach of having separate grades in separate classrooms for one hour after church is becoming increasingly rare these days for many of the same reasons for the decline of the coffee hour. There are so many competing commitments on a Sunday morning for so many young families that schedules do not often allow for an extra hour to be at church for Sunday school.
In order to accommodate this pervasive trend, churches are turning to other alternatives to incorporate Sunday school into Sunday mornings. One way is through what is typically called “children’s church.” In this model, just before the sermon or right after a children’s sermon in worship children are invited leave the worship space to come to another room to learn about the Scripture lessons for the day or other Bible readings or stories in a more kid-friendly way. This approach usually involves some sort of craft or activity to reinforce the message. Children are then brought back to the worship space at the end of the service to rejoin their families.
Another model gathers all grades into one room during the entire worship service that is happening elsewhere simultaneously. This design allows for the singing of Bible-based children’s songs, a more in-depth look at Scripture and a more complex activity or craft. The gathering of all grades together also increases the feeling of community and fosters relationships that may not otherwise have happened if children were placed in separate classrooms by grade levels.
Many churches have chosen to continue offering traditional Sunday school for separate grade levels, only moving it to the same time period as regular worship.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of Sunday school shuffle, in my view. The advantages of children’s church is that children take part in both worship and Sunday school in the given hour. The disadvantage is that it is often disruptive, rushed and unsettling to make the transition from worship to Sunday school and back.
The advantage of the combined grade Sunday school is that there is an increased energy, the entire hour is dedicated to Sunday school and church workers can be more creative with their lesson plans. The disadvantage is that children do not get to experience worship with their families.
The plus of moving the traditional Sunday school to the church hour is that children can receive directed teaching that caters to their leaning development level and that children are with other children their own age. The disadvantage again is that children miss church.
There is no clear answer here, of course. I have talked to many church workers who struggle with how best to present the Sunday school shuffle to their congregations. In the end, it is about sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus to children in whatever form that may take. Let us rejoice in any opportunity we have to do that.