Sunday school in the church is an important part of the faith and strengthens both the faithful and the churches. It includes not only preaching, but also teaching and community. However, a new study by The Barna Group of Ventura, California, shows that while many aspects of Sunday school remain constant, significant changes are taking place beneath the surface. Nearly 9 out of 10 pastors said they consider Sunday school to be an important part of their church's ministry.
The research was commissioned by Gospel Light, a VBS Sunday School and Curriculum publisher based in Ventura, California. Some church historians recall the Sunday school movement and claim that “the beginning of Sunday schools saved the church from extinction.” The research identified three changes that are taking shape in Sunday school programs and two additional changes affecting programs for other children. Longitudinal research among Protestant pastors, commissioned since 1997 by Gospel Light, has explored how churches prioritize and participate in Sunday school, the use of the curriculum, weekday programming for children, and Vacation Bible School programs (often called VBS). The purpose of their Sunday school was to bring together stray children and take them to a place where they could learn to read.
On the other hand, the congregations most likely to emphasize Sunday school were African-American congregations (37%), Baptist churches (23%), pastors who have been leading their churches for 20 or more years (23%), charismatic churches (21%), and congregations with pastors aged 59 and over (21%). These may not seem like substantial drops in terms of percentage points (after all, the vast majority of churches still offer these types of programs), but they represent about 20,000 fewer churches offering Sunday schools for every age group. But if Sunday school is so important and there are so many good reasons why Christians should attend Sunday school, why do attendance numbers continue to decline in most churches? I think the main reason is a general decline in interest in the church and the Bible. The fastest change in Sunday school scheduling is the move toward a “personalized curriculum.”.