I read an interesting article last week by Bob Allen called, “Can Sunday School be saved?” The title of the article caught my attention for two reasons. One, I have been greatly impacted by Godly Sunday School teachers who loved me and made a huge difference in my life and two, if it is lost can it be found?
Sunday School has been a mainstay ministry in many Protestant churches especially Southern Baptists. The stats however tell us that it is in decline. The Southern Baptist Convention has reported declines in Sunday School enrollment each year since 2004. That year’s annual statistical survey by LifeWay Christian Resources reported Sunday enrollment of 8.2 million. In 2010 it dropped to 7.6 million. This decline has been going on since 2004.
Why is this happening? Some believe it is because children, students and adults have so many more Sunday morning choices. Many people work on Sundays or go to ball practices, recreation, etc. More opportunities and busy schedules may be a contributing factor.
A 2005 Barna study found 95 percent of Protestant churches offer “a Sunday School in which people receive some form of planned or systematic Bible instruction in a class setting.” While Sunday school remains one of the most widely embraced ministry programs, the study said, it is undergoing change. Just 15 percent of senior pastors in 2005 considered Sunday school to be their church’s highest priority, a significant drop from previous years.
By the way, nothing will be successful in the life of a church unless the senior pastor leads by example!
If the pastor does not believe in evangelism, the church will not be effective in evangelism. If he does not believe in Sunday School or small group Bible study the church will not be very effective in that area. Etc, etc.
More churches are dropping Sunday school programs for their youngest and oldest children. Three out of four churches offered programming for children under 2, down six percentage points from 1997. Churches were less likely to offer Sunday School for junior high (dropping from 93 percent to 86 percent) and high school students (moving from 86 percent to 80 percent.)
Church historian Bill Leonard listed symptoms that reveal Sunday school’s influence is waning in churches, both large and small:
- Declines in overall attendance by children and adults.
- Intermittent participation by some of the most regular participants.
- Multiple worship services that may affect traditional Sunday school
- Difficulty finding teachers whose calendars support consistent involvement.
- Decisions by some congregations to close Sunday school programs for certain
- Complex family calendars that require weekend travel, employment, caregiving
or recreational responsibilities.
Today Sunday School has become more of the fellowship arm of the church than the teaching/reaching arm. I know many churches that are still effectively using Sunday Morning Bible Study to reach, teach and keep people active in the life of their church.
When done properly, Sunday School still works but for it to work it must have several key ingredients.
- Pastor, staff and church leaders committed to making it the best it can be.
- Training teachers to not only have Bible knowledge but to know how to teach in creative, exciting ways that involve every person in the class.
Some say Sunday School is boring but the Bible is not boring! We may be boring, but the Word is not boring.
- Offering Sunday School other times besides Sunday morning. Why not have a Sunday night, Monday night or Wednesday night class for those who cannot attend because of work.
- Do fellowship in the class but plan for outside fellowship time that is also used to invite new people. You cannot do all the fellowship time needed
on Sunday mornings and Bible study too so offer additional times for the class
to get together at least once a quarter if not monthly.
- Make it easy for people to connect to a class and start new units.
New classes reach new people and grow faster than existing classes.
- Stretch it out! Conduct a “Friend Day” in Sunday School or serve a breakfast prior to Sunday School to build participation.
- Celebrate when classes enroll new people or have a profession of faith in Christ.
- Know there is a huge difference in just having a Sunday School versus using a Sunday School as a strategy to disciple people!
I do not think Sunday School is dead. What is dead is the old ways of doing it and leaders who have lost their passion. Breathe some new life into your Sunday School by training, encouraging workers, and setting goals. Sunday School works if you work it. It can provide fellowship, outreach opportunities and biblical instruction that changes lives.
Keep the Son in Your Eyes,