I receive emails weekly from Christian educators and Christian faith formation organizations addressing current issues about Sunday school. Posts on Facebook pages also invite a flurry of comments and concerns. Here's what I'm thinking.
The Current Issue?
Sunday school is not a priority. The wording, “Sunday school”, does not seem to describe faith formation happening in the congregation anymore. At one point in time Sunday school described a minimum of one hour a week where we met divided by age (primarily children) to experience Christian education and learn more about our faith. If this is happening at all today, the likelihood is the congregation is a large one. Large is not the norm in mainline denominations any longer.
Many congregations are void of children and youth but seek to grow the church magically by hiring someone or asking a volunteer to oversee children and youth. Hiring someone entails finding a person with some educational and/or faith formation background and providing a special line item in the budget. Budgets are shrinking. Asking a volunteer involves filling the slot with someone who most likely has no experience or background in faith formation. In many congregations today there are very few children and youth if not, an absence of them. Yet the leadership in congregations assumes the answer is to organize and coordinate a Sunday school.
We seem to be caught in a world where the average parishioner understands the language of Sunday school and Christian education, remembers something about it from their own childhood, and wants to recreate it in a world where nothing is the same. At the same time, leadership in the church is redefining what it means to teach the faith by naming it Christian faith formation with a renewed emphasis on uplifting the importance of parents, guardians, and other adults as key role models of faith formation for children and youth.
How do we address the current issue and concerns? I believe we need to begin to think outside the “Sunday school” box. Rather than think about our wants as leaders, we should reflect on the needs of parishioners today. They need to understand that faith formation doesn’t just happen on Sunday. They need to understand faith formation as a way of life, not a one hour experience on Sunday morning. And they need to be introduced to a new way to describe what faith as way of life means. Is it Christian education? Yes, but that can sound too much like school. Is it still Sunday school? Maybe in some places, but it happens at other times during the week also.
What is Important?
In 1993, Eugene Roehlkepartain’s book The Teaching Church: Moving Christian Education to Center Stage was published. It references challenges uncovered by the Effective Christian Education study conducted by Search Institute. It includes worksheets and checklists to be used in evaluating a congregation's educational programs as well as charts and graphs that interpret the data effectively. Gene’s conclusions are still relevant today. Scary?
In 2003, George Barna wrote about his research on children and why they should be a priority in the church. The book is titled, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions: Why Children Should Be Your Church's #1 Priority. He states, “Few parents and church leaders realize how critical it is to start developing a child’s biblical worldview from the very earliest years of life.” Barna’s research is still relevant today. Scary?
I invite you to read one, if not both of these resources and consider how we, as the church, can move outside the Sunday school box and move towards faith formation as a way of life using our congregations as the launching pad for faith to happen in the home and in the community.
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