Friday, June 26, 2009

More Bad News: Sunday Schools Closing

They say bad news comes in threes. If the latest stats on the membership decline in the PCUSA is one, then number two must be the feature story in today's Wall Street Journal called "Why Sunday Schools Are Closing?"

What's next? The demise of covered dish suppers? (El Jefe would not be sorry to see the end of those...)

The WSJ article focuses on a dated report (2004) from the Barna Group that showed a gradual but steady decline in Sunday Schools. We're all aware that there has been a decline in church membership and hence attendance (see Bad News No. 1, above), so author Charlotte Hays examines other reasons for the decline. She identifies the secular culture , competition with athletic and other events that are now scheduled on Sundays and divorce which often means children are away visiting non-custodial parents on the weekends.

I agree with Hays that, with all its faults and shortcomings, Sunday School was a "civilizing experience that assured some level of religious literacy" for those of us who grew up with it. It's going to be difficult to find another way for the Protestant denominations to do this--most have not established parochial schools for this purpose as the Catholics did, although this too is changing. In Houston there are two Presbyterian churches with schools through 8th grade and one that has an elementary school.

The church we used to attend had the elementary school and one of the things we found was that members' children who attended the school often did not attend Sunday School because the parents (and the kids!) thought that the school provided enough religious instruction during the week. Truthfully, it is hard to provide a program with volunteers that competes with the trained teachers in a weekday curriculum.

One of the other problems with the lack of attendance in Sunday School in that context was that members' children who went to the school but not Sunday School did not develop relationships with the other children in the church who did. Then you'd hear the complaint "my child doesn't want to come to youth group because he doesn't know any of those kids." That's predictable.

My conclusion is that Sunday School isn't dead yet, but certainly suffers the same malaise as the rest of the church. In some churches (like the one we attend now) it is a vibrant and strong program still. But there's no doubt there are more changes ahead because the religious and spiritual education of our children and youth is critical to the survival of the faith.

Now where's my casserole dish?


fisher said...

If only we could get adults to attend! When I was growing up, the idea of dropping your kids off for SS and heading for Starbucks was unknown. But so very much adult curriculum now is either drivel or condescending... The last time I taught an adult class I did all my own lesson planning because the material provided was just too embarrassing to use.

And so many people who still manage to be employed are working 60+ hour weeks nowadays. After both parents have done that and attended a soccer game, a ballet recital, and sold cookies/popcorn/chocolate bars and done the shopping/laundry/housework, it's no wonder they'd like to stay home a little longer. Especially if the the SS lesson is less than engaging.

And, really, one hour (or rather, 45 minutes) is not much time compared to all the other things going on in the course of a week. If there was some Christian ed some place else, SS would be more meaningful and, maybe, important.

Remember family devotions? We gathered every evening in the living room for scripture, questions, and prayer. Do families do that any more?

Oh no! Nostalgia for the "olden days" is taking over!! Enough for now - I'd probably better go play a video game or twitter until I return to the 21st century!

Presbyterian Gal said...

This just makes me sad.

Quotidian Grace said...


I agree with you about the adult curriculum. At my church most of the SS classes create their own--which can cause teacher burnout very quickly!

Dropping the kids off to SS and then going to Starbucks sets a poor example. No wonder when they are grown they'll choose Starbucks, too.

Rev Kim said...

We have several parents who drop off their kids for Sunday school, pick them up after, and don't stay for worship, thereby showing the kids that worship isn't important. We tried some things this last school year to get the parents to stay; for example, the kids sang more in worship. Can you believe that some parents & kids left after the kids were done singing?!? We even changed the time of the adult SS to coincide with the kids so that maybe the parents would stay at least for SS. Nope.

Sad indeed.

Quotidian Grace said...

Sadly, Kim, I do believe it.

A few years ago there was a big flap at our previous church when the school children's choir sang in worship at the church. The school parents, including many church members, rose and left en masse after the children sang, emptying the sanctuary!

Mac said...

It is even worse when the parents are ordained officers of the church! My HS SS Class asked for classes on the 5 points of Calvinism and The Revelation. The preparation was hard, but enriching for me.

Most of the kids enjoyed it, but a couple complained to their parents (and were supported by them) that the classes were "too religious" and boring. Two high schoolers actually complained that we would not use Veggie Tales!!


RevDi said...

When I was in Central Nebraska I discovered that a number of churches had switched to Wednesday School from Sunday School. They had developed an Christian Education program that followed the old Youth Club format: study;fellowship;music;supper. Worked pretty well and classroom time was longer and more consistent in attendance than on Sunday mornings.