A Sermon Got Me Thinking....
I always love it when my pastor's sermon gets me thinking. He mentioned in passing the decline of the number of evangelical church attenders in England and the number of people that don't even know who Jesus is or what role he has played in our world. This got me thinking why or how is it possible that in just over three generations England could go from a mission sending nation to a mission receiving nation in such a short span. Robert Raiker, would certainly be a sad man.
Well, I had my suspicions but needed to do a little research. I was pretty sure I would find the lack of Sunday School near the root of the matter. Let's take a quick look at some numbers. and a rough timeline. In an interesting article on Robert Raikes and the Sunday School Movement, down near the end of the article you will find this paragraph.
As the Sunday School Movement entered the 20th century, its influence on the country and the numbers attending was still significant. In 1901 ¾ of all 5 to 15 year olds attended a Sunday School, by 1931 it had dropped to 2/3rds. A report was compiled by chaplains during the First World War, noting that amongst the soldiers they ministered to, 4 out 5 said that they had been to a Sunday School. Right up to the 1950’s – 60’s it was still quite common for non-church parents to send their children to Sunday school.
The current state of affairs today (Evangelical Times, August 2014, edition) is that "less than 1% of children aged 4 to 14 attend a Sunday School regularly." That is down from almost 60% from 60 years ago. The article goes on to quote a paper to the School of Theology in 2009, where James Zenker indicates that about 35 churches close their doors for good every two weeks in Britain. On the surface that does not sound so bad, or are there so few churches remaining that the pace has slowed.
How does the church in the United States compare, I wondered. Thom Rainer in a blog article - URGENT CHURCH: NINE CHANGES WE MUST MAKE OR DIE, dated March 2017, stated "Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent." Sure there are missional starts that do not survive, small town America is vanishing and it's churches or the decline of once flourishing urban churches like old Fourth Avenue Baptist Church.
Then I asked myself, what would cause such a turn around? What could possibly trip up the mighty evangelical church, causing such a crash? Change in culture and community certainly played a part. The author of the Robert Raikes article identifies the following as cultural causes in England, "over the last 50 years with the introduction of the ‘weekend’, the motor car, Sunday trading, sport and entertainment, it has now become the exception rather than the norm to send children to Sunday School."
Sounds like America today. The question is even in mainstream media. If you read the blog post entitled, Has the sun set on Sunday School? by Melissa Pandika. She would add security concerns, sex scandal confession and allergy precautions to the list among others. I must admit as a church educator I am not left looking at a rosy picture of the future.
What could possibly stem the tide? It would seem that putting resources and energy into Sunday School is key. Beeches Road Baptist Church was at the point of closing prior to 2007. Who would miss the congregation that once occupied the church building near Birmingham, England. Interestingly enough, James Zenker began the revival of the church with a time tested tool - Sunday School. Zenker said:
“One of the greatest tools in evangelism, one of the greatest ways of pioneering a New Testament church is the outreach Sunday school. We didn’t plan it that way, but almost without exception every member, every adult who attends our services right now has come as a direct result of the Sunday school” They now have between 40 and 50 children every Sunday.
More could be said, but I am sure you are ready for me to give this soap box post a rest. Let me quickly bring it to a close, with some observations and thoughts.
1. Sunday School must remain the evangelistic heart beat of any church. We need to stay focused on transformational Bible Study, that introduces people to Christ and challenges them to grow as disciples.
2. We must see the value of the children God brings under our roof. We should invest in them as though they are the future, for they are. We need to call to server, screen, train and place disciplers in our preschool, children's and youth ministries. We need to be encouraging our adults to make an impact in the future of Christ's church - VBS, Sunday School, Awana's, Mission's Organizations and youth chaperon are the are in part the battle lines.
3. Creativity and innovation will be needed as we introduce the God peace into the hurried lives of families. Where are the thinkers and storytellers among us, those that can open God's Word in a creative, relevant and doctrinally ture manner. I hope many of them are in hall with the children.
I take comfort that this is not the first time culture and the pressures it brings have presented a challenge to the church in general and to our church in specific. However, recent history would teach us that we must not ignore the spiritual development of children and the value of an evangelistic small group Biblical Community/Sunday School.
At FBCRR, where I currently server, let me make a couple of suggestions. First, get acquainted with and use the LifeView Centers for resources. Second, come fall get to know, understand and use the Faith Path. Be sure and support our preschool, children's and youth ministries and finally volunteer.
What would it do for our church if every adult Biblical Community actively trained and sent volunteers to the the front lines for a year as preschool, children and youth workers. No matter where you invest in the kingdom of God, be a difference maker invest in children.