Today’s Sunday Schools
Gary D. Erickson
Sunday school has immense potential to reach this generation. Its function has never been more fundamental to church growth and maturity. The government, public schools, and the public media have forsaken their opportunity to teach moral values. The secularists are working with fervor to remove religion from all public life. Prayer has been removed from the classroom. The Ten Commandments can no longer be posted. Evolution is taught as fact. Humanism is taught as a primary philosophy of life. Atheism is experiencing a revival of growth.
As we “slouch toward Gomorrah,” the church is the only institution left that teaches faith in God and basic morality. Sunday school continues to be the primary teaching tool to reach this postmodern culture. Sunday school is more important than ever. A church that does not provide a high-quality teaching program for its children is failing this generation!
Growing a church in today’s culture is a specialized undertaking. It requires spiritual perception, a love for people, vision, anointing, and a constant monitoring of cultural change. The church must implement methods that attract and keep people. Rapid changes in technology and people’s behavioral patterns are difficult to keep up with. What worked yesterday may not work today. Diversity of culture from one location to another adds to the challenge. Nevertheless, Sunday school continues to meet the challenge in these changing times.
George Barna, a popular Christian researcher, says, “In a culture saturated with change, one of the most stable aspects in the religious sphere has been Sunday school. Sunday school remains one of the most widely embraced ministry programs.”1 He further states that “19 out of 20 Protestant churches (95%) offer „a Sunday school in which people receive some form of planned or systematic Bible instruction in a class setting.? ”2 According to David Kinnaman, the director of Barna’s study, “Rumors [about] Sunday school’s imminent demise are greatly exaggerated. Every weekend more than 300,000 churches offer some type of systematic religious instruction in a classroom setting. Nearly 9 out of 10 pastors said they consider Sunday school to be an important part of their church’s ministry.”
Barna has this to say about church leaders who have a diminished view of Sunday school: “Many church leaders have helped perpetuate the myth for twenty or so years. The myth is that Sunday School is no longer effective evangelistically or as an assimilation tool. And those who believed the myth are suffering as a result.”4 Thom Rainer, another researcher, also states,
“Those who think something is inherently wrong with Sunday school should consider two things: First, many Sunday schools are quite effective. [Second], churches with ineffective Sunday schools violate the very principles that make Sunday school a viable organization: they dilute biblical teachings, fail to train effective teachers, replace systematic Bible teaching with other types of group activity, and relegate Sunday school to the status of one more church activity.”
Barna says, “No organization in America today provides more opportunities for ministry than Sunday school. The small-group movement is certainly to be lauded for its contributions to the kingdom. But, as … recently noted, the movement has been on a numerical decline for the past few years. [There is] a tendency toward weak teaching, lack of leadership and accountability, confusion of purpose, and inadequate child care as possible explanations for the downturn.”
Rainer quoting Barna says, “New Christians who immediately became active in Sunday school [are] five times more likely to remain in the church five years later (we did not include those who moved to another community or those who died in the „dropout? category).”7 Rainer goes on to say, “We ask church leaders that [have] utilized both Sunday school and cell groups why they ranked Sunday school higher.” Four reasons [are] given with frequency:
* Sunday school is easier to organize and administer.
* It more easily includes all age groups.
* It more readily protects doctrinal integrity with standardized curriculum.
* Having worship and Sunday school the same day has practical benefits.8
“The research is clear if not overwhelming. Sunday school is the most effective assimilating methodology in evangelistic churches today. It is a place where teaching, discipleship, ministry, fellowship, and evangelism can all take place. It is the place where relationships are formed and people become connected to the church.” “[Sunday school’s] history is almost as old as our nation itself. But more and more the research indicates that Sunday school is not only our past, it is our future as well. And we who are leaders in the church will ignore this reality to our church’s peril.”
This article “Today’s Sunday Schools” by Gary D. Erickson has been copyrighted and may only be used for research and study purposes only.
1 George Barna, “Sunday School is Changing in Under-the-radar but Significant Ways,” The Barna Update, July 11, 2005, http://www.barna.org, 1.
3 David Kinnaman quoted in ibid., 3.
4 Thom S. Rainer, High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church, (Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing Group, 1999), 29, (Quoting Don Cox).
5 Thom Rainer, Effective Evangelistic Churches (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 82.
6 George Barna, Virtual America: What Every Church Leader Needs to Know about Ministry in an Age of Spiritual and Technological Revolution (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1993), 52–55, quoted in Thom Rainer, Effective Evangelistic Churches, 39.
7 Thom Rainer, Effective Evangelistic Churches, 45.
8 Ibid., 45–47.
9 Ibid., 47.
10 Ibid., 47.