Getting And Keeping Children For Your Sunday School
By Rodney L. Pry, P.S.S.S.A. Executive Director
“How can we attract more kids to our church and Sunday school?” That’s probably the number one question that we hear here at the Pennsylvania State Sunday School Association.
Attracting children and getting them interested in coming to your church and the various programs and services that you offer involves a number of elements. First, the children must see that the program is interesting, relevant and fun – they must want to come. And second, the kids want to be involved in something with their friends. But, appealing to the parents is of equal…or maybe even more…importance. That means that the parents must see that your programs will be good for their kids and that their children will enjoy these activities. In fact, it has been shown that parents will choose a church more for what it offers for their kids than what it offers for themselves.
Attracting children to your church is not an easy thing to do, but it is possible. But, even before you think about that, you need to have a good children’s ministry program in place at your church. This should include a worship service designed to appeal to every person of every age, including a “junior church” program for children. You should also have great Sunday school classes for all ages, plus special “kid’s club-type” programs during the week, after school and during the summer months.
Certainly the most important element in each of the services and programs that you offer for the children of your church and community will be the teachers and leaders. To have effective children’s ministry programs, you need great teachers who can make each lesson exciting, interesting, relevant and fun. You need teachers who are creative, persons who understand and use modern technologies and persons who love and relate well with today’s kids. Having such teachers and programs in place before you even think about trying to attract more children to your church is essential. If you don’t have great programs with great teachers and leaders, even when you are able to attract new kids, they probably won’t stick around long.
Once you have a good children’s ministry program in place, it’s time to start thinking about things that you might do to try to attract new children…and their families…to your church. Here are a few ideas that you might consider as you try to reach out to the kids of your community:
Personal invitations are always the best. Encourage your members to talk to their neighbors and friends to invite these entire families to come to your church. To help your members tell your story to their friends, prepare a colorful brochure that tells about your children’s ministry programs. Be sure the brochure has lots of photos of children who are now involved in these programs. You might also encourage your members to take a small gift (like a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies) to their neighbors when extending their invitation. And, if the parents don’t want to come, offer to take their children to church and Sunday school with you.
Do you have a community VBS program at your church? If so, be sure to follow up by contacting the families of each of the children who attend and invite them to come to your church, Sunday school or other special events at your church. You might also hold an outdoor barbecue or other social event for the families of your VBS students at the conclusion of the week.
Do all of the families who attend your worship service attend Sunday school? If not, consider holding a Sunday School Open House some Sunday after your worship service. Have all of the classrooms open, with crafts, curriculum materials and other items to show everyone what the class is doing. You might even have several students there to welcome visitors and explain why they like their class.
Hold special kids musical concerts or events, such as a magic show or Christian clown program. Invite the kids from the community. Follow up with personal invitations to your Sunday school and other children’s ministry events.
Start one or more focused Bible study groups for kids at your church. What is a focused Bible study group? It is a meeting where half of the time is devoted to a general activities of interest to the group (such as making and flying kites, trading sports cards or learning how to be a better soccer player) and the rest of the time is devoted to Bible study. Usually this Bible study is directly related to the general interest activity. For example, the Bible study part of an activity that focused on sports might be based on the testimonies or stories of well-known Christian athletes. (By the way, the P.S.S.S.A. has a little book available entitled “Starting And Teaching Focused Bible Study Groups.” For more information, go to the “Sunday School Stuff Store” on our website (www.SundaySchoolHelp.org).
Be sure that each of the Sunday school classes that you now have also have outside fellowship events and activities. You should encourage children’s classes to have their own activities where the kids that you now have can invite their friends. Also, encourage adult classes to hold family activities.
Be sure that the children who are now attending your Sunday school and other programs are encouraged to invite their friends to come with them. Encourage the parents of your church to provide transportation for their kids and those that their children invite.
This is certainly not the complete list of things that you might do, but to boil it down, the most important elements involved are personal invitations and special activities that are designed to introduce possible new attendees to the programs and special events that are a part of your children’s ministry.
There is one other activity that we would really urge you to consider and that is a “Community Kid’s Carnival.” At first glance, this might sound like a bigger activity that what you are willing to undertake, but if you get the various Sunday school classes, groups and even individuals involved, we think that you will find that this could be a great community outreach event.
When we talk about a “Community Kid’s Carnival,” what are we talking about? It is an event focused on the children and young families of your community. Such events usually have free food, games, prizes, entertainment and other events and activities that children will enjoy. Such events usually also have information and services for parents, too.
What specific elements might be included in your carnival? Here are some ideas…
Free food and drinks for everyone
Games with free prizes
Create craft activities
Free school supplies
A bouncy house
Organized contests (relay races, etc.)
Free shows (a magician, clowns, special music)
Free door prizes*
Information tables for kids and parents (about your church, Sunday school and other children’s ministry activities) (You might also invite children’s service groups from your community to have a free information table at our event.)
(*) – To get names for your door prize drawings, be sure to have each child who attends your carnival to register. In the registration, be sure to get the child’s full name, age and the school that they attend. Also, get their parents’ names, addresses, phone numbers, E-mail and other contact information.
If you get each of the classes or individuals from your church and Sunday school to set up a table for one of the above activities, you should be able to easily get the event organized. There are, however, several other things that you should keep in mind. One of the most important elements will be publicity. If you are to have a success event, you must get out the word to everyone in your community. Here are a few promotional ideas…
Promoting To The Kids…
E-mail or text the kids themselves. Many children have their own smartphones and E-mails. Contact the parents of your church and ask them for their kid’s E-mail address and cellphone numbers. Assure them that this information will be kept confidential and that the parents will also receive copies of all E-mails and texts sent to their children from the church.
Send personal letters or postcards to the kids.
Give out promotional items to all of the kids who attend your church. You might print an invitation announcement as an “over-wrapper” that can be placed on a candy bar.
Make live announcements in your church during your worship service using puppets or in skit form.
Consider holding a special promotional event for the kids. This might be a children’s rally with a Christian clown, magician, puppet team or music performer that will be of special interest to the kids.
Urge the kids of your church and Sunday school to share special information with their friends and others. You might create a flyer or other printed piece for the kids to give to others.
Promoting To The Parents…
Send each family a letter.
Use your church newsletter.
Use your weekly church bulletin announcements.
Create a bulletin insert.
Use your church website, Facebook page, E-mail and phone tree to promote special events and activities.
Urge your members to use their social media contacts to share your information with their friends and others.
And, as always, one-to-one, personal contacts are always the best and most effective form of promotion.
Promoting In Your Community…
Send a news release about your upcoming special events to your local newspapers and radio stations.
Place posters throughout your community in stores, restaurants, etc.
Create a simple tract or invitation flyer and leave copies in public locations where they can be seen and picked up.
Make use of all available community calendar and similar announcement avenues, such as local cable TV, community websites, etc.
Getting and keeping kids for your Sunday school will require a lot of work and prayer on the part of everyone involved. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. The first step is to realize that you need to make a special effort to reach the children of your church and community. And, with God’s help, you can do it!