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College-age Sunday School

 —  September 2, 2008 — 23 Comments

There are churches on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to Sunday school – those that couldn’t imagine life in their church without it, and those that couldn’t live if they had it. But, the question I’m interested in is does college-age Sunday School work?

I was recently teaching a seminar where people were asking me how they could go about getting more college-age people to attend. They had been struggling with this for a long time and could never seem to get people to come. Most of them knew of many college-age people in their church but were frustrated because they couldn’t get them to come to their Sunday school class.

I asked, “Why are you trying to get them to the Sunday School class?” There were no direct answers. It was as if they hadn’t thought about why it was that part was so important to them, beyond the fact that they had just always had it and Sunday School was one of the MAJOR elements to a Sunday morning in their church.

I was fairly bold with them and said, “If you have a hard time getting them to come, maybe that tells you something about them, or possibly you and/or the way you’re going about that time.” My heart wasn’t to bash them or this idea of Sunday School in ANY WAY! What I was trying to get at is the heart behind it. I had no doubt these people loved college-age people and desperately wanted to reach out to them. I had no doubt that they were seriously praying and thinking through how they could engage their minds. And, I could tell they really wanted to help.

But, if something’s not working…maybe there’s valid reasons. Maybe Sunday School class isn’t the best way to engage them. Maybe, just maybe, a Sunday morning breakfast at someone’s house at 11am is better. Or, maybe the things they were discussing in the class just wasn’t pertinent to the lives of these people…?

If you have trouble getting college-age people to come to your Sunday School – jump out of the box. Drop it, and try something else.

If you are engaging people during these times…let us have it! Clue us in to what’s working in your context! Let all of us learn from what you’re doing.

If you’re the type of person that couldn’t imagine even having a Sunday School class for college-age people, why is that?

This should be a fun discussion…

Chuck Bomar

Chuck Bomar

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Chuck Bomar planted and is Lead Pastor of Colossae Church in Portland, Oregon and is founder of both CollegeLeader (www.CollegeLeader.org) and iampeople (www.iampeople.org). He is author of six books, with the most recent being the highly anticipated work titled, Better Off Without Jesus (August 7, 2012). When he is not traveling the country speaking at conferences or consulting with church or denominational leaders, he is home with his family, the place he loves to be more than any other. Chuck and his wife, Barbara, have three beautiful daughters: Karis, Hope and Sayla.

23 responses to College-age Sunday School

  1. I’m the new College Minister at my church. My predecessor dropped sunday school in December, with the intent to start small groups, which he didn’t really get launched. I am a HUGE believer and participant in small group life (I love the Northpoint idea) and am launching groups for our College-Age-Stage right now.

    We were supposed to start this week. I had about 26 of the 35-40 who came to our worship event during the Summer say they want to be in a Community Group…but Gustav put a week’s delay in our plans, and may even prevent me from coming to Drink tomorrow. (I’m part-time at church, and my businesses need to be restarted after the Hurricane, and that’s hard to pull off remotely. I’m torn…)

    I’m not planning to start Sunday School back for College. Group Life is where it’s at!

    paul pettefer

  2. Ann Marie Leveille September 3, 2008 at 6:32 am

    My husband is the college minister for our medium-sized, non-denominational church.
    S.S. is a huge part of the adult population in our church, but it never has quite worked for college/young adults. So, we meet about 45 minutes prior to the service to eat bagels, drink coffee and fellowship. We end by spending a few minutes in prayer and quiet to help prepare our hearts for the worship service.
    Also, we encouurage our students to be a part of the the bigger body and serve during the S.S. hour: worship team, media team, nursery, little kids church, etc.

  3. I’m trying to lead College & Young adults at our church, but we’ve had trouble with the Sunday School model as well. Over the summer, we had great response in changing it up. Instead of Sunday School before service, we head to Barnes & Noble afterward for a discussion group. Grab coffee, sit in some couches they have set up for us and just dig in. As a bonus, we’re getting the church off the campus and have gotten to visit with patrons of the store, some of whom have joined in the conversation! It’s just a thought…

  4. Our church (South Hills, Las Vegas) doesn’t have a Sunday school thing. We hold our college group (Jacob’s Well) on Thursday nights, and it seems to be convenient for the age group, except for late workers. I couldn’t imagine that group of people going to an early Sunday school! With late studying, and working, Jacob’s Well is a place to chill, discuss, and worship. Most of the Jacob’s Well-ers go the the latest service (11:30 am) service at our church. The Sunday school would be sleepy, and unmotivated. Early morning young adults join all age groups at the 8am service on Sundays. Growth Groups deepen the teachings on Sundays in evenings at homes. I think that works.

  5. I live in the South (Memphis, TN) and Sunday school is part of the culture of the south and part of the culture of the church. When I took this job it was a non-negotiable. In fact a previous college guy was let go because he moved off campus, and off Sunday morning, and basically ran a para-church ministry with no real connection to the church.

