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Is Sunday School going extinct?

August 30, 2016

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have. ~ Margaret Mead

There’s one in every crowd or in this case, committee.  Leave it to a science teacher who never graduated out of the preschool days of asking why to be the one in this case. I fervently believe and espouse in the college courses where I inspire future science teachers, one of the reasons we have to market science courses to high school learners is because we urged our youngest learners to stop asking so many questions when they were in preschool.  Preschoolers make the best scientists because they still have the it factor, and it meaning a healthy dose of curiosity.

I am not one for sophomoric humor (despite living with boys where  I get a HEALTHY exposure), but I have never graduated out of that preschool sense of awe and wonder regarding God’s creation and definitely not now, nor anytime – ever –  quit asking questions of how the world works. This questioning (while not the Spanish inquisition) can, at times, exasperate those around me.

I am a thinker and a dreamer, spending much time reflecting (and as I like to call it ruminating) over thoughts.  If I were to describe myself, I would tell you that God made me a BIG IDEAS kind of girl.  When in his word He tells us to take delight in Him and He will give us the desires of our hearts, I take that to heart (and I am not trying to be pun-ny). I DREAM big and have ceaseless fascinations.

Currently I am serving an advisory role in my church’s Christian Education committee and we, too, are experiencing what countless other churches are – a decline in Sunday school enrollment.  Our church conducted a survey asking all kinds of questions about people’s thoughts about Sunday school and small groups as those serve a similar function in our church.  The results provided some useful data for this science education teacher’s mind, but there was one nagging question that my ruminations could not let go and was the one question we didn’t ask.

And like that, I became a one woman crusader on a quest to uncover answers.  How can I make an informed decision to go forward if I don’t know why people are making the decision not to attend?  So what would any wannabe social scientist and anthropologist do in the modern world? Yep, you guessed it! She uses social media to poll her friends.  About now, Margaret Mead might be rolling over in her grave.

I didn’t mean this as a quantitative analysis, but rather as a snapshot of today.  I was blown away by the responses I received, but more so by the raw honesty from not only my community but from others in communities far away as well.  Some of the answers moved me to tears and reminded me that we can never as a church community forget that just because the doors of the church are open that not everyone feels welcome.

Here is a snippet of the responses thus far: (SS = Sunday School and SG = small group)

We are slow starters. Don’t always make it to church.

My child says he learns more at AWANA and it is much more fun than SS.

My kids learn more at AWANA and dread SS.

Live too far out to come back into town for SG.

2 hours is a long time to sit for little ones on Sunday morning.

School/sports activities.

Too much on the plate/agenda.

Live too far out.  SS offering would have to be something really good for me to come.

Cannot hear well and miss out on the conversations in the SS class.

Doesn’t read well and is terrified to be called on to read in the SS class.

Don’t know the Bible well enough to attend with others who know more.

Not making SS a priority.

Hates that sports occur on Sundays but feel that child would not be able to play if they didn’t participate.

SS is boring. (Adults & kids responed)

Very difficult choice for sports families.

Sunday morning is the only time my family can sit down together and interact.

If parents don’t make it a priority, it will never be for the kids.

Do not see the value in SS because it is rare to find devoted teachers rather ones going through the motions.

Just plain worn out after a tough work week.

Feel guilty just dropping off kids for SS (and not staying). Easier for all to stay home.

Kids went up until jr high and then dreaded SS so much I quit fighting them on it.

Changes in SS approaches didn’t work for us.

Treats are always good! But that only works for so long.

Wed night education is great, but for high schoolers it is tough to sit another hour after sitting in school all day.

Don’t know anyone there. SS is clique-y.

Disappointment in the offerings for studies in SS.

Feel awful when we miss a few weeks and are behind on the study.

I am all for transparency and try to model it in every leadership role I have including home, work, volunteering, and church family.  The last answer in the ones above is mine. We are a sports family and sometimes we have to miss because of a sporting event where my children are playing.  I get overwhelmed when I get behind in anything and even though I don’t believe Jesus would care, I don’t like feeling overwhelmed when I walk in.  Growing up, Sunday School was one of my most favorite places in the world to be.  We were at the church about every time the door was opened.  In fact on a recent trip to tour the South of my childhood, I went to visit all my old churches. Those old buildings were like beacons calling me home.  What I wonder now is if the Sunday School of my childhood is not relevant to my world today,  then what do we do? How does the church of today stay relevant while trying to reach people where they are and still offer education?

While my methods were not, at all, scientific, my heart is in a place that truly wants to make a difference.  Now that I have scratched the surface of why we aren’t gathering together, my next step will be to find out what people want out of a church (which to me means family) without “diluting the gospel”.  No matter what that looks like, I will continue to go out to love and serve others.

I think that is what Jesus would have wanted all along.


One of the churches of my childhood.  Britt David Baptist in Columbus, GA. 

Please join the conversation by answering the question: If your church has Sunday School (or small group) AND you don’t attend, what is your reason for not participating? Feel free to reply here or to message me at if you don’t want others to see your thoughts. Your thoughts will really help me to help others.

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