Sarah Falter knew she had to make a change when her pastor mentioned Moses, and her young son had no idea who he was.
“I was feeling really disappointed in myself because my children didn’t know all the Bible stories I was brought up with and I knew at their age,” she said.
What her children needed, Falter decided, was Sunday school. However, her tiny country church in central Missouri did not have space for a children’s class on Sunday mornings.
Her pastor, the Rev. Karen Alden, offered a solution: Move it up a day.
Now, under Falter’s leadership, Rader United Methodist Church holds “Saturday School” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. once a month, usually in the sanctuary. The school attracts eight or nine youngsters, ranging in age from 4 to the young teens.
Saturday School is the kind of innovation more United Methodist congregations should consider, said retired Bishop Richard B. Wilke, the creator of the Disciple Bible Study program.
“The way you reach people today — children, youth and adults — is in intimate relationships studying the Scriptures,” Wilke said. “Sunday is no longer a holy day. Study life has to take place where people are.”
And that can be any place on any day of the week.
Declining biblical literacy
One thing is certain: Biblical instruction needs to be more widespread, Wilke said.
In recent years, talk show host Jay Leno has made sport of Americans who can name the four Beatles but not the four Gospels, and comic Stephen Colbert has teased members of Congress who want publicly to display the Ten Commandments but cannot name them.
Wilke started the Disciple Bible Study more than 20 years ago because he saw a thirst for more Christian education, especially among adults. The program now has more than 2 million graduates in 10,000 congregations in 30 denominations.
He said most successful groups usually consist of eight to 10 people, and like the early Christians, the groups often meet in people’s homes.
“People thought it would be a fad,” said Wilke, now the bishop-in-residence at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan. “What people are finding is that the Bible doesn’t have a fade-out time and the small-group format doesn’t have a fade-out time.”
Alden, pastor of Rader United Methodist Church, said Saturday School has been a hit with all ages in her congregation.
The church, with a weekly attendance of about 35, has started attracting young families in recent years. One reason Alden wanted to move religious instruction to Saturday was so she would not disturb the fellowship of older members who gather in the church an hour before worship at 9 a.m. each Sunday morning.
“I think it’s a really important part of their week to have that social time because many live alone,” Alden said.
Now many of those older members volunteer each month to provide lunch after the Bible lessons. The church does not have a kitchen so members bring meals in slow cookers from home.
Ordith Skouby, a retired teacher and one of the volunteers, said she was eager to help.
“The kids seem to enjoy it, and they’re the lifeblood of the church — the church’s future,” she said.
The church held its first Saturday class in December with lessons and activities based around Jesus’ nativity. In March, Falter taught the youngsters how to tell the story of Easter with “resurrection eggs” — plastic eggs containing symbols of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection such as toothpicks for the crown of thorns and a pebble for the rock that was rolled away from the tomb.
Since April, Falter has decided to cover the Bible from the beginning, starting with the story of creation, and moving on to Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel.
Falter said her 6-year-old son, Isaac, and her 8-year-old daughter, Faith, now tell their grandmas about the Bible lessons they have learned. Faith also has been inviting her friends to join the class.
“They haven’t been able to make it yet, but she’s gung ho that her cousin needs to come and her friend down the street needs to come because it’s a lot of fun,” Falter said. “She’s pretty pumped.”
And so is the church.
The most important part about studying Scripture is that it leads people to Christ, Wilke said.
“We study the whole Bible to find the Savior,” he said.