What’s Up With Sunday School?

While Melissa Pandika’s article, “Has the Sun Set on Sunday School?” (ozy.com, March 16, 2015) was not the first to raise the question, the piece seems to have sparked increased interest—possibly because it was picked up by USA Today a few days later—in the debate from all sides. Google-search the phrase “future of Sunday school” and be prepared to scroll through page after page of articles, research papers, and blogs that all address the issue.

But you don’t have time for that. So we’ll give you a quick take on what people are saying.

Eating Our Families Alive

Turns out, that’s one of the major factors contributing to a decline in children ministries’ Sunday school attendance and in church worship attendance in general: time, or lack thereof. In her article, Pandika states, “Instead of a day of rest, Sunday has become just another day for over-scheduled kids to be chauffeured from sports practice to music lessons or SAT tutoring. It doesn’t help that parents themselves, so overwhelmed by life, are skipping church.”

Will Mancini, founder of church consulting firm Auxano and author of Church Unique, agrees, explaining that people don’t have time for church because of the “increasing involvement with kid’s activities including more ‘multiple activity’ commitments (sports, music, etc.) for longer durations with greater competitiveness.” He continues: “The growth of club sports and the intensity of competition creates a market for kids to get started earlier and be involved longer. This is literally eating our families alive when it comes to time. “

In his column about youth sports for Forbes magazine, Bob Cook shares from personal experience: “I’m a Sunday school teacher but I’m also a parent who has let his kids sleep in from church because they are worn out from a week’s worth of school homework, sports, activities and events. So I understand why youth sports is one of the many reasons what most people know as Sunday school—Christian instruction given to children before, during or after a church service—is on the wane.”

Footballs and Paintbrushes

Some churches have already thrown in the Sunday school towel and are trying new ways to reach young families and their children, but most are choosing instead to revamp and revitalize their existing Sunday morning classes.

On the Baltimore Washington United Methodist Church Conference website, Carrie Madren shares what Trinity UMC in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is doing to reimagine their Sunday school program. “The new school year kicked off with Fundamentals of Faith and Football, which used basic football skills to teach biblical lessons on faith. Starting with a tailgating party, Faith and Football became a six-weeklong series in the park,” she writes. “Another football lesson related football penalties and game rules to God’s law and the Ten Commandments.”

Inventive Sunday school ideas from another United Methodist church, Parkway Heights UMC of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, are featured on the United Methodist Church website, umc.org. “At Parkway Heights UMC, each Sunday morning in September found young Michelangelos by the roomful, stretched out flat on their backs, painting their own versions of the Creation story,” the site’s article states. “The opportunity to try matching brushstrokes with Michelangelo is just one of several innovative ways children experience the Creation story.”

If They Enjoy

These success stories illustrate what author S. Joseph Kidder means in his book, The Big Four: Secrets to a Thriving Church Family, when he explains, “In the past, parents brought their children to the church and the Lord. Today, children bring their parents and friends to the church if they enjoy their experience there.”

Not only does Kidder give us an additional and significant reason to make Sunday schools work—a new dynamic of who leads whom—but he also hits another nail on the head: “if they enjoy their experience there.”

We know we’ve only explored a fraction of the Sunday school debate here, but naturally we’re drawn to Kidder’s statement. Developing ways for you to provide enjoyable experiences to children so that they can learn about Christ’s love is what we do. And we think we do a pretty good job with products like the CEB Deep Blue Kids Bible and all the other Deep Blue curriculum materials.

The Devil’s Super Bowl

Amidst the scurrying and worrying over what’s the best thing to do for our kids, thank goodness there are those who find a lighter side.

In his book, Stuff Christians Like, Jon Acuff says the hour before you attend church is like the devil’s Super Bowl. He writes, “I am assuming his goal is to get you distracted and angry and all poisonous before you have a chance to connect with God during the worship service. So he just wrecks your morning and gets you in some squabble with your spouse or a roommate.”

John UpChurch, Senior Editor at biblestudytools.com, provides a very relatable description of a typical family’s Sunday morning scramble in an essay he wrote for crosswalk.com: “The drive to church takes about an hour. That means we hustle. While my praise-team-singing wife readies herself in the cramped bathroom, I do my best to whirl around the house and keep our girls on track. The soundtrack of our Sunday mornings goes something like this: ‘Yes, you have to wear those tights. No, you can’t match leopard shoes with that dress. I have no idea if that goes together. I think I saw your bear under the pile of clothes. Your sleeve is not a tissue.’”

Tell us what you think!

If you were to create a wish list for your church’s Children’s Ministry, what would it include? What out-of-the-Sunday-school-box ideas have you tried? Do you have tips for finding peaceful time for family worship in the midst of the weekly scramble? Let’s talk about how we can shape that enjoyable experience together! Please comment here.