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March 12, 2012 / Richard Bass

Resources and Comments in Response to “Worship and Education for All”

In the March 12, 2012 Alban Weekly (“Worship and Education for All,” excerpted and adapted from Scattering Seeds: Cultivating Church Vitality), Stephen Chapin Garner discusses the issues that can plague churches who hold worship and church school at the same time. Among them are these: (1) recruiting church school teachers is difficult, because adults don’t want to miss worship; (2) the message is communicated that “Christian education for adults is not important” while “having children participate in worship is not important”; and (3) if children don’t learn to worship while they’re young, they might be less likely to seek opportunities for worship when they get older.

Garner’s church began having children participate in worship as well as having adults in religious education. As a result, “Worship for All” and “Education for All” became realities in this congregation. The transition wasn’t always smooth—worship initially was more “noisy” while the number of young children in education declined. (On the other hand, the number of teenagers participating on Sunday mornings “ballooned.”) The church has had to realize that “matters of faith often inhabit a rather peripheral location in our human and cultural landscape.”

And yet the church has also learned to value “what is best for the spiritual growth and development of our people, not what is easiest.” Perhaps this value has been a significant factor in the increased worship attendance, giving, and educational participation at Garner’s church over the past decade.

What resources might support you and your congregation as you consider forms and levels of worship and education? In addition to the items listed at the end of the article, please consider items suggested in a recent resourcing piece published by the Congregational Resource Guide: “Faith Formation for Children.” Take a look also at Thinking Through the Children’s Sermon, Lifelong Faith Associates, and Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices.

What are your stories and thoughts on this topic? And what resources do you suggest? We look forward to hearing from you.


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  1. UMC Ministry with Children / Mar 13 2012 3:31 pm

    One of my colleagues forwarded this article to me, and I was delighted with the content. This is the model that I encourage our congregations to embrace. All people, no matter their age, should be welcome in worship. All people, no matter their age, have more to learn.

    Consider that we work forty-plus hour weeks, and our children are in school at least thirty-five hours a week. Add on all of the extra-curricular activities and media, and those hours skyrocket. Two hours to teach about our faith, to learn more about our faith, and to worship God seems tiny.

    I lead parent retreats on connecting the church, the child and the family, and in my experience, most parents want to find ways for their children to experience the full life of the church – even when the paradigm shift is challenging. Their concern is that children separated from the adults will produce youth and young people who never connect with worship or the church. They express this, because they were those youth who felt like strangers in a strange land when they began worshipping with adults. They express that they want something different for their children.

    It is challenging, for sure, but without a balance of study and worship, how do we serve God and our neighbors faithfully?

    Melanie Gordon

    • Judith Gotwald / Mar 19 2012 10:21 am

      Since our congregation always incorporated children and youth in worship, it came as a surprise to us that so many churches exclude children (not by decree necessarily but in practice). Our church visited 42 churches in the last 18 months and 75% of them (easily) dismissed children before the scriptures were read. Children were in worship barely 10 minutes. At one church the sanctuary nearly emptied as one adult left with every child. Not surprisingly there were no children older than 8 or youth. Several churches we visited had no children.

      I suspect this practice started as a convenience for parents but there is little benefit beyond that! Breaking this custom is going to be hard.

  2. Billy / Mar 12 2012 11:48 am

    As a pastor serving a congregation that has completely neglected Christian Ed. over the last decade I really appreciate this article. In theory it sounds like a wonderful idea. Personally, I would like to know more details about the Sunday morning schedule and how it works. Does worship precede Christian Ed? If so, how do you encourage people to stay for classes. Most of my people would run out the doors as quickly as possible.

    • Judith Gotwald / Mar 12 2012 6:33 pm

      I know the symptoms. My husband was like that . . . education was for women and children. He changed after I dragged him kicking and screaming to a weekend retreat for families at our church camp. He was impressed with the spirit and found it easy to sit in on Bible study, after observing from afar during the first session. Then I realized he’d been doing that for years . . . tinkering in the background, afraid to be seen.

      You might have to fashion venues for education that are not in the “classroom” for a while, offering bytes of learning during worship and fellowship, until a passion begins to build. It might also help to bring someone in from outside or use webinars. There’s a way!

  3. Judith Gotwald / Mar 12 2012 9:25 am

    I’m reading Scattering Seeds now and intend to review it later this week on web site. UCC Norwell’s experiences parallel our congregation’s. Our church grew as we became more inclusive in worship and as the role of laity grew. We had two services for a while, each catering to a different cultural population. But people wanted to be together—partly because children wanted to be together. Because we were accustomed to accommodating worship to all ages, it was easier to accommodate worship for different cultures.

    It is interesting that this book explores the changing role of clergy and laity and is co-authored by Pastor Chapin and a Norwell member, Jerry Thornell. Alban cut off the name of the lay co-author.

    The topic of clergy and lay roles in church growth is going to explode in the next few years. This book is a good exploration of why that matters to the future of the mainline church.

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