Comparing Catholic and Protestant approaches to educating children and youth

Hi everyone,
This question is directed toward Catholics who either used to be protestants or to Catholics who are familiar with how evangelical churches are structured. I’m wanting to see how we are alike and different in this area.

Does the Catholic Church have Sunday School or Children’s Church for kids while Mass is taking place or do children of all ages attend Mass with their parents?

In my church, elementary school children usually attend Sunday School or “Children’s Church” where they are taught the Bible, read Bible stories, do Arts and Crafts (and stuff like that) related to Biblical themes, etc.

I would describe Children’s Church as a worship service geared towards kids where the message is usually tailored to younger audiences.

Middle School and High School children attend regular church at my church.

There are also Bible studies and Adult Sunday School classes offered either the hour before or the hour after worship service, and sometimes on Wednesday nights for adults.
Some adults attend these while others just go to the worship service.

There are also youth group activities for Middle School and High School age groups that meet on Sunday and on Wednesday nights.

I was just curious if it is normal for Catholic parishes to have Sunday School or something similar. If not, what is the typical manner in which Catholic children and youth are educated in the ways of the faith at church? I assume through Catechism classes?

Just curious. Thanks for helping me to better understand the similarities and differences.

Many parishes have parish schools attatched to them, Catholic schools. And we have youth groups and VBS like you would but Im guessing that is not what you mean. We have catechism classes in prep for first communion(2nd grade), confirmation(9th grade), and of course RCIA. And in my parish we USED to send the little kids out during the Liturgy of the Word to do a children’s liturgy. Well, recently we put tat to a halt. And I am thankful. I think children of all ages can sit and listen to the bible. Why? because if they go to sunday school they will think of the bibe as a childhood thing, ad then try to “grow out of” it. But if they associate it with intellect and adults, they might not think of it as childish. Well, that was first half answring your question, second half my opinion. Hope this helps!

Our church has all kids and adults worship to gather in main service. Then afterwards the age groups have their own Sunday school. Preschool, school age, high school and adult have their own Sunday school.

That was how my old parish did it. Moving here, the school is miles from the Church in town. For those who attend the school, they receive their training during the week there. For those going to public schools, they have an opportunity to attend a weekly after school program.

Personally, I prefer how it was done when I was a Protestant. Sunday School was at 9:30 and service was at 11:00. The Sunday School portion was for one hour and the leftover half hour allowed us to find our parents and go to church (large property).

I have never been to a Catholic Church that has anything like Sunday school I had growing up in the Presbyterian church. That doesn’t mean there might be parishes that do, but it’s not common in my experience. There are a couple reasons for that.

When a child reaches the age of reason (generally defined as 7) they have an obligation to attend Mass. That includes the homily and being present for the Eucharist (whether they receive on a given day or not). Both of those things require a member of the clergy, so to have a separate “children’s church” would require a second priest.

As for learning the faith, I certainly hope they are primarily being taught at home. The catechism makes it very clear that parents have a duty to educate their children in matters of the faith. Apart from that they would attend CCD or Religious Ed classes. If they are in a Catholic school this would be part of the curriculum. Kids that go to public school generally have class once a week during the school year. Kids are able to do this through out High School, but the reality is most only attend the years preceding receiving First Communion and Confirmation.

The Jr and Sr High School classes are a mix of Religious Ed and what I would have called Youth Group when I was growing up. the couple years I have taught it would be formal teaching in a small group for the first 20 - 30 minutes and then 20 - 30 minutes of group activities.

I think one of the differences I got from being Presbyterian and then converting to being Catholic is that there was more focus on Sunday being about teaching then purely worship in the Presbyterian tradition. Sunday Mass is about worship first and foremost. It is not that education doesn’t happen during Mass, but rather that it is not the primary purpose of Mass.

The couple times I have gone to evangelical churches it seemed more like a college lecture followed by praise and worship. It was hard for me to transition from people taking notes in the worship space to people singing and praising the Lord in the same place. It left me feeling disjointed, but I guess it works for others.

Hi Tommy,

In my parish, the children in grades 1 - 4 have their own “liturgy of the Word for children” during the part of the mass Catholics call the Liturgy of the Word wherein there are 3 bible readings and we sing one of the psalms.

There are a few women who conduct this ministry. The priest calls the children and the teachers forward and the teachers lead the children to a classroom adjacent to the chapel and read the bible passages to the children from a special lectionary that has the same bible readings the adults hear proclaimed, but in language that small children can understand. The children and teachers discuss the readings and sometimes have activities like coloring pictures of the characters and events in the readings.

After that , the children are brought back to their parents for the liturgy of the Eucharist.


Thank you everyone for your informative replies. Paul, it sounds like your parish is probably more similar to how mine does it, although the kids don’t come back once they leave until they meet up with their parents at the end of the worship service.

I understand the pros of having them in the sanctuary with the adults to learn what takes place, but I also see value in having a separate session for them here things are taught and explained at their level of understanding.

