Why We Have Game Time at Church
What did you learn at church today?
That's what my parents would always ask me after Sunday School. It's right there in the name, after all, an expectation of learning something. Or it used to be. The trend in the modern church is to move away from Sunday School. There are many reasons cited for this, from a need to keep up with the times to the desire for removing age-segregation entirely.
Even in churches where Sunday School is still called Sunday School, very little remains the same. The Sunday School teacher is no longer an elderly, orderly, buttoned up headmistress that will slap your hand with a ruler if you speak out of turn. So maybe the change is not all bad, but the feeling is there - that we lost something important along the way. That the focus has shifted. It's less about God, now, and more about... having fun.
The evidence is right there with the parents. The first question parents ask their children when they pick them up from the children's classroom is no longer, what did you learn at church today?
Almost without fail, the first words out of their mouth are now, did you have fun today?
Did you have fun today?
The question is asked as if the answer were a resounding no, that we, the teachers, would have somehow failed the children.
That we are at fault if the children do not have fun.
The implication is that our job, our biggest priority, is not teaching the children about God, but letting them have fun.
I could possibly empathize with this question if the parents themselves were not church-goers. The secular world very rarely understands the purpose of church. But that's not the case here. Most of these parents just left the sanctuary, they just heard the sermon, and are now concerned primarily with how much fun their children had.
Our church is not unique in this. The same sentiment was frequently shared at a recent kid's ministry conference. This leads me to believe there is a widespread misunderstanding about the purpose of children's ministry in the modern church.
I'm not sure if this is a problem with how we're advertising children's ministry today. Are we barely more than a babysitting service? Perhaps it's a problem with how we are teaching it - too much reliance on fun, not enough focus on the foundation. Or maybe it's a symptom of a broader shift in the church, with the move toward a Sunday "experience", fueled by mega-churches, big bands on a big stage with big screens, and in-church coffee shops, resulting in less focus on Christian discipline, camaraderie, community, and holiness.
Most of those things are out of our control as children's ministry leaders and teachers. But we can control the time children spend with us. If we do things right with today's children, then we're doing our part in fixing these problems in the future.
This has led me to question the role of fun in children's ministry. It should never be the focus, never the endgame. Game time is not the destination. That doesn't mean it can't play a part. I believe it would be a mistake to entirely remove fun and games from the children. In a sense, we would be punishing them for problems of which they play no part.
So what is the purpose of game time in kid's ministry? How does it fit into our goal of instilling solid Christian principles and Bible education into the children?
Over the next few weeks we will be exploring how games can become instruments of learning in kid's ministry. Stay tuned.