Is the much-trumpeted demise of Sunday school reality—or myth? Children’s Ministry Magazine has exclusive research results exploring the truth about Sunday school in churches today.
Is it true that Sunday school for kids is an artifact of a bygone era? Is the inevitable end of this long-beloved Sunday tradition rapidly approaching? Recent articles, blogs, and wider church discussions openly discuss the “death” of Sunday school. At first glance, it may seem true. Sunday school attendance—along with overall church attendance—is in decline. But is the weekly act of offering programming for kids every Sunday truly a thing of the past? Or has Sunday school simply been repackaged? To get a clearer picture of what’s actually happening in churches, we surveyed children’s ministers representing 79 churches across the U.S. and beyond. What we uncovered is surprising—and may hold implications for your ministry.
A Glance at the Chart
To get a snapshot of what’s happening right now in churches, we looked at what churches offer today and how attendance corresponds. Of note here is that while the majority of churches offering kids Sunday school have done so for more than 10 years (81%), the largest segment (35%) also indicates attendance is declining. Also, a large majority offer Sunday school (72%) or a Sunday school alternative (53%) today.
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Sunday School by Any Other Name
Many churches say they don’t offer “Sunday school” but do offer kids’ programming on Sunday mornings. Here’s a snapshot of what churches say their programs look like.
- Large-group introductory lessons, small-group debriefing and activities
- Rotation workshops during the school year with separate, Bible-focused kids’ programming during summer
- One-hour, curriculum-based, structured lesson time that’s focused on interactivity for mixed ages
- Kids in worship with families, then leave for music, a Bible lesson, and a craft
- Bible study of one chapter per week that includes reading and discussion in pairs
- Standard classroom model of lesson time with handouts and Bible study; ages are mixed because of low numbers
- Kids go to church with parents and stay there
Checking the Temp
We asked why Sunday school appears to be in decline based on children’s ministers’ experiences.
Here are their thoughts.
- “The model is outdated and tough for churches to maintain.”
- “We have half the attendance we did seven years ago.”
- “Today’s parents don’t place more importance on coming to church than on sports.”
- “Fewer families coming to church means fewer kids in Sunday school.”
- “It’s harder to keep kids engaged and to find volunteers.”
- “Sunday school feels like school to kids.”
- “Parents are disengaged.”
- “The divorce rate and changing family dynamics mean parents stop coming to church.”
- “Teachers and volunteers are hard to come by.”
- “Parents will only commit to one hour at church, not more.”
- “There’s a sense that children are a bother at churches with older populations.”
- “People don’t see the worth of Sunday school.”
- “There’s a culture shift in the country.”
We Pulled the Plug
We asked why the churches that had discontinued Sunday school made that choice. Though a minority choose closure, the reasons churches closed their Sunday school programs were common.
- Lack of attendance
- Space and occupancy issues
- Church-wide shift that eliminated the program
- Parents used the program as a babysitting service and did not attend themselves
- Lack of volunteers
- Lack of support and interest from church and parents