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Children’s Church: How Is It Different Than Sunday School?

There are two terms that often come up regarding children’s ministry programming: Sunday school and children’s church.

But what are they? How do they differ? Well, that’s a complicated question to answer. In a 2022 survey of over 400 children’s ministry directors, about 36% of respondents thought they were the same thing. The remaining 64% believed them to be different types of programming. Right off the bat, over one-third of people don’t even agree they are different.

And in the open-ended response to how the 64% believe they differ, there were at times conflicting opinions. But we found three common themes that rose to the top.

Children’s church combines all ages; Sunday school is age-graded.

We know Sunday school isn’t always age-graded. One-room Sunday school and large group/small group formats are also popular. But for churches who do both, many consider age group a clear distinction.

Churches may not strictly divide Sunday school as one classroom for first grade, one for second, and so on. Many churches simply place preschool kids in one class and elementary kids in another, or designate preschool, lower elementary, and upper elementary classes. Or some churches might pair similar grades together.

But when it comes to children’s church, age divisions generally go away. Most churches that do children’s church have preschool through fifth or sixth grade all together in one room during that time.

Children’s church happens during the main worship service; Sunday school happens at a different time than the worship service.

While some churches only have “big church” on Sunday morning, others offer adult small groups or Sunday school classes in addition to worship services. Those churches may offer children’s Sunday school during adult programming, and children’s church during the main worship service.

In fact, some churches include kids in the beginning of the adult worship service, then dismiss them during the sermon for some age-appropriate teaching. For those congregations, that also means that children’s church has a shorter timeframe than Sunday school. This can provide a nice intergenerational worship experience.

Children’s church is focused on worship; Sunday school focuses on building faith foundations.

Because children’s church often happens during the adult worship service, in many ways it is considered a kids’ version of big church. This may include worship in the form of singing, teaching in a kid-friendly way, and other worshipful elements.

One respondent said, “For us Sunday school is more of a classroom setting. And kids’ church has more of a rally feeling (even though we break into groups after the opening ‘rally’ of worship and introducing the lessons). I view kids’ church as a much more physically active time.”

Another person noted they were looking for “materials that are engaging but that mimic a worship service. Song, lesson, wrap-up. I would like it to have very little prep. I would also like it to be designed for different age groups to be together. We have children’s church for ages 5-12 together and only have 1 teacher.”

What do you think?

What do you think? We’d love your comments on this article to know how you differentiate children’s church and Sunday school. But whatever your thoughts, we know children’s church is a popular format—and one you may be looking to start or continue with better resources.

According to a September 2022 survey of nearly 800 people, around 80% of churches do Sunday school programing, and 50% do children’s church. This obviously includes some overlap where churches utilize both formats. 35% said they use two different formats.

A similar question on a March 2022 survey showed that 37% of churches use only Sunday school, 15% only children’s church, and 46% use both.

New from DIG IN!

We wanted to make it easy for churches to use one cohesive lesson that covers their needs for both formats. That’s why we’re introducing DIG IN Children’s Church to partner with the existing DIG IN Sunday School.

DIG IN has been a beloved program for several years, making lifelong impacts in kids’ lives. Soon you’ll be able to purchase DIG IN Children’s Church on its own, DIG IN Sunday School on its own, or a premium subscription so you can have unique, meaningful activities that build on the experiences from the other format.

DIG IN Children’s Church will follow the same scope & sequence as DIG IN Sunday School, so you can focus on the same Bible story and point. DIG IN Sunday School offers age-graded experiences that build faith foundations. And DIG IN Children’s Church covers the same stories in ways that guide kids in worshipful experiences that help grow their friendship with God.

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Children’s Church: How Is It Differen...

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