USA Today recently published an article entitled “Has the Sun Set on Sunday School?” The author proposes that Sunday School as we know it is dead. However, she shows a certain lack of knowledge of evangelical Christianity with her comments, proposing that Christians are turning to other learning methods on Sundays, including studies on books such as the Qur’an.
Although the USA Today author didn’t exactly get everything right in her article, she raises an important question.
Is Sunday School dead?
The Sunday school movement began in the 1780’s in Britain, when Robert Raikes wanted to give an education to the children who were growing up in the slums. Children would work Monday through Saturday, sometimes at least 12 hours a day! That means that Sunday was the only day on which they could seek an education.
As the movement grew and spread to America, children would attend Sunday school in order to learn how to read. The Bible was their main textbook that they read from. Once education became a mandated part of Western culture, Sunday school in churches in the 1870’s transitioned to just a means of religious education for children (source: Christianity Today).
So that’s where we’ve come from. But where is Sunday school today?
Sunday school has become ambiguous. What exactly is it? Many churches have children’s church on Sundays during their main church services. However, they choose to not call it Sunday school, in order to avoid it being viewed as just another part of school. Apparently most modern kids don’t get excited about school on their weekend off.
Other churches continue to hold traditional kids Sunday school classes on Sundays during their adult Sunday school hour, then move the kids to children’s church during the main service. Many churches structure their two Sunday morning children’s programs the same way, while other churches make sure that they are very different from each other.
So what happened to Sunday school?
Sunday school isn’t dead. Sunday school has adapted to the needs of modern children, and that is a good thing.
Churches are learning how to be innovative in their discipleship of children, and they are beginning to team up with the family to disciple children. So while the term “Sunday school” will start to die out in the next 15-20 years, the reality of churches helping in the discipleship of children is not dying out. It’s just changing names and is being restructured to more effectively reach children in today’s culture.
Sunday school isn’t dead. It’s just changing names and adapting in order to meet the needs of children today.
If you church still does Sunday school, is that bad? If it’s still effective, then no! Keep doing it. But, if it’s not reaching children like you want to, and you honestly think that more children could be reached with a different program, then it might be time to make the transition away from Sunday school to something else.
So what will happen in the future? My prediction is that churches will continue to disciple children, but the entire family unit will become a more vital part of that discipleship process. Biblical education will still be very important, but the application process will become an important part of discipling children as well. So, not only will children learn what the Bible says, but they will spend more time putting it into practice, with the help of the church and their parents.
Only time will tell, but there are exciting things ahead for children’s ministry. Regardless, Sunday school is a major reason why we have been able to disciple countless children for the past several hundred years.
What are your thoughts on the future of Sunday School?
Food for Thought:
- Will churches start to hold family events on Sunday mornings?
- Should churches become more involved in discipling parents? How?
- Will there be more intentionality with children’s curriculum to shift responsibility back to parents?
- Have Sunday school teachers made an impact? I think so.