I Inherited a Failed Sunday School. Here’s How It Flourished

Four counterintuitive keys to successful discipleship.

When I married a priest, I cut a deal with him. “No children’s ministry,” I made him swear. “Not now, not ever.”

At the time we got married, my husband was serving at a large, wealthy, urban parish where the staff was stacked with priests and lay employees. While I’m sure my presence as a children’s ministry volunteer would have been welcomed, there was no need or expectation of my presence.

“No children’s ministry,” I repeated. And he, confident of our future vocational paths, agreed.

But then God moved, and we moved—to a small parish in rural Indiana. We knew the situation was bleak, but we didn’t realize how bleak it was until we walked in the first Sunday. There were no children, not a single one. In fact, we were some of the youngest people in the congregation.

There’s no way, we thought. How can you get children to come back to a church that has nothing for them?

Over the next year, the absence of children became a metaphor for the parish’s spiritual health. So we prayed, and our faithful friends, parents, and families prayed along with us. We prayed for children at the same time that we prayed for renewal. And we sought a lot of counsel. We also prepared for the day the children might show up, and for some reason I began to feel that it was my job to do most of the preparation.

Then one Sunday, the amazing happened: A mother showed up with three young kids. She had heard from a parishioner that my husband was an excellent preacher. They came back the next Sunday and brought cousins. Then some other kids came with their grandparents at Easter. And a man who had been attending by himself brought his stepdaughter because he thought she would …

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