St. Matthew Church eliminates Sunday School

St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Monticello has decided to do away with Sunday School. Instead, they implemented WOW services on Wednesday evenings, bringing youth and families together. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     When a local church declares plans to eliminate Sunday School, that’d big news.

     St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Monticello recently informed its congregation that they plan to do away with Sunday School on Sunday mornings. Instead, the church is establishing “WOW” services and gatherings on Wednesdays.

     WOW stands for Worship on Wednesday. This will be a brand new service at St. Matthew. The evening will start with a meal from 5:20-6:10 p.m., with the worship service at 6:15-6:45 p.m. The youth classes, including confirmation, will then meet from 6:50-7:30 p.m.

     To assist the church in its efforts to change with the times, Tricia and Tim Lambert of Monticello have graciously taken on the roles of Youth and Family Ministry Leaders. Tricia grew up attending church at St. Matthew. Since the couple were married, their three children have also become involved in the church.

     So why the move to eliminate Sunday School? Pastor David Raemisch said the church just feels the need to change with the times.

     “The world has changed to much in the last 20-30 years,” he said. “And churches that don’t adapt and change with the times face the very real risk of closing.”

     The Lamberts said families have so much going on in their lives as their children get older. Many families in the community have kids who take part in traveling sports teams and don’t get back home to Monticello until later in the day on Sunday. This causes them to miss church and Sunday School.

     “The change was talked about initially before I came in as pastor,” said Raemisch.

     Tricia added, “Over the past year, we’ve started having conversations about what could do differently.”

     Tim said moving youth groups to Wednesday and adding a shortened worship service allows those families, and others, the opportunity to keep church in their lives.

     “The school (Monticello School District) has committed to leaving Wednesdays open for church activities,” Tim said. “This is the perfect night to do it because things start to slow down a bit.”

     “We wanted to make things more accommodating for families,” added Tricia, who also takes the blame on leading the charge.

     “Tricia did the research,” said Raemisch.

     With churches in Wyoming and Anamosa experimenting with Wednesday evening services, Tricia said they saw an increase in attendance and more participation with families.

     “So I thought, ‘Why not give it a try here?’” she suggested.

     As part of their roles as Youth and Family Ministry Leaders, Pastor Youth and Family Ministry Leaders said he’s asked two things of the Lamberts: Building a stronger Vacation Bible School programs at St. Matthew, and building a strong and vibrant WOW program.

     In their efforts to boost VBS, the church has decided to partner with Camp EWALU. Camp counselors will lead the VBS program, allowing the church to give its volunteers a rest for the week. This change also gives St. Matthew the opportunity to hold VCBS during the day rather than in the evening, competing with other local churches.

     “We welcome everybody,” offered Tricia of VBS. “We want to reach out to the community and them involved.”

     In combining the youth groups, confirmation and worship on Wednesdays, Raemisch said it also gives the confirmation students a chance to assist in the service.

     “It works beautifully now,” he said. “And we can follow worship with discussion afterwards.”

     Tricia said they are even boosting Sunday School a bit. Rather than have the kids sit and listen to their teacher for an hour, there will be less age divisions and more activities.

     “There will be games, activities, a craft, and the lesson,” she said. “It’ll be more fun and engaging for the kids.”

     “It’s exciting to try new things,” encouraged Raemisch.

     The sermon/message given during the WOW service will be the same given the following Sunday.

     “The congregation and been so supportive and involved,” said Raemisch, who’s only been with St. Matthew since April. “It’s phenomenal!”

     “We were ready for a change,” said Tricia. “The people saw it.”

     Aside from taking the charge with the WOW program, Tim said they also want to see quarterly family events at the church like cookouts and bonfires. “We want people to feel a part of the church,” he said.

     This isn’t the first major change for St. Matthew. When Raemisch came on board, they decided to add more contemporary music to their services, as well as worship videos.

     “The kids love it,” said Raemisch. “You see they paying attention to the videos, which offer a practical, powerful message.”

     He said this is the way they do services now.

     “There’s a huge difference the way young people see the world and their place in it,” added Raemisch.

     “It’s a way to bridge the gap between our older members and the young families,” said Tricia. “We want to build relationships and help each other in our faith.”

     St. Matthew will host a WOW orientation for parents and families on Wednesday, Sept. 13. Their WOW program kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

     Raemisch concluded, “It’s so refreshing to be at a church that’s not stuck in the past.”


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