My dad stood in front of a group of believers and fired;
“raise your hand if you like Sunday school.”
People shuffled uncomfortably, and a few sidelong glances were exchanged before a few hesitant hands went up.
He shocked everyone to attention as he replied, slightly tongue-in-cheek,
“Well, I don’t like Sunday school either. I never have.”
I love dad’s way of getting people’s attention! He then enlightened the room on the origins of Sunday school and how, instead of adapting and changing with the times, we have simply maintained an old system.
Evangelical Robert Raikes began “Sunday school” in Great Britain in the late 1700’s. Underprivileged children were unable to afford an education, and many had to work during the week. The only day left for “educating” was on Sunday, so the Bible was literally used as a textbook. This idea spread to America, and as the years went by, parents insisted that their children attend Sunday school even if the parents themselves did not attend church. The onus of religious upbringing of the young—in the minds of parents—was placed on the church.
Fast-forward to today, where anyone can easily access the plethora of research and in-depth findings being released about how kids learn; everything from Piaget’s cognitive stages of development to Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development are just a few clicks away!
Yet, with the ubiquity of information available to us, we continue to maintain weekend programming that has not progressed much beyond the 18th century prototype. Sure, we now have colorful environments and current music, but we are still using an outdated paradigm. If we were really honest with ourselves, it isn’t hard to see why many children are spiritually impoverished, biblically illiterate, and not loving or learning from Sunday school.
Based on the original intention of Sunday school as compared to what we know about current learning styles, coupled with the incredible influence that media, technology, and family have on children, I have compiled a list 5 reasons why the old system isn’t effective:
1. Not optimized for learning. Most Sunday school programs are designed for the most highly effective form of management. Kids are expected to “behave” under a one-size-fits-all definition that doesn’t allow for the wide variety of learning styles and unique personalities in the room.
2. Not creative. Every week is the same. Sure, it’s a different story, but what kids “want” and “need” is determined by someone else, sometimes a whole team of someone elses, with no input or feedback from the kids themselves.
3. Not relevant when it’s not tech-savvy. For digital natives who spend an average of 4-7 hours online every day, children’s programming that is not digitally augmented is not speaking their language.
4. Not measured. Most Sunday schools simply execute their weekly program without ever gauging whether or not learning took place. Unless you are measuring success, how do you know whether kids are learning week to week, building their biblical literacy, growing in knowledge, practicing spiritual disciplines and bearing fruit?
5. Not family-centric. In most instances, parents have no idea as to what went on during the Sunday school hour other than by guessing from a craft or coloring sheet that may or may not come home with their child. The old model of Sunday school pandered to the 18th century practice of lax parenting, but we know from current research how critical the parenting role in partnership with the church is to the spiritual growth of children.
In a media-saturated world, culture is winning, while time spent on the spiritual development of children is drastically decreasing. Even in the best-case scenario, a child who attends an hour of programming at their local church every single weekend only receives a total of 52 hours per year spent on spiritual development. When you compare that to their 4 hours spent online daily, 52 is a drop in the bucket compared to a number like 1,460.
It’s time to create a new paradigm that bridges the gap and helps expand the influence of the church, in partnership with parents, to increase focus on spiritual development by creating digital tools that can be in the hands of kids and accessible throughout the entire week.
- 5 steps to more effective children’s ministry
- This changes everything–Bible App for Kids
- A Courageous Paradigm Shift (part 2)