Sunday School–Part 1: History & Establishment

Childlike Faith

I have come to write this article as a reflection of thoughts and perceptions in my personal life. I have a highly sensitive son that struggles with the chaos and unpredictability of Sunday School. We have tried and tried again and not found it to be a comfortable atmosphere for him. By the time he may get adjusted, class has ended for the day or the year. In going through the attempts of getting him to go each year, I have struggled as a mom with the thought that he is missing out. Therefore, I asked myself…“missing out on what?”

This is a three part series on Sunday School: where it came from, where it is and where it is going. Essentially a reflection on the purpose. These articles are not intended to criticize Sunday School, churches or the leaders but rather be a reflection on Sunday School as a whole. Is it meeting the needs of parishioners? Is it fulfilling the mission of the church and what God has called us to do?

We have all heard of childlike faith. A faith that doesn’t question, it understands and has no fears. As we become adults, we start to see the holes and second guess what we have always understood. We see that our misinterpretation, our sin and selfishness take us far away from a childlike faith. 

We spend our formative years learning and studying in Sunday School, confirmation and more, and yet we seem to not be able to apply it to our adult life. So we ask, how and where did Sunday School begin, why and what is its purpose?

Sunday school originally began in the 1700s in Britain, and was brought to the United States in the early 1800s, as a way to teach the poor children who had to work six days a week to read, write and learn arithmetic. Reading was taught from the Bible where children learn to read scripture as books were limited. 

The Sunday School program served two fold for churches. It provided a way to teach the poor and also a way to evangelize to those who didn’t know the word of God. However we saw that by the late 1800s, evangelizing through the Sunday School program became the main hope for the church to grow. Sunday school is no longer the main or only hope that a church has to grow. 

Prior to the development of any Sunday School program, biblical teachings used to be the responsibility of the parents and families. Ironically to me, biblical education moved to be a staple of the church at the same time that public education started. We are currently seeing the failures of public education. If you google “education failures in America ” you will find article after article reflecting a common theme….school safety, bullying, technology, common core, mental health, lack of parental involvement, lowering of grades/standards in order for children to pass and more as many of the contributing factors to it’s failure. 

In addition every year, we see a large percentage of believers are walking away from their church and faith. You can again find site after site stating the outflux of people leaving. The Christian Post had an article reflecting 3500 people leaving the church per day. Those are staggering numbers. 

Also for reflection is that in the last 50 years, churches have shifted away from evangelism and moved to discipleship and fellowship. Evangelism is the zealous preaching and dissemination of the gospel through ministry work in which people meet once or twice with a broad focus intending to take the gospel to the lost and make disciples. Discipleship is the state of being a disciple of another in doctrines that meet regularly after the gospel has taken root. Fellowship is the companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere that are on equal terms. 

As you look at your church Sunday School program today, where does it fall? Is it true to the origins of evangelizing or does it fall into discipleship and fellowship?

Next week we will take a look at where the majority of churches are today.

Contributed by Jessica Clemens Sunday School–Part 1: History & Establishment Sunday School–Part 1: History & Establishment

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