Sunday School Problems?

July 21, 2009

[The following post was originally published in Ken Ham’s personal blog, “Around the World with Ken Ham.” Ken is the founder and president of Answers in Genesis and the author of numerous books, including  Already Gone published by Master Books.]

In our new book Already Gone, chapter 2 is entitled, “The Sunday School Syndrome.” The research in the book (conducted by America’s Research Group) is based on a survey of “20 somethings” who used to go to church as kids but no longer go to church.

We divided that group of 1000 into two groups: those who went to Sunday school as kids and those who didn’t. What we found was that those who went to Sunday school were worse off—were more anti-church, more likely to defend “gay” marriage and abortion, now that they are in their 20s. They gave reasons such as Sunday school teachers teaching the Bible as a book of “stories” (which comes across to kids as “fairy tales”) and not teaching students to defend the Christian faith—not preparing them with answers for the skeptical questions and accusations of the world.

Well, a Wall Street Journal article, reporting on Sunday school research conducted by George Barna, states:

The decline in Sunday schools appears to be gradual but steady. A study by the Barna Group indicated that in 2004 churches were 6% less likely to provide Sunday school for children ages 2 to 5 as in 1997. For middle-school kids, the decline was to 86% providing Sunday school in 2004 from 93% in 1997. Similarly, there was a six-percentage-point drop in Sunday schools offered for high school kids—to 80% from 86%. All in all, about 20,000 fewer churches were maintaining Sunday school classes. And the future does not look bright: Only 15% of ministers regarded Sunday school as a leading concern. The younger the pastor, the study showed, the less emphasis he placed on Sunday school.

The article also states:

Sunday school was hardly advanced theology. Most of the programs ran parallel to the regular school year. During the Sunday school “year” there wasn’t time to cover much beyond the major Old Testament stories and the Gospel stories about Jesus. Acts and the Epistles always got short shrift. (I was an adult before I realized that St. Paul wasn’t one of the original 12!) We either tormented or adored our Sunday school teachers. Some are dear to us still. In short, Sunday school was a civilizing experience that assured some level of religious literacy.

Fewer children are having that experience, though. Like West Olive United Methodist, many churches have drastically curtailed or given up entirely on Sunday school for children. Two years ago, Bruce Morrison, an official with the Missouri Baptist Convention, wrote about attending a “ministry conference where several denominations were represented.” During a break, he recalled, “I overheard a discussion between several of the attendees about the value of Sunday school in today’s culture. The implication was that Sunday school ministry in the local church is obsolete.”

You can read the entire article here.

There is no doubt most Sunday schools need radical surgery. If you haven’t read Already Gone, which discusses the problems with Sunday schools and suggests solutions (all based on real research), I urge you to do so. You can obtain a copy of Already Gone from AiG’s online bookstore.