The Cost of Christian Education

Should churches charge a fee to have their child tend Church School?

What percentage of a church’s budget should go toward children and youth ministries?

When the budget gets cut, why is the Christian educator on staff the first to go?

Does your church pay its Sunday School teachers?

These are just a few of a myriad of questions that have recently been part of discussions on some Christian Education association list-servs. No matter the denomination (NAECED – Episcopal, APCE – Presbyterian, AUCE – United Church of Christ, CEF – United Methodist, or LACE – Lutheran), the common thread is that while Christian education and formation are valued, those that are called to this ministry are often given lip service when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road .  .  . the budget. What will it cost?

Yes, some traditions (the Roman Catholic Church for CCD classes which tend to be more formal and “required” and Synagogues for their formation programs of young people) charge tuition. And often their teachers are paid (or receive credit against their assessment / tithe to the church.)

But, what does this say about how we value volunteers, professionals who have credentials in the field, and the notion of passing on the faith from one generation to another?

I don’t have the statistics handy to prove my point. I do have plenty of anecdotal facts that show the importance of putting Christian formation at the top of the budget process. Churches who have “let go” of their Christian educator due to budget constraints hope that volunteers will take up the slack. Not. We are no longer living in the 50’s when “Mom the Volunteer” had all the time in the world while the kiddos where in school to bake brownies, attend the Women’s Auxiliary, and prepare craft projects for 30 first graders. Families are stretched and they have lots of choices. Including putting food on the table.

Countless churches have seen families with children drift away upon the release of the Christian educator. The behind the scenes personal touches, the planning and intentionality of the Christian Ed program wane. The stuff that a staff person does on Monday – Saturday (and perhaps a day off?), not including at least 4 hours on a Sunday goes unseen by many.  Families go in search somewhere else, they show up for Christmas and Easter, or they drop out completely.

The one that makes me scratch my head the most is paying folks to teach Sunday School. Putting an ad in the newspaper for someone to come teach on Sunday morning. Yes, they will show up (hopefully prepared). But are they part of your denomination? Do they KNOW what they are teaching about and believe it throughout their being? Are they part of your faith community and have an investment in building a relationship with those they share their OWN faith with? (Which is what I believe the job description of a Sunday School teacher should be.)

I’m going to take the liberty and share some of the comments from the list-servs that really bring it home:

  • Did Jesus pass the hat after passing around the loaves and fishes?
  • Did Jesus turn away anyone who could not “pay” for his teachings?
  • Do we want to pit funding for Outreach, Music, Worship, Fellowship and Education against each other? (Actually that is what happens in lots of churches. What would Jesus say to that?)
  • Do clergy charge for hospital visitations and pastoral calls?
  • Do we charge admission to worship?

Yes, education is costly. But without education, it is more costly. In today’s world, adults need to learn God’s Story just as much as the five-year-olds. Without investing in Christian formation, we will cost the Church a future.

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3 thoughts on “The Cost of Christian Education

  1. This timely article offers many areas for comment. I would say only:

    1. A budget is a statement of an organization’s priorities. Anyone who says “we don’t have the money” is saying “other things take priority.”
    2. People who regularly serve the church get paid (clergy, choir director, organist, Christian education director, etc.). Teachers should be paid for their work.
    3. The issue of paying teachers is less important, however, than the ability to assess whether is teacher is qualified and prepared to teach. Churches should not accept anyone who offers to teach (whether paid or not), but should have criteria for acceptance (just as we do in schools).
    3. The clergy exerts a strong influence (usually unconsciously) over what the congregation values. Clergy tend to devote time to “the members who matter,” or where the money is, and few are those who stay at a given church long enough to see a child through the program. I read that the average tenure of an Episcopal priest is 6 years at a church. Such a short stay is not beneficial to children’s programs.

    I once heard a woman being interviewed on TV. She had been a teacher in the public schools, but as a second career had become a financial advisor. When the host asked about her career change, she said, “they’ll pay you to take care of their money, but they won’t pay you to take care of their children.” I believe that says it all.

    Mary Jane Wilkie

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  2. Right on Sharon. If the church were a secular organization, formation for all ages would be a top priority so that the next 10 years wouldn’t look like the last 10 years. Would Jesus hack his HAC to save the formation budget? You betcha!

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