A familiar issue that many of us in children’s and youth ministry wrestle with is the question of how to effectively transition our young people from Sunday school into the Sunday service.
During these church transition periods, our young people are often going through many pivotal changes in their schooling, as well as their physical and emotional self too. How can we make sure that church is a safe and consistent place for them amongst all the change?
Carin Cumberlege from St Aidans Presbyterian Church in Wagga Wagga has spent a significant amount of intentional time thinking about practical ways to helpfully transition the young people in her church into their next stage. This has been done through talking to parents past and present as well as with experienced children’s ministry volunteers about the needs and experiences of children, specifically around early high school age.
Carin’s Early Christian Years
Carin grew up in a Christian family in South Africa, going to a Dutch Reformed Church regularly and learning Bible stories from a very young age. As her teenage years approached, Carin became determined to not just follow along any longer if these stories she had been hearing were not true.
Growing up, her church had a Sunday school that ran from Kindergarten to Year 11, separate from the regular Sunday service so that children could attend both. Carin recalls an important challenge from her Sunday school teacher at the time to the children, “He made a promise to us that if we read the Bible for ourselves, we would get to know God and that it would change our lives.”
So, Carin read the Bible for herself! She read, and read, with God gradually revealing her deepest need, a Saviour, Jesus. But it was in the Book of Ruth that she saw this most clearly. “I was about 18 months into reading the Bible for myself when I returned to the Book of Ruth. It was the first book I read when I began, but this time, I saw it in a new light. When Ruth goes to the threshing floor and asks Boaz to spread the corner of his garment over her and become her family’s guardian-redeemer, she is making herself vulnerable to be included in his family. When Jesus died on the cross, that is Him spreading the cloak, becoming my redeemer. Redeemed by His blood.” That is how Carin became a Christian.
Transitions @ St Aidan’s
St Aidan’s is blessed to have a very lively children’s ministry, catering for kids from ages 3 years to 12 years, preschool to Year 6. Then from Year 7, kids are then expected to sit in with their parents during the Sunday church service and listen to the sermon. When implementing this, Carin noted that Year 7 in itself brings a lot of change for kids, including the transition from primary to high school and the transition from kids church to regular, adult church. It was here that Carin and the team at St Aidan’s saw a great need and worked out how to make this transition smoother, and much more achievable for teens and their families.
The keenness to encourage kids and teens to continue to attend church led Carin and other volunteers at St Aidans to identify some key factors that might have made it difficult for kids to want to stay in church. This included ‘adult church’ using a different bible translation, adapting to listening to a sermon, and also being able to digest and understand what is being said. In response to this, there were two key findings that have since been responded to.
Previously, the CEV Bible translation was used throughout all ages in kids church. But now, from Year 3, they begin to use the NIV Biblical translation to get kids used to the language that is used during sermons to set them up to have a better understanding. Carin refers to this as, “building their faith vocabulary”.
The second is a program that encourages children transitioning into church to reflect on the content of the service and sermon. Carin shared, “In 2022, the Year 8’s were included in the group as parents felt it would help their kids as we all returned to church after many COVID lockdowns. As a result of this success, we’re now looking to develop an intentional two-year transition program with two key strategies. Over the two years, I’m hoping that the children will switch to staying in church as they feel ready and confident to do so whether it is in Term 2 of the first year or Term 4 of the second.”
- “The first involves teaching in Term 1 and 3 of each year involving studies based on two great resources, ‘Listen Up!: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons’ by Christopher Ash, and ‘Love Your Church: 8 Great Things About Being a Church Member’ by Tony Merida.”
- “The second strategy is attending church in Term 2 and 4, where they come out just before the end of the service and we just talk through the sermon… and especially in the beginning when I do that with them, I’m not really focusing on the content of the sermon. When we have those discussions, I really want to hear from them how they’re concentrating and staying focused and if there’s anything we can do to make it easier for them.”
Carin says that as a parent herself, she wants her kids to be a part of God’s Kingdom and knows that having other adults around church encouraging kids is a big part of this. “Building relationships with other adults by serving alongside them at church is perhaps more important that anything we can teach high schoolers from books. It gives opportunity to model godly behaviour, choices and attitudes to church and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Building such relationships requires encouragement on the side of the adults and the teens.”
“I think it’s really good for kids to provide them with lots of adults to connect to in Church. I was very grateful when my kids were that age, that there were people who were supporting and helping them. I’ve seen adults in the congregation go up to kids who have served in the band that morning and say, ‘thanks for playing and serving in this way’”, she said.
Carin also emphasised the importance of acknowledging the difficulty of the high school transition and holding their hands through it while trying to look after them spiritually. “When children are young, we teach them Bible Stories, and show them how all the stories point to Jesus, the answer is always Jesus. As they become older, we teach them why the answer is Jesus. As teens their world suddenly becomes so much bigger and they are confronted by so many other theories that claim to replace or be equal to Jesus, the church can provide a safe space to explore why the only answer is and will always be Jesus and how church fits into that answer.”
Please pray for Carin and this transitional ministry…
- Pray for godly wisdom in caring for the teens and their families supporting them.
- Pray for transition from primary school into high school and from Sunday school into the Sunday morning church service.
- Pray that the adults in their lives will treat them as brothers and sisters in Christ and encourage them towards the Kingdom.