What’s happening to Sunday School

I so loved Sunday School. We would run out of church at the allocated time and head to the “big hall” which had been broken down into smaller divided “rooms” for different age groups. Maybe a song and prayer together and then the parents would meet us and grab a cuppa at the end of the church service. I was meant to be learning the stories of the Bible and the people whose lives had been lived in faith. I learnt I was part of a bigger worshipping community.

The Sunday School Movement had sustained generations for over 250 years. But in western society I experienced this pretty much in its “dying” phase. It was already an abbreviated version with a changed purpose to when the philanthropist Robert Raikes took working class children off the streets on Sunday Morning (the only day off work), and gave them the skills to worship and better themselves. Wesley’s movement was just starting out and this method fitted their theology, so they warmly embraced this idea. The original “Sunday School” began, with paid teachers and incentives for scholars when they attended worship.

The Judeo emphasis on education bolstered this movement and spear headed formalised school teaching for all children in an era where the industrial revolution was emphasising social injustices.

Unfortunately, Western cultures have seen a decline in students, aging of volunteer teachers and changes in the pedagogies of the formal education systems. Whereas, so I’ve been told, this is not the case in some parts of Asia. And some of our newer migrants still look for this structure too.

Congregations who successfully operated Sunday School now struggle with the idea of educating their young. They can be bewildered with a changing society in which their values and lifestyle no longer fit Australia today. There are new ways of worship, and stronger ideas about the role of the family in faith formation. Can children learn in worship? Can worship be education?

Should they run Messy church? What is intergenerational worship and why do we have to change? Being a Church that takes seriously the education of their young is far from easy.

How are you doing it? What works well?

Let’s have the conversation and pass on some great ideas to others.

REF: Wills, Wesley R.. 200 Years and still counting: Past, Present and future of the Sunday School ( Wheaton,Victors Books,1980)

Earnshaw, Beverley, Fanned into Flames: The spread of the Sunday School (Fairfield, Bright and Sons,1980)


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