Thanks to everyone for helping to fill in the blanks for me on this question. Much appreciated. :tiphat:

My parish has the Children’s Liturgy of the Word during our 9:30am Mass. It is run just like a poster above.

My previous Parish has CCD on Wednesdays and Sundays. The kids who attend on Sundays are expected to attend Mass before or after CCD on Sunday.

Hi Phil,
I apologize but what does CCD stand for? Is that catechism, by chance?

Yes, I too see the positive aspects of both approaches.

God love you,



It means Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Try this link:

Thank you very much, getysbg. I found that very helpful. Here is an excerpt from that link that summarized things in a nutshell for me:

The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is commonly referred to by its abbreviation, CCD, or simply as “Catechism,” and provides religious education to Catholic children attending secular schools. Similar to children’s Sunday school in Protestant churches, CCD education is provided by both members of the clergy and lay staff, although unlike Sunday school it is often held after school on weekdays. CCD attendance is considered by Vatican officials to be vital to children’s development as Catholics. These classes not only educate children about Jesus and the Catholic faith but prepare children to receive the sacraments of Penance (confession), the Eucharist (Holy Communion), and Confirmation.

Here in Alberta, Canada, Catholic children are expected to attend Catholic schools, where they take Religion classes at least one half hour every day, and where all of the classes are conducted in an atmosphere of prayer and love for one another. Each day opens and closes with recited prayers and hymns, and the children say meal time prayers at lunch time. These schools are funded by Catholic taxpayers through the provincial government, and are free of charge to all Catholic children who have their permanent residence in Alberta.

Children between the ages of three and about seven or so (until they have received their First Holy Communion) can attend Liturgy of the Word for Children for a short period of time between the opening prayer and the end of the homily (approximately 20-25 minutes in total), when they come to Mass. Once they have received First Holy Communion, the expectation is that they remain in Mass with their families, although some older children do still go out, to “help” with the class.

Interesting, jmcrae. Sounds like even a Catholic family with limited funds could still attend a Catholic school. That is advantageous.

By the way, is it just Catholic taxpayers who pay for the Catholics schools or do people from all faiths fund Catholic schools as well as schools with ties to other faiths? Just curious how it works up there.

The norm where I live is that religious schools – or any school that is not a public school --do not get taxpayers dollars – period, or at least I think that is the case.

For example, my kids went to church-affiliated schools growing up but we had to pay tuition for that privilege while part of our tax dollars still went to public education. We didn’t get to “opt out” of paying because our kids went to private school.I prefer the way you described it.

Same here in California.

I am hesitant, though, to get the government involved in religious education in any way. Here is the US, the government seems more often than not interested in perverting and misrepresenting the gospel of Christ in any way it can. I shudder to think of government-paid or subsidized teachers interpreting the bible to my grandchildren.


Although the funds are coming through the government, they originate with Catholic taxpayers, so the government can’t really tell them what to teach, other than the core curriculum.

Yes, it certainly is. We sometimes forget how lucky we are, and take the system for granted.

By the way, is it just Catholic taxpayers who pay for the Catholics schools or do people from all faiths fund Catholic schools as well as schools with ties to other faiths? Just curious how it works up there.

On my tax form, I indicate that I am a Catholic taxpayer, and my education taxes are automatically allocated to the Catholic system. Non-catholics, and those who don’t signify either way, have their taxes allocated to the public system.

We have this right because the original settlers in this province were Catholics, and when the government changed to Protestant, the Church insisted on the right to maintain taxpayer funded Catholic schools. They agreed, and here we are. :slight_smile:

Very good point :thumbsup:

Wow, I wasn’t aware of the history behind that, jmcrae. Thanks for clarifiying that.

The norm for religious ed in various Protestant Churches I have attended was to have Sunday School for adults and children on Sunday mornings before svc, if there was one svc, or between svcs if there were two.

Then all age groups joined for Sunday worship svc, with child care provided for babies and toddlers.

Most of the Churches held a Wed night activity which varied from Church to Church. Sometimes it was worship, sometimes it was youth or adult groups, sometimes a potluck meal and prayer.

One Church I attended had “Wonderful Wednesdays”. Each Wednesday night there was a potluck meal followed by meeting time. Once a month the various committees held their meeting in one of the Church rooms, but there was always a small prayer and song time, and various adult and child education or small groups meeting for spiritual growth. That way people weren’t finding themselves going to the Church several nights a week to meet all their comittments, the entire family went together with activities for them to share together meal/prayer and song, and then their own activities later. This left the rest of the week nights family intact without parents having to hurry off to Church committee meetings.

Another Church held their weekly committee meetings Sun after svc with volunteers staying behind to watch kids on the playground or to have movies or crafts for the kids. This made it easier and more attractive to participate in Church committees.

It was also felt that having the meetings after worship svc left people more predisposed to understanding their committee work as svc to Christ and the larger Church, and attend to it more prayerfully and with open hearts.

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