Would you hold it against me if I told you I’m a fan of the Monty Python movie “The Holy Grail”? I like the British-style comedy and quick-witted dialogue between characters. One of my favorite running gags in the movie is the line, “I’m not quite dead – I’m getting better.” It is said over and over again by characters who we thought might be mortally wounded. But alas, they were not, and much to our delight, “They’re getting better.”
In a recent USA Today article, Sunday School teachers were listed at one of several “jobs” that would not be valid in 15 years. Click here to see the full posting. Having been a member of 4 church’s Sunday Schools for a combined total of 51 years, and knowing Sunday School leaders around the country, I’m confident in saying, “It’s not quite dead.” I’m certain that in some places Sunday School may be gasping for air. In other places, though, it’s healthy and vibrant. If you starve anything long enough, it will die. Has Sunday School been starved in some churches? Yes. Has it been starved in every church? Absolutely not!
LifeWay’s transformational church and transformational groups research has verified what many of us knew intuitively: Sunday School works when it is worked! In the research project, transformational churches were identified, and in a follow-up to that research it was discovered that in 85% of churches that are transformational and experiencing growth, Sunday School (or its functional equivalent…whatever a church calls the Bible teaching ministry that is adjacent to the weekend worship service) was the primary “step 2 strategy” for assimilating and discipling people. Let that sink in.
Why Sunday School Isn’t Quite Dead – And Will Continue Getting Better
- Many churches have a dedicated space for Sunday School groups. Some (most) churches have built education space for people of all ages. They are not going to abandon that space and close those doors. Churches that have built their facilities with Sunday School in mind will always have space to continue this ministry, start new groups, and reach new generations of people.
- Parents need help in teaching and training their children in spiritual disciplines and Bible knowledge. I love my oldest son, Josh, and his wife Amanda. I married them over a year ago, and my wife and I are looking forward to welcoming grandchildren into our family one day. My son grew up in a pastor’s home, and he started going to church 9 months before he was born. As much as Josh has been in and around church, he and Amanda will need help from other Christians to teach and train their kids. There are men and women in our churches who have God-given callings and passions to teach little ones about Jesus. And there will always be parents who don’t have all the answers when it comes to spiritual matters – so they look to older, more mature believers to help “train up a child in the way he should go.”
- People need relationships and are drawn to groups. You and I are built with a God-given bent toward community. Early in the pages of Scripture we learn that “it is not good that man is alone” (Gen. 2:18). Sunday School takes advantage of the “homogeneity factor” by grouping people with similar ages or interests together. It is in those small groups that people can know one another and be known by others.
- Sunday School is a convenient option for time-compressed families. The world seems to be getting more hectic as time goes by, and there are more activities and options for families today than ever before. Time-compressed families can choose to worship together and have a small group Bible study experience in age-appropriate classes during a small window of time on Sunday mornings – just a few hours – and do it in just one trip to the church campus. Sunday School works for busy families who cannot possibly venture out another night of the week for a home group Bible study because of kids’s homework, sports commitments, or other reasons.
- The Sunday School movement is a God movement – and God’s not dead. Perhaps this is the most important reason why Sunday School “isn’t quite dead.” The Sunday School movement started apart from any denominational influence. In fact, it appears that different people in different places were all experiencing the movement of the Spirit of God as they decided that teaching and studying the Word of God was of the highest priority for believers – and those who might soon become believers. If God is in a movement, the movement will continue to move. What we may see in the days ahead is a rediscovering of this time-honored and time-tested strategy for discipling people, assimilating people, and equipping them to serve others.
- The strategy of Sunday School is biblical. Paul told Timothy “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The concept of teaching, passing along knowledge of Christ and His Word to others, and intending for them to continue the process is exactly what Sunday School attempts to do. Sunday School is one way that churches express obedience to The Great Commission and our mandate to “go and make disciples.” You won’t find the words “Sunday School” in the pages of the Bible, but you will find the foundational strategy of teaching others and influencing the next generation.
The next time you hear that Sunday School is dead, just remember the words, “I’m getting better” from a zany British film, smile, and realize that Sunday School’s detractors may not be great at diagnosing its true condition.