    All of that to say, We do a college Sunday school class. It meets at 11 after the church services (as do most of the other classes in the church) and we average 50-75 per week. We try to create a welcoming atmosphere with different lighting and couches (think starbucks). We serve coffee, OJ, donuts, and sausage rolls every week, and sometimes pancakes… This helps to create at atmosphere that they will feel comfortable in. We have a couple of college folks (1 guy and 1 girl) lead worship acoustically. And then we teach exegetically through books of the Bible. It seems to work for us, plus it keeps our students in the culture of the church, which helps them assimilate into the church body after college.

    If this is your church culture and you abandon it, you will have a hard time assimilating them back into the body life of the church. And you shouldn’t be surprised that don’t engage your church after college. (Of course, if your not in a Sunday School cultured church, then this is a non-issue.) I am not advocating for the model, I am just working in the context of where God has called me.

    I think our numbers might be better if we did it at a different time, but I kind of like the fact that it takes some more commitment from to them to be here Sunday morning.

    These are my thoughts, it works for us, but every context is really different….

  6. Now that I’m on the church side of college-age ministry I see things in a different way sometimes. Our church has a congregation with the average age being 27 and we draw students from several campuses in the Nashville area. In my mind, I’ve gone back and forth on having a Sunday morning Bible study for college students…whether it was necessary or effective. Especially since our church meets in a movie theater and space is limited and not very flexible. Also, our church has an effective small group/community group ministry.

    My conclusion is this…students come from all walks and backgrounds. Some come from churches that have Sunday school and some come from churches that are small group focused. So…we have both a Sunday morning Bible study that tackles varying topics. It’s a great time where we hang out, relax, share some breakfast, and study God’s word. It happens at 9:15am and then the students head to our 10:30am service. For some this is the perfect fit because their week is so busy with studying and other activities that it’s hard form them to go to a Community Group. But, we also offer Community Groups for college-age close to the different campuses for students who have that time in their schedule and who want to bond and build connections with other people over a period of time. They both work so why not do both. Some students choose one…some choose both.

  7. I am just re-starting a college-age ministry at our church, and have already found (through the first attempt) that Sunday School doesn’t work for our demographic, recent high school grads in east central FL. As I taught verse-by-verse through the little book of Jude I had to restart at least three times, and repeat studies the same number of times because one week I would get one set of students, and the next week I would get a different group. The time, and format just doesn’t lend itself to these students committing to it. We are exploring what else will work with our students.

  8. This article and the comments have been really helpful to me because I’ve been trying to brainstorm ways for the college ministry I’m a part of to tap into all those who fall in our age range that attend the church but don’t come to college ministry. We actually meet every other Tuesday night and have a consistent 10-12 people that come. I prepare a light snack and then one of us shares a topic and then the floor is open for discussion. The atmosphere is really informal and we try to stay away from being too rigid with the flow of things. We originally met every Tuesday but the numbers were even smaller and there was even talk of pulling the plug completely. However, meeting twice a month has allowed us to establish a core group and we’re slowly but surely bringing in new people. One thing that has been a good way of bringing in a bigger crowd is having special events. We had a cook-out this summer and a Thanksgiving in July dinner –œ both on a Saturday. This allowed those who can’t make it during the week to still be a part of the group. We also have a blog page where someone posts a summary of the week’s discussion and we can continue to ‘chew on’ what was said and share other things that come to mind.

  9. Hello,

    I’m a professional engineer who’s suddenly found himself in charge of growing and strengthening our church’s teaching ministries. Recently, I concocted this idea to do a college-age sunday school class. Our church has a parsonage on it’s property that is currently unoccupied (our current pastor chose to buy a house in town). So, I’m planning on using it for this class on Sunday am. It lends itself well to a conversational environment (plus it has a kitchen for food / drink) and I hope to use it successfully. I know the free flow of conversation is probably a preferred way of doing things. It seems to me that you can’t understand your identity in Christ until you understand what you believe and how it applies to reality – hence the need for free conversation to wrestle with real issues. At this point, I hope to facilitate discussions on things like current events, but I don’t have much of a plan beyond that.

    Still it seems to me that a Sunday School for college age people should be feasible.

    The comments on here have been encouraging.

  10. i am a lay minister in a baptist church i am 30 and my wife and i are going to restart a college and career sunday school progra i am tring to put together a virtual classroom in which the students can participate in even if they are at school or home and not at church but am incouraging participation in a church if they are near by. i hope that the lord will bless our efforts in this and if anyone has any tools or insight by all means the proverbs say to seek wisdom so here i am seeking

  11. Scott Waisner May 20, 2010 at 6:18 am

    We actually split the classes when we started Sunday School classes for this age group at our church, We have one that is more a “young adult/career” class and one more geared toward college. The thought was that the young couple trying to juggle small children, career, and marriage is a different mindset than the folks trying to juggle class schedules and dorm life. This helps us focus on the needs of each group indepentently. The interesting thing I have noticed in our church, since we are situated in a college town, is that I get more students from out-of-town attending my Sunday School class than I do “locals”, kids who have grown up in this church and are attending local colleges. The “Young Adult/Careers” class has grow nicely as well. One idea I heard that I am going to try to implement in the fall is having Sunday School after our normal morning worship service. Get the college students together for lunch and Bible study, since it is always difficult to get that set of folks up for a “normal” Sunday School hour, but many that I have approached with this idea have shown interest in a Sunday afternoon Sunday School, so I am praying and discussing the logistics with my pastor and we shall see!

