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?