So what is the point of Sunday School? In 1780 Robert Raikes and Thomas Stock established the first Sunday school for the poor and orphaned in Gloucester in 1780 (there was Sunday school before this, however Raikes, and Stock are recognized as the originators) the purpose was to, “Teach reading, writing, arithmetic and catechism to the 'deserving' poor (McGill University).” In less than a hundred years the number of kids attending Sunday school rose from 200,000 to 2,000,000.
Why did Sunday school do so well? Because it met a basic need of society at that time. “The Sunday schools caught on quickly and were effective because they were simple, became a diversion for the children, and a means for parents to socially elevate the family as a whole. They were often also a means of education for adults, who occasionally attended the schools; children were actively encouraged to take lessons and books home to share with their parents. The Sunday school also became an important hub of social interaction for a class of children and parents who were rapidly moving away from small, close-knit, rural communities to large, over-populated, urban centres. Lastly, the schools taught catechism to a population that, until that time, only learned it via a rote memorization system with the priest reciting the Lord's Prayer one line at a time, once a week, during the service (McGill University).”
Sunday school was a success because, it gave poor kids something to do, it educated, and gave whole families a time of social interaction.
Another purpose for Sunday school was to give children something to do. Sunday was often the only day that these children didn’t have to work, and as a result the streets were crowded with kids who were busy fighting and swearing. So Sunday school was an evangelistic tool used by laypeople to reach out to the non-Christians.
Clearly our world has changed since the industrial revolution, which begs the question what about Sunday school today? Clearly we are an extremely educated society where every child has the opportunity to learn how to read and write. We have hundreds of programs that teach kids about God, and Sunday school is certainly no longer a place where parents and kids interact together on a social level with other people. So the old goals of Sunday school no longer apply to us today. Are we beating a dead horse by trying to keep Sunday school alive? I believe that as long as we keep Sunday school the way it is today the answer is yes.
It is interesting to see that once youth are of the age where their parents let them decide if they want to go or not many of them stop coming until they are married and have kids of their own to bring. We force our kids to come until they can choose for themselves and then they stop, until they have kids, and then they force their kids to come until… To me this is a pretty fair warning sign that Sunday school no longer meets the need that it used to. There are churches all over North America who are seriously questioning the value of Sunday school, as they should.
Does this mean that there is no longer a need for a program on Sunday mornings for kids? No, but I think that it is time for a radical shift. I have trouble seeing how a ministry that is hurting across North America is bringing God glory. It seems to me that when a ministry is on track and bringing people to Christ there is excitement and growth, it has been a long time since I’ve heard those two words used in the same sentence as the words Sunday school.
McGill university http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/sunday/hist1.htm