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Is Sunday School Dying?
As churches deal with declining enrolment, sporadic attendance and the challenge of finding teachers, some are asking, Does Sunday school have a future?

That's a question being asked by a growing number of Mennonite churches today as they deal with declining enrolment, sporadic attendance and the challenge of finding teachers.

...not just teachers want a break from Sunday school; so do families.

It's a question facing other churches, too, as Debra Bendis discovered. Writing on Theolog, a blog sponsored by Christian Century magazine, Bendis shared about a friend whose church has proposed a new Sunday school schedule for fall: Classes will only be held three out of four Sundays each month.

The teachers explained that this proposal would provide a break for them—an idea that's difficult to oppose, Bendis noted, since Sunday school teachers are just as busy as the rest of us, and surely deserve a break.

But as the church discussed the proposal, a disquieting reality became clear to her friend: It's not just teachers who want a break from Sunday school—so do families. Lots of parents not only supported the idea of taking a week off, but went on to say that attending Sunday school was getting harder and harder to do.

"The kids do baseball all day Saturday," said one. "I just need a down day at home sometimes."

"We can't always be there [Sundays]. We're trying to do soccer as well as church," said another.

"Saturday nights/Sundays are the only days my kids can stay over with their grandmother. That's important time too," stated a third.

"It is all just too much to do as a single parent with kids," added a fourth.

Bendis' friend is stumped. "Where do we start in a session discussion of all of this?" she asked. "How do we raise a vision for Christian education, emphasize a sense of outreach and compete with societal expectations and choices that are bearing down on our young parents?"

The situation prompted Bendis to ask: "Is this situation an unusual one? Or is Sunday school slowly, or sometimes with a fell swoop of fatigue, becoming extinct?"

That question is very much on the mind of Ron Rempel, Executive Director of Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN), the publishing ministry of MC USA and MC Canada.

"As we hear how churches are struggling to keep Sunday school going, we ask ourselves what kind of curriculum is needed for the changing Sunday school scene today," he says. "Do we need to offer different kinds of programs and products to meet the needs of churches? Or is Sunday school a thing of the past?"

In fall staff from MPN and Brethren Press, the publishing ministry of the Church of the Brethren, will meet to begin talking about what to do after Gather 'Round, the Bible-based curriculum for children and youth produced by the two organizations, completes its second cycle.

"Will there be a need for a quarterly, graded curriculum in four years, when Gather 'Round is finished?" Rempel asks. "Or is there something else we can do to help churches accomplish the important ministry of Christian formation with children, youth and adults?"

Rempel invites people to share their thoughts and ideas about the future of Sunday school—does it have a future at your church? What's working well, and what isn't? What kinds of things will help you pass on faith to children, and grow faith in youth and adults?

The MPN invites comments. Please forward them to rrempel@mpn.net.

John Longhurst directs marketing for Mennonite Publishing Network, the co-producer of Gather Round Christian education materials for children, youth and adults.

Originally published on the MPN website, July 2010.

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