Over the last few months, we’ve been visiting different churches. It’s always a learning experience to be in a new place as an outsider, and it’s a great opportunity to teach our children what is most important about a church.
This last weekend, we asked them to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the different youth groups and Sunday schools they’ve visited. I thought they had good insight that might be of interest to any of my friends and readers who are Sunday school teachers themselves. Maybe your own children are similar. Here are their comments:
- We like participating in the class, not just listening the whole time. [They like discussion, like answering questions or sharing experiences that relate to the Scripture being studied.]
- We like reading Scripture out loud together. [Even the one who doesn’t like to read noticed the value of reading Scripture out loud. I think this was important to them because they want the lesson to be from the Bible, and it’s easy for teachers to talk a lot about the Bible without actually reading it.]
- I like being able to follow the lesson (like an outline) and take notes.
- I like a passionate teacher who is excited that you understand. If you don’t get it, he is excited that you are trying.
- We can tell when people love us when they’re excited when we participate.
- We loved when the youth group came to visit us. [One youth group came with their youth leader to visit the kids one evening and say hello. They were a little intimidated and uncomfortable at first, but it helped both our children and the youth group children to know each other when we visited the second time.]
- We like the gender/ age split up for Sunday school. [Our kids didn’t like loud and noisy and big youth services. They had a strong preference for a time in a small group setting to talk about the lesson. Not every church had that on a Sunday morning. Some had Sunday night and Wednesday night small groups.]
- We liked when the teachers were excited to get to know you—who are you, what do you like, etc. [Our kids responded well when the leaders took the time to learn their names, find out their interests, and express joy when they showed up again. They liked personal followup. One Sunday school teacher wrote a note by hand and mailed it after we visited!]
- I liked how people prayed during the youth group on Wednesday. [The teacher asked different people to pray for each prayer request as they were made. I think they liked this style because the teacher took away the burden of volunteering, something that can be really stressful in middle school. Some kids are scared to volunteer. Some kids aren’t scared to volunteer, but don’t want to be the only ones doing it.]
- We liked that the teacher was not so rushed to be done on time that he ignored people. [One teacher went late to answer a serious question from a student. Their interpretation was that this event showed the teacher cared more about people than things.]
- One thing they didn’t mention because it wasn’t specifically about Sunday school classes, was that our children really appreciated the random adults in the churches that took the time to shake their hands, ask their names and ages, and talk to them. Sometimes we adults assume that the teenagers in our churches don’t care about the grownups, but in my experience even the most sullen and withdrawn need the merciful hand of friendship from those mature enough to see past the aloof demeanor.
As for the other teens, our kids had some thoughts, too. They appreciated when teens drew them into a group. Teens with phones seemed to hinder reaching outside of a group. (A small group can look at fun stuff on the phone, but these teens won’t notice who isn’t a part, or who is being left out.) They noticed the difference when kids actually talked with them, instead of just saying hello. From my perspective, it seemed that the teens who reached out were actually taught how to do so by their leaders. We tried hard not to make teen friendliness a big deal. We told them that their experience of being the new kid helped them see a need in the body of Christ that they could fill. At the same time, we are praying for like-minded teens who will grow spiritually with them.
Several of the youth groups had excellent youth rooms, with foosball or ping pong tables. Our kids enjoyed these, but it’s interesting that when they were listing strengths and weaknesses, the youth group they resonated with the most didn’t have a fancy equipment. It was the one with a teacher who liked them and expressed this love most clearly.
If you asked your children about the strengths and weaknesses of their classroom, what would they say? One of our recurring questions you might also try was “How does the teacher use the Bible in your class?”
P.S. I keep wishing I could give every youth leader a copy of the biography of Henrietta Mears. She was a teacher who understood the value of Bible teaching and love for her students as individuals, and I think her story would be inspiring and challenging to the youth leaders who so obviously want to make a difference in the lives of these young Christians.