Is this thing called Sunday school working?
You can find millions of children sitting in little chairs in churches on any given Sunday morning. Does this mean Sunday school is working?
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Some of these Sunday school children tote home colorful fliers that depict old-fashioned-looking Bible characters in faraway lands. Does this mean Sunday school is working?
Sunday school is operated by arguably the largest volunteer corps in the country. Does this mean Sunday school is working?
To help answer this question, we decided to ask the end users of the product-kids themselves. We interviewed kids as they poured out of local elementary and middle schools. Of those who admitted to attending Sunday school we asked for critiques. Their comments: “okay,” “boring,” “too much like school,” “too much sitting in chairs,” “boring,” “fine,” “the teacher talks about God and stuff,” “boring.”
We also asked them if they could remember something they learned in Sunday school. The vast majority couldn’t recall even one learning.
Tim Stafford wrote in Christianity Today magazine: “The bedrock institution of Sunday school is in trouble. Attendance nationally is flat or declining. Practically everyone involved, from curriculum publishers to ordinary Sunday-morning teachers, expresses frustration with its present and uncertainty about its future.”
Is Sunday school working? Well, let’s rephrase the question. Is the Sunday school system resulting in effective education and implementation of God’s truths in kids’ lives? All too often, the answer is no.
A SHIP WITHOUT A RUDDER
So, why isn’t Sunday school’s vast commitment of human and financial resources more closely reaching its potential? Is the problem, as many have alleged, a shortage of committed teachers? Should we blame today’s fast-lane society and shortage of housewives?
It’s not that easy. If today’s baby-boomer parents saw evidence of quality-that is, if they saw that hour on Sunday morning produce any net effect in their children’s spiritual growth-they’d gladly volunteer their precious time to help.
The problem with Sunday school is far more basic. We’ve lost our way.
Shouldn’t the overriding goal of Sunday school be to lead students to know, love and follow God through Jesus Christ? But after decades of doing Sunday school in the same old way, we’ve simply forgotten the goal. It’s been rusted over by a set of expectations that few have bothered to stop and evaluate. These expectations have frequently become the misguided barometers and goals of Sunday school. Some examples:
*”The children keep coming.” Is a body in a chair the net result of Christian education?
*”Our classrooms are controlled and quiet.” Silence and passivity in a Sunday school class usually indicate a lack of learning.
*”The children are busy the whole hour.” Were they punching out those little stickers to paste on the take-home paper? Were they engaged in yet another set of word scrambles? Is our goal merely to fill time or to encourage life-changing learning?
*”Our boys and girls have a new Bible memory verse every week.” Many churches stress memorization over understanding of scripture. Education expert Frank Smith, in his book Insult to Intelligence, writes: “Rote memorization is the worst strategy for trying to learn anything we do not understand.”
*”Our teachers are teaching great material.” But are our students learning any great material? Teaching and learning are not the same.
Attendance, quiet classrooms, busy work, rote memorization and an emphasis on teaching rather than learning have lulled us into thinking we’re doing the right thing. But is anyone bothering to see if kids are retaining anything they’re taught? Is anybody insisting to know if kids are exhibiting a growing faith? Is anyone verifying that Sunday school is affecting kids’ day-to-day lives at home, on the school playground and in the sandlot?
We’re a rudderless ship. We’ve forgotten where we’re going. We’re caught up in trimming the sails, swabbing the decks and walking off the plank. Meanwhile our ship is adrift at sea.