Sunday School in Decline? (Maybe Not)

Google “Sunday School in Decline” and you’ll see some articles decrying the “decline.”

But according to a Barna Survey, it may not be true.

According to Barna’s survey, Sunday School attendance has increased ever so slightly across America from 1991 to 2006, and kept pace with U.S. population growth.

Barna Survey of Sunday School attendance

If these stats are right, and why not, then those who think Sunday School is in “decline” may be part of denominations and churches where it IS in decline, and assume their experience is the norm — when it is not.  Take my Presbyterian denom, for example. It is aging and their typically older buildings are locked into declining or aging neighborhoods. By contrast, new churches are often planted in growing areas. Barna’s stats don’t break down “where” the 24% is, but I know it’s not in traditional smaller congregations which make up the majority of traditional denominations.

2019 Update: Many church stats have grown “unfavorable” since 2006 as the millenials grow up and don’t come back to church with their church. What’s also changed is how many churches “do” Sunday School, if they do a “school” at all. It’s growing more common for new and larger non-denom churches to offer children’s worship in place of what looks like Sunday School. In fact, I saw this happen in two churches I attended when I was living in Florida (2012-18).  We’re also seeing the increase in churches who only offer a shortened “class” experience during worship after the kids are dismissed.

At the same time, growing and larger churches are expanding their children’s fellowship ministry, and that’s where some of the Bible teaching has moved. If you are a traditional church and a small one at that, children’s attendance is unfortunately probably the least of your worries.

What’s also sad is another Barna survey result that shows pastors’ declining support for Sunday School.  Regarding Sunday school prioritization, in 2005 just 1 in every 7 Senior Pastors (15%) considers Sunday school to be one of their church’s highest priorities. This represents a significant drop from previous years – 2002 was the high point, when 22% of pastors named it as a top priority in their church.

Lucky for Sunday School, the Holy Spirit can work around 78% of the dumb pastors!

You can see more discussion about these stats at Josh Hunt’s blog.

Are Today’s Kids Too Busy For Sunday School?
No…and here’s the proof.

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