I refuse to believe that a traditional Sunday school ministry is necessarily passe just because it's been around awhile. Sunday school originated in England in the mid 1800s. It was organized by churches to give children some basic education on Sunday because so many of them worked in factories from Monday through Saturday. This was an era of unregulated industrialization both in England and the United States. Eventually regulation came and public education became more widespread and effective. However, Sunday school had gradually become a staple part of many churchs' ministry. Instead of dropping the ministry, the focus of it shifted. Instead of focusing on reading and writing, the focus became religious instruction.
Sunday school didn't catch on right away, and it had plenty of opponents. Some insisted that it wasn't biblical, because the early church didn't have anything like it. But many Christian leaders began to see that a well-organized, intentional Sunday school was a tremendous outreach tool as well. Here was a mechanism to segment the church into teams that in turn would reach out to bring others into the church.
In Southern Baptist life Sunday school has been the so-called "bread and butter" of our week to week outreach efforts. There have been and will be come-and-go evangelism programs and emphases, but the Sunday school remains constant. However, in my life I have seen a gradual shift away from traditional Sunday school. Frankly, in some contexts that's fine. For example, new church plants are not typically (actually I can't think of one) going to set up a traditionally formatted Sunday school. Most likely they will try to employ something a little more trendy like "Life Groups" or "Connect Groups" or some other small group ministry with a really cool name. And that's fine too. Many times these groups will meet at times other that Sunday morning. And that's dandy.
I pastor a First Baptist Church. And anyone in church ministry knows what that means- tradition. And, you guessed it, that's okay as well. We still have Sunday school. We have it on Sunday morning at the traditional time. It's organized in a traditional way. And it bears a traditional name. That's the way it's going to be and should be at my church. And our Sunday school is doing well and continuing to improve.
Traditional Sunday school can still thrive in our culture if we keep it invigorated and founded on a sound philosophy of ministry and focused purpose. As a pastor I am learning that training is the key. My job is to equip those who answer the call to serve - our directors, teachers, care group leaders, and outreach leaders.
I've never had an original idea about Sunday school. (Actually, not about many things at all.) But I've boiled down our Sunday school's purpose to three key priorities: Reaching People, Teaching People, and Ministering to People. (Thank you Alan Taylor) I'd like to say that everyone has caught on, but they haven't. I am glad to see that a few are beginning to "get it."
Sunday school is still in most Baptist churches the largest organization poised to reach people. It's already there. We just need to be intentional and work hard to leverage its potential for outreach to the unchurched. Don't give up on Sunday school; start learning how to do it better. If you've got any ideas that have been effective for you and your church I would love to hear about it.
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