“Only 50% of the kids in my church come to Sunday School. What do I do?”
I’ve heard this from a couple of churches lately and I wonder if this is a trend. We all know how culture impacts the time that families set aside on Sunday for worship and Sunday School. Athletics, busy weekends, travel, Saturday night events and family get-togethers are making Sunday School attendance difficult for families.
A local church can’t do much to change the prevailing culture. We can preach about the importance of Sunday School and make people feel guilty. We can try a different curriculum and hope people come. We can jump higher and run farther but the culture will still win out, at least for many of the families. And, frankly, some of the things that are taking the place of Sunday School are great things. Making space for relatives or for good travel opportunities can enrich our faith!
So how do we respond?
First, rejoice and care for the children, teens and adults who do come. The people who attend should have the best we can offer in curriculum and in building relationships. Also, think about who are the people who do come? Do the same people come every week? Or are 70% of the people involved but attendance is at 50%? In my church there are Sundays when we have very low attendance -- like the Sunday when we lose an hour to daily savings time (since Sunday school is before worship for us).
Last Sunday a teacher told me how much fun she had when only one of the preschoolers was there (a girl named Charlotte). First they worked on how to button a sweater so the holes and buttons match. Next they drew pictures of dogs. Then they acted out the Bible story and finally looked at the activity to go with the story. The first two activities were specifically geared to match Charlotte’s needs (her sweater was buttoned in a creative way that morning). That couldn’t have happened if there had been more children that day.
Second, examine the purpose of your Sunday School. The purpose can be knowing God’s stories and knowing each other’s stories and building relationships between the children, teens, and adults who attend. Last week, Charlotte and her teacher got to know each other much better. How often do you get to spend 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with one of the children of your church?
Third, ask what you would lose if you don’t have Sunday School? Traditionally, the church has used Sunday school as a great tool to help children hear the stories of God. Is there another way for the church to share those stories? Can the relationship between the kids and the adult leaders be built in other ways?
Perhaps it's time to re-imagine ways to share God’s stories with people of all ages. That might be on Wednesday night, Thursday after school or a Sunday morning. Our job is to look around us and see if Sunday school is still achieving what we thought it was. After all, God’s word has been learned and passed down for centuries without Sunday School.