  12. great conversations! I have really enjoyed reading all of your experiences. It seems to me that one thing is clear: every context is different. Sunday school works great for some settings, in others it just “flops”. I’m in a setting where SS is really part of the culture and also you kill two birds with one stone. Our church sits right across the street from a Christian university, so there is no way to compete with all of their chapels, Bible studies, activities, etc….. Most students don’t have much time, so incorporating a gathering for college-age students just makes the most sense. That means they can come to church, attend a service and also gather together for study and fellowship. We do have a couple small groups which meet during the week, but we make these pretty informal. The majority of our students attend the SS group. It works for us. I think that is key- finding what works the best and then being consistent.

  13. College sunday school rocks at my church.
    http://themillonline.org/inside.jsp?id=7

  14. I am a full time college age minister in Joplin, MO. Reading your posts and feeling affirmed that other people are wrestling with the same things we have/do wrestle with I notice that the “why” and the “to what end” aren’t discussed much still. We used to have a large class (180+ students weekly), but then it tanked out a couple of years later. We have tried lots of different things over the years and the programming was constantly changing. It wasn’t until we wrestled with the “why” and the “to what end” that we found stability which doesn’t always translate to attendance, but it does now work within the greater context of what we are trying to do in the lives of the students.

    • josh – i appreciate your insight here. love it, actually. i concentrate on the “why” and “to what end” in the books i write, so i love that you wrestled with this with your team! agreeing with you, i think, i too believe that without wrestling with those things FIRST we are aimless in our efforts.

  15. Michael D’Elia August 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Interesting to see the different senerios. I come from a large church (at least in my community) but we struggle with the college age people because there is a huge campus ministry that collects most of them. WHile I am GLAD we have that awesome source, I know some slip under the rug. I know in my church there are some that are in this category yet havent been reached. I have just taken over the college age in my church and have been praying about what to teach on. I get bored with books. But it isnt about me is it? haha. Very glad I found this discussion so I see others struggle with the same aspects.

  16. I have transitioned to a new position in the church i grew up in in Edmonton, Alberta. I was the youth pastor and am now the Young Adults pastor. Our young adults group is launching this Sunday. We are trying a format where twice a month we’ll meet for lunch after church at church, then follow it up with a group teaching and small group time. Once a month we’ll have a large event (friday or saturday night) that encourages connections and people to bring friends. it is an experiment that people are really excited about. Lunches will be made by different established life groups (small groups) in the church. Hoping that will connect our young adults to the greater church a little. Our goal this year is to have every young adult serving in our church to further connect them to the church and to use their gifts and talents. Not sure what to expect this Sunday. Here is hoping that people have been listening to God’s proddings and that they will show up to see how they can be involved this year!

    • Hi Dan I was wondering how your experiment is working out since you started it about a month ago. I am getting ready to start a college age ministry from the ground up and am searching for ideas. This whole discussion has been very helpful!!

  17. I am about to embark upon this journey as well. Our church has not had anything for our college age group and what is sad is that there are 37 students who group up involved in church. Our plan is to start The Bridge Life Group in March. I am anticipating that we will do a combination of SS and Bible Study off campus on a given night. My thinking is opportunity. The other thing I am hoping to do is to have a guest speaker about once every 6-8 weeks on the topic of “3 things I know now that I wish I knew when I was your age”. When I mentioned this to a couple of different individuals they were actually looking forward to this part of it. I also intend to use that age group’s attachment with facebook as further opportunity to have discussion topics as follow up to the previous week’s lesson, as well as opportunity to keep in touch with them when they do happen to miss.

    I think your question is fair about WHY we are trying to get them in a “SS” class. Perhaps a good place to start in this is to have something written down. We have a mission statement with clear cut goals as to what we are hoping to accomplish. As we go along maybe we will actually see this come to fruition. If not then we have to be open to alter our course as God leads.

  18. I was involved in a college class at my church which grew to about 4 times what we started with, and the reason, I felt at least, was the people. The students in that class were committed to the Lord and their relationship with Him was real. We would hang out outside of class and have Princess Bride watch parties at someone’s house or game nights, or we’d go serve in a soup kitchen together. We often ended our evenings with prayer and praise time. We would hang out until 5 am and be at church at 9 – so we can’t say that kids won’t show because the class is before noon. I think we are too often looking for the “thing” – the right curriculum, the right time, the right place. I think that if the group is committed then the rest all falls into place. We had some bad teachers from time to time, but we’d go with it and bring in interesting discussion from ourselves that made it work. It wasn’t what happened on Sunday mornings that changed my life; it was the group of people who formed from it.

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