The Cultural Relevance of Sunday School
Ah, Sunday School! As established a church
program as they come. But is it still relevant?
Does Sunday School still work for individuals and
churches as an effective ministry tool?
I, for one, believe that the answer is a loud, resounding, bold,
and boisterous Yes! Today, more than ever, churches need
to invest in the historic platform of Sunday School in their
efforts to reach, teach, and bless our respective cultures.
Let me explain.
It’s Sunday! I wake up, earlier than usual, and go through
a rushed morning routine. It’s a hectic sprint that involves
moderate grooming, navigating around children, stepping on
children’s toys, gulping down coffee that’s quickly getting cold,
and grabbing a quick bite just before I kiss and abandon my
poor wife in this dystopian battle zone, running out the door
so I can get to church.
Sunday mornings can be the absolute worst. Every week
families from my church regale me with another story of
unexpected spills, unnecessary arguments, and the occasional
traffic incident that accompanies people’s attempts to come
Wouldn’t it be easier if church consisted of one morning
service or event to rule them all? Couldn’t we just get rid of
Sunday School or Adult Bible Fellowship or whatever fancy
name churches are calling it these days? Do we really need
things like Sunday School anymore? What’s the point?
The Sunday School movement began back in the 1780s.
Originally it was literally a school for the underprivileged,
uneducated, and overworked children of the Industrial Age in
Britain. Christian philanthropists, moved by a desire to help
and empower the poor, opened the doors of their churches
early Sunday mornings to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to the masses.
Spiritual things were the primary tools used for teaching.
Children would learn to read and write using Scripture. Music
was taught via hymns. Basic catechisms were memorized as a
way to instill sound doctrine and Christian morals. Such is the
origin of Sunday School.
This unique ministry quickly spread to America, thanks to
promoters like English Anglican evangelical Robert Raikes
(1736–1811). Churches of many different denominations took
up the work, and for almost 90 years they made a radical difference in the world of the working class.
Then in the 1870s, compulsory state education was established, and Sunday School changed forever. With general
education being provided by the government, the original need
that the church had striven to meet was gone. Nevertheless,
Sunday School had become a cultural fixture. It was normative
for families, even those who didn’t attend church, to send their
children to church Sunday mornings. So for a season, all was
still right within the world of ministry. Needs were met and
by MATTHEW CARPENTER