Is Sunday School Failing?

ChurchRelevance.com recently posted some research coming from Ken Ham’s new book Already Gone that takes a look at trends that suggest Sunday school is failing at making long term disciples.

The findings focus on 20 to 29-year-old evangelicals.  Around 95% of those surveyed regularly attended church in elementary and middle schools.  As other research has shown, those who attended church starts to dwindle in high school and plummet in college.

The research goes on to find that those who attended Sunday school (61%) are more likely to hold the following stances than those who didn’t attend Sunday school (39%):

- do not believe that all the accounts and stories in the Bible are true

- doubt the Bible because it was written by men

- defend keeping abortion legal

- accept the legalization of gay marriage

- believe in evolution

- believe that good people don’t need to go to church

Kent Shaffer at Church Relevance came to this conclusion:

On the one hand, I believe that every children’s ministry can absolutely improve what they do. There is always room for improvement, but I also think these failed children’s ministries are the byproduct of failed churches.

If you want to reach and disciple children, you must reach and disciple their parents. Church going kids spend only 1% of their time at church, 20% at school, 30% sleeping, and much of the rest watching TV and playing. Children’s ministers can determine the 1%, but it is the parents who have the power to decide what reaches their kids during the other 99%. If you disciple the parents, you disciple the kids.

What’s your take?

Comments (44)

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I believe at least one contributing cause to this trend is the typically poor quality of Sunday School instruction. Children grow up hearing the same moralizing stories over and over through elementary, and then in youth group all they hear is ill-fated attempts to address "relevant" topics. Meanwhile, students are never grounded in solid doctrine or Christian apologetics. Thus, when the first skeptic comes along and presents them with a strong intellectual argument against Scripture, they fall for it, not realizing there are even stronger counter-arguments. Biblical narratives and contemporary applications are important, but alone they fail to provide the grounding that youth need.
I feel that Ken Ham's litmust test for who counts as acceptably christian is WAY too thin. I thought if you believed in Jesus as the son of God, you could be saved by God's grace. I think you can still believe that without defending seven-day creation and contemporary right-wing politics.

Sure, the way we teach our children about our faith could improve, but let's first examine the way we measure our success. I want adults christians who have questioned and come out with a more mature faith. Questioning things doesn't mean we failed, it means you think.
I have to say that I do not really think Sunday school is that helpful a program. Most of the time it has the effect of separating our kids from the very community that is meant to help them grow in the faith. It teaches them that there are different levels to the community. It feeds them dumbed down and sentimental versions of the stories of scripture, often with a moralistic interpretation. It, often, does not present the core truths of the faith because we think they are too hard for kids to understand.

We mistakenly assume that the incarnation, atonement, sanctification are the meat of the faith, when in fact they are the milk.

If these things are presented it is with a focus on the children making a decision, and thus they are okay. Sunday school, with its grade structure and an ending "graduation" sends the wrong message about the journey of faith.

At least, that has been my experience with the whole thing.
I agree with bethany on this one. I'm a professing Christian and am very active in my evangelical church, but I'd agree with at least 5 of the 6 stances listed above. Does that mean I'm not a disciple?

Judging the success of Sunday School based on the number of students who subscribe to a few narrow, non-Biblical, conservative doctrines doesn't make much sense. Unless, of course, the goal of Sunday School is to promote these doctrines. If it is, it shouldn't be, and it's no surprise that it is failing.
Most of the qualifications on this list are simply not issues that define someone as a Christian (or a good disciple) or not. My belief in evolution does not make me less of a disciple than someone who believes the world is 6,000 years old, and I'm absolutely furious that you (and Kent) are suggesting such.

I attended Sunday School, and you're suggesting that my Sunday School teacher failed me because she did not ensure that I would not later learn about good science? Give me a break!

Not to mention the issues of gay marriage and the legality of abortion--defending those things as legal is NOT the same thing as morally agreeing with them. Once again, believing this does not make me less of a disciple.

Perhaps you are not trying to logically draw these conclusions, but the way you've written the post seems to imply that the measure of a good disciple is the political views they hold. I know most Christians also happen to be politically conservative, but can we PLEASE, PLEASE stop lumping the two as necessarily intertwined? This is an argument that I'd love to stop having.

I apologize for the angry nature of this comment, I just felt attacked by the short-sighted conclusions of the research you presented.
By lumping together evolution, abortion, Biblical inerrancy, and gay marriage in a single survey question, Ken Ham has possibly created the single most useless survey question ever. Ken Ham is the leader of Answers in Genesis, a group whose mission is to defend the Bible as inerrant fact. I have watched some of Ken Ham's AiG videos and his whole shtick is fear mongering and manipulation.

I grew up in a CRC church and had elementary sunday school classes that helped me understand the faith stories of the the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. In middle school my sunday school brought us out into the world to see and understand other faiths and denominations. In high school we were taught the catechism and learned to understand the framework for our faith and our church.

I don't hold the stances listed in Ken Ham's survey, despite having a great Sunday school experience. In fact, I believe it would require a very poor Sunday school upbringing to fall into Ken Ham's ideology.
Children's ministry has a duty to actively teach the Word. That doesn't mean plunking them down in front of videos or teaching a lesson that you prepared on the way to service. It means a real, interactive, lesson. But it's more. It's getting to KNOW your students. To care about them as if they were your own. My Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Mac., she had us over for lunch, took us to the park, called us to chat, and was an active part in our lives. When she died, all her old students were at the funeral - which was so large that people were standing outside the funeral home waiting to get in. When a woman like that, took you into her heart, would guide you, teach you, and listen to you as if you mattered, then of course what she taught on Sunday's mattered too. As a teacher in my profession, I have learned that it isn't the flash and tech that gets the children learning, it's me caring enough about them as human beings, praying for each of my students, and loving them enough to share my heart with them that makes the difference...

Having said that, the main responsibility for training up a child is upon the parents. It isn't the Church's job, the camp's the school's, the programme's, it's the parents. We need to make the most of every opportunity, teaching while we drive to soccer practice, around the table at mealtimes (and that's more than just once or twice a week, it's daily in our home). It's being actively tuned in and turned on when our children are around. It's making them a real part of the family, not just an accessory. It's living the example we want them to be, not just telling them to do it and writing a cheque.

A friend always says, "Parenting is an active verb." He's right. It's a blessing, and a privilege. We need to be imparting these truths by osmosis in our homes - it's how you live, not what you say. Parenting is the hardest job on earth to do well, but it's also the best one to help draw us as parents closer to our own heavenly, "Papa".

I can understand the passion you have for this topic. In no way am I saying I endorse all of these measures. I'm simply presenting the research for discussion.

Fair enough. There's just something about Answers in Genesis that gets me all riled up, and I tend to blaze a wide path.
I react with similar animosity to anything Ken Ham does. I think he approaches everything with a hurtful political agenda, and don't trust anything he claims as "research" to be something I would consider rigorous. This is a good example of those problems.

 

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