Does the term ‘Sunday school’ have negative connotations? Is your curriculum relevant? If there’s a change in name only, children can see right past it. Here’s how to make sure your ministry’s image isn’t ailing…
Image is everything — at least in the business world. When its image needs repair, a company conducts a stylish PR blitz, complete with a celebrity spokesperson, slick ads, enticing giveaways, and maybe even a new name or slogan. Some Christian leaders now advocate a similar “corporate cure” for Sunday school’s ailing image.
But is that all there is to it? To find out, Children’s Ministry Magazine asked our readers: “Do you agree or disagree that the name ‘Sunday school’ needs to be changed?” By a 3-to-1 margin, children’s ministers said it’s time for this ministry moniker to go.
Playing The Name Game
From a literal standpoint, the name “Sunday school” is obsolete because educational programs are no longer held just on Sundays, and most no longer resemble school-classroom settings.
Name Blame — From a practical standpoint, the name may turn kids away.
“The last thing kids want to hear on the weekend is ‘school,’ ” says Amy Sacha, a children’s ministry coordinator in Englewood, Ohio. Children’s ministers who voted for a name change agree that five days of school is enough and that children need a change from their weekly routines. They need a place where they can be actively involved.
Most children’s ministers who want to discard the “Sunday school” name cite its negative connotations, saying it “conjures up a picture of a long, boring session on your seat” and reminds people of textbooks, memorization, lectures, and “being forced to go to something they disliked as children.”
In addition, children who have negative experiences in school associate the word “school” with failure and frustration. Instead, says Martha Parris, a director of Christian education in Springfield, Missouri, “Children need to be encouraged that learning about God is a positive activity.” And a new name can do just that!
Name Fame — The minority of readers who favor keeping “Sunday school” say it’s a well-established, recognized name that denotes tradition and has a rich history. Others say it has pleasant associations and is familiar and appealing to non-Christians and Christians.
Jan Bunner, a children’s ministry coordinator in DeRidder, Louisiana, says, “The unchurched know that God can be found at ‘Sunday school’ and that a teacher there will accept them unconditionally. Churchgoers know that the biblical teaching at Sunday school is the same as always.” Robyn Clifford, a children’s minister in Pinson, Tennessee, values the word “school” because it gives an expectation that learning will occur.
Putting It In Perspective
Whatever the name, that alone doesn’t necessarily mean your program is meeting needs. Whether they favor chucking or keeping the Sunday school name, many children’s ministers say it’s what’s inside that counts.
Soozung Sa, a Christian education coordinator in Wautoma, Wisconsin, says that although a name change can renew leaders’ spirits and attitudes, “the program has to be as credible as the name; the name is not enough.”
“When there’s a change in name only, children can see right past it… and recognize immediately that the learning experience is still ‘Sunday school,’ ” says pastor John Bartz from Frewsburg, New York. He supports a name change “only if the learning atmosphere and Christian education program are changed as well.”
Bartz offers this analogy: To change the name only and not the content or atmosphere of the learning experience would be like a store changing its name on the marquee, but keeping the same shelves, aisles, and, most of all, product.