Don’t Just Ask “What Did You Learn at Church Today?”
Probably every Christian parent has done it. After church or after youth group, we load the family up into the car and about 10 seconds into the ride home mom or dad turns to their kids in the back and asks, “So, what did you learn in church today?”
I know that you mean well. I love the fact that you’re intentionally engaging your children and trying to have some solid conversations with them about the Lord. I know you’re hoping that they can repeat almost everything word for word, and that the insights they heard opened up new worlds to them. The intentions are admirable, but the question isn’t a great one.
The Underlying Message
You know what makes that question bad to ask all the time? The problem is the word “learn”. When we ask what a child learned, we are subtly making a statement that having a successful experience at church is when we learn something. Now, don’t get me wrong – I am all for learning! I love to do it, and I love to encourage it in others. But the truth of the matter is that our Christian growth is so much more than learning. That is only one part of the equation.
A parent who always asks their child what they learned at church will, over time, produce a young person who thinks that church is no longer working for them because they aren’t learning anything new. They’ll sit in Sunday School or youth group and think to themselves, I’ve heard this a million times before. And, they’ll probably be right. Anyone who has been a participant at church for a length of time knows that the same topics, the same stories, and the same passages come up again and again. A lot of Christian teaching feels like it is on a conveyor belt that simply loops around, much like the luggage pickup at an airport.
If young people believe that church is only for learning, they will become stunted in their faith. They will eventually hit a wall of knowledge that will hold them back. Now, I understand that even the most educated Christian has something new they can learn, but the reality is that the more a Christian knows about God and the Bible, the less often those “aha!” moments happen, those times when a light bulb goes off in the head because of a new truth that was never discovered before. And the farther in between those moments come, the duller we feel along the way – that is, we become dull if we have been trained to think that learning = Christian growth.
We Need to be Reminded
Even the Biblical authors knew that what growing Christians need is not always new information. Truth is wonderful the first time it is discovered, but our brains are leaky things. Knowledge that once was transformative soon seeps out, and quickly we forget. Therefore, it should not surprise us that the Bible repeatedly says that a key component of Christian discipleship is the need to be reminded.
- Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… (1 Corinthians 15:1)
- Remind them of these things… (2 Timothy 2:4)
- Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work… (Titus 3:1)
- Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 1:5)
- I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,  since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.  And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Peter 1:13-15)
How true this is when I think of my own Christian walk. Often the thing I need most is not to have a new, earth-shattering revelation, but rather be reminded of basic truths I have ignored for too long. In fact, I would say that a great bulk of Christian teaching ought to be geared towards reminding each other of precious biblical truths in fresh ways. And if that is taking place, then we should be careful about asking our children a variety of questions when we aim to begin a conversation.
So, if we should not always ask what our children learned at church, then what should we ask them? My advice would be to change it up regularly. Don’t let your children get used to what you are going to ask them. Come at it from different angles. A few examples might be:
- What did you talk about at church today?
- What happened at church today?
- What was your favourite part of church today?
- What was the most interesting thing that happened at church today?
- Do you think God was pleased today?
- What surprised you the most today?
- What did you pray about in Sunday School today?
- Who do you think needed encouragement today?
- If you could do it over again, what do you wish went differently about today?
This is by no means a complete list, but you get the idea. Questions that are most effective leave a wide-open door for conversations. They don’t pull in a particular direction. Notice that these questions leave open the possibility that the most significant thing that happened might have nothing to do with the Bible lesson. I think this is ok. God works through his Word, but he also works in the circumstances of life. If the most notable thing that happened was a conflict in youth group, or a new girl who was made fun of in Sunday School, or a new song that was liked or disliked, those are all things worth talking about. They can lead to fruitful conversations. Let your child lead the way about the subject matter, give them a chance to express their experience, and then go where you feel the conversation is already flowing.
So, parents, what do you think? What has been your best post-church conversations with your children, and how did they come about? Are there any other questions that might be effective? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Note: After some helpful feedback, this post has been edited some from its original version.