Sunday school has been a fixture of American Christianity for many years. Since its birth during Great Britain’s industrial revolution, Sunday School has become about as sacred as pews and stained glass. In spite of its importance and high regard, some are beginning to speak out against the practice and rethinking the importance and place of Sunday School in today’s church.
Here are some reasons why some churches encourage Sunday School, while others are starting to turn against it.
Against: Sunday School separates families from worshipping together.
For most Sunday School models, the church sets up a one-hour class for children where they sing music, complete hands-on activities, and listen to a quick lesson on their own learning level. Adults are then sent off to a normal worship service with their own sermon. After an hour of separation, everyone goes home and gets on with their lives. When children don't worship with their parents, they typically feel a disconnect with church later on in life. Once children graduate the programs that are targeted towards them, they don't feel that pull to start going to the church's Sunday sermons. So much effort gets put on helping them be Christians as children, that less focus is put on helping them stay Christian long-term.
For: Sunday School provides a forum for learning.
Sunday school is important in the spiritual development of Christian children because it provides a forum for learning that is comprised of students and teachers. Sunday School sets the stage for better understanding, because the lessons are usually designed to meet the needs of each specific age group. A systematic teaching of the scripture – and not just preaching (Acts 5:42) needs to occur through all age levels in order for younger minds to truly start to understand the faith. Children and youth need opportunities for discovery, review, and interaction as they study God’s principles. Sunday School encourages spiritual interaction between the students and the teachers, as well as providing a comprehensive way of learning as a group.
Against: Sunday School only exists for the sake of increasing a church’s attendance.
Churches across America once had Sunday School with the goal of transforming lives. Since its beginning in the 1780s, Sunday School existed to further the education of children. The first Sunday Schools allowed millions of British children to be afforded education basics like reading and writing, and provided them a guide for moral behavior. Now, though, churches have shifted their focus on the meaning of Sunday School. Over the years churches began creating huge buildings with educational spaces, because they embraced Sunday school as the key to church growth.
For: There are benefits of a Sunday School's smaller class sizes.
Sunday School classes are much smaller than the size of an entire congregation, which can have some good benefits. For example, prayer is directed toward the specific needs of the class members. Fellowship and informal conversations flow easily in small groups where care is expressed and people know your name and your problems in a non-threatening environment. Furthermore, it helps make each person feel like they matter in the church. Where a pastor might find it impossible to know all the needs of the congregation, Sunday School teachers know when someone is absent or hurting and can express love personally.
Against: Sunday School is glorified daycare.
Most Sunday School programs are to be applauded because they at least teach the Bible in some semblance. Some Sunday school classes, however, make no effort to teach the Bible. These programs are little more than a sanctified childcare — keeping the kids happy, entertained, and fed while the grownups go to church. It's true that most two year-old children have a hard time focusing on a theological discourse, but any six-year old is able to understand and absorb biblical truths. Regardless of the format it takes, children should sustain some biblical intake.
For: Sunday School offers children with mentors.
Parenting is tough, but when you have Sunday School teachers working to mentor your children, they can provide another source of guidance. The church is a community where everyone helps their neighbors, and Sunday School teachers realize it takes a village to raise a child. When you take your children to Sunday school, you can rest assured you have qualified help with their spiritual education. Furthermore, it gives children more positive role models they can look up to. Children can develop more positive habits, and have fun while doing so.
Sunday School classes might be a staple in your church, but should they be? Sunday School might not need to go away in your church, but is it possible it might need some changes? As we pursue biblical excellence in our ministry, let’s not leave Sunday school out of the equation.