One of my favorite lessons to teach students of all ages is the distinction between a church as a building and the Church as a people. We use the word “church” in so many different ways, but it is so important that our young people know that the real meaning of the Church refers to the People of God not just a place we go or a thing we do on Sundays.
I thought you might like to see a recent lesson plan I used to teach about the meaning of the Church to second graders. Even if you don’t use the entire lesson, I hope the structure will be helpful to you. It is a new format that I’ve been using since the original version I shared in The Religion Teacher’s Guide to Lesson Planning.
Where the Students Are
- They consider a church is a place you go (not people).
- To them, the people at Church are mostly strangers, but we know some of them.
Where the Students Will Be (Lesson Objectives)
- SWBAT define disciple and Apostle.
- SWBAT explain the difference between church (building) and Church (community of disciples).
- SWF accepted by classmates.
Church Lesson Activities
1. Bell Work: Church Drawings
Write the word “Church” on the board and have the students draw a picture of “Church” on a piece of paper.
2. Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer
Before praying the Lord’s Prayer together, ask the question: “When we say this prayer, who is speaking?” It is a somewhat strange question. When they say “we do,” point out that it is indeed “we” that prays the Our Father. The entire prayer is said by a group of people, not just individuals. When we pray the Our Father, we are never alone. We always pray with other disciples, other followers of Jesus.
Then, pray the Lord’s Prayer together.
(You can also try this Our Father activity to help teach the meaning of the prayer.)
3. Scripture and Witness: The Call of the First Disciples
Scripture: Read Matthew 4:18-22. After you read, ask students to summarize what they heard.
- What were the men doing when Jesus met them?
- What was their job?
- What did they do when Jesus called them to follow him?
- What were the names of the men Jesus called?
Witness: Share the story of your calling. When did Jesus first call you to become one of his disciples? I shared the story of my conversion experience at a summer Steubenville conference. When I got back, I was fully dedicated to going to Church and reading the Bible. It wasn’t easy. A lot of friends didn’t have that same conviction. I had to work hard to learn about Jesus. It is the reason why I am a catechist today. I went to college and after toying with the idea of doing something else with my life, I changed my major to religion with plans to continue to dedicate my life to serving God and the Church in some way. That’s what you do when Jesus calls you. You give up everything else–all your other plans and dreams–and follow him.
(I believe very firmly that teaching with testimony is an essential part of what we do in religious education/catechesis. For more information about this approach read this article on teaching with testimony.)
4. Hook: A Church Field Trip
As a class, we took a short trip over to our church. We talked through proper behavior (staying quiet, genuflecting towards the tabernacle, making the sign of the cross, etc.) and sat near the altar.
The purpose of a “hook” is to grab students’ attention in the context of the lesson of the day. The goal of this trip to a church was to ask a series of open-ended questions that helped them distinguish between a church (as a building) and the Church (as a people).
- Where are we?
- What do we do here? (What else do we do here?)
- Does it feel strange to be here right now? Why? What is missing?
I gave them about ten minutes to look around and ask any questions about what they saw. Students asked about the tabernacle, the organ, and the baptismal font. After a set amount of time, we headed back to the room.
5. Presentation: Disciples, Apostles, and Church
In a very short lesson, I defined three words for them:
- Disciples: followers of Jesus, students
- Apostles: twelve leaders of the disciples
- Church: the community of disciples
6. Practice: Centers
In three separate groups, the students worked in centers to reinforce the meaning of the words disciples, Apostles, and Church. At two of the three tables the students worked on activities from their textbooks including a word search and series of questions that challenged them to think of ways they can live like a disciples.
I worked closely with the third group to distinguish between a church (building) and the Church (people).
The students used this worksheet for the activity:
If you would like to download a copy, enter your email address here and I’ll send it to you.
In the small group, we talked about the visit to our church building. I asked them again, “what was missing? Why did it feel so strange to be there?” (The people were missing.) Then I asked them to remind me of the definition of the Church that we talked about as a class (a community of disciples).
From there, most of the students realized that for the big “C” Church, they needed to draw a group of people (stick figures), but for the little “c” church, they needed to draw a picture of a building (a church).
7. Check: Reviewing Definitions
Erasing the definitions from the board, but leaving the key words, I asked students to raise their hands if they knew the meaning of the words. Calling on students randomly, we reviewed the definitions. If students raised their hands but didn’t answer correctly, I gave them the definition but asked them a simpler question to build up some confidence. If the students were able to recite the definitions word for word, I asked them to explain in their own words what each definition means.
Church Lesson: Key Ideas
Share these with the parents to reinforce at home (or include them in your “Ask Me About” handouts)”
- Church isn’t just a place we go on Sunday, it is a community of people (disciples). The building is A church, but the people are THE Church.
- Jesus’ disciples are his students, they constantly learn from him. We are his disciples.
- The Twelve Apostles were chosen by Jesus to be the leader of the disciples.
(photo credit: amboo213)