The Teaching Crisis In The Small Sunday School
By Rodney L. Pry, P.S.S.S.A. Executive Director
The Barna Research Group, a Christian research company, recently released the results of a study that should be of great concern to all Sunday school leaders.
The Barna survey, as the title of “Today’s Teens – A Generation in Transition” indicates, was aimed mainly at providing information about how churches were doing in teaching today’s teens, but since the Sunday school plays a major role in training for all ages, including youth, I think its message is very important.
Briefly, the survey says that youth in small churches (under 100 members) fall far short of kids from larger churches in faith and application of Christian truths and doctrines in their day-to-day lives. The Barna researchers write, “The beliefs, the religious activities, the relationships, and even the self-perceptions of teenagers attending a small congregation consistently emerged as less healthy than was the case elsewhere.”
For example, the survey noted the following examples: Kids in smaller churches are less likely to read the Bible – 20 percent vs. 33 percent in larger churches. Youth in smaller churches are less likely to attend worship – 40 percent vs. 62 percent. Kids in smaller churches are less likely to see the Bible as “very important” in their lives – 33 percent vs. 46 percent.
Since most Sunday schools and churches in Pennsylvania would fit into the definition of a “small church” (100 members or less), these results are even more important.
In associated information published with the report, the researchers listed some of the causes that they saw for the survey results. Those reasons included – lack of attention given to youth and youth activities, lack of funds for youth programming and (this is the one I found most interesting) poorer quality of teachers and leaders in the small church.
Although there are certainly many outstanding teachers in the smaller churches, the problem of finding teachers in the smaller Sunday school is a major concern. Since the “pool” of available workers is smaller in the smaller church, we are almost certain to end up with some teachers that, quite honestly, should not be teaching or, at least, who do not have the proper training and preparation.
To me, the real shocker in this survey is the apparent link between the poorer quality teacher and what our Sunday school students learn. When we see that the children and youth from the smaller churches are not reading their Bibles, attending worship and expressing faith like similar kids from larger churches and we realize that one of the reasons is our Sunday school teachers, we all need to be greatly concerned. After all, we are not just talking about some trivial survey numbers. We are talking about the possible eternal salvation of these persons.
This not only speaks to the small Sunday school. It also has a message for every Sunday school that has even one teacher who is not properly communicating the Gospel and its meaning to his or her students.
To think that we, as Sunday school teachers, might be responsible, even in some small way, for whether or not our students read the Bible, attend worship or believe in Jesus Christ is a responsibility that most of us don’t want to accept. But, as Matthew 10:25 points out, after he is trained, a student becomes like his teacher. With this in mind, every Sunday school teacher needs to ask themselves if their teaching and life is worthy to be set up as an example to which others can aspire.
But, what do we do, short of closing all of our small churches or combining them with others to form larger churches? First, every Sunday school teacher needs to be aware of the importance of their job. Being a Sunday school teacher is one of the highest callings any Christian will ever receive. It requires continual study, prayer and preparation.
The one greatest need for all Sunday school teachers is commitment. Every teacher must be committed to God, His Word, and to the spiritual needs of their fellow man. Christ must be first in our lives. The Bible and prayer must be an important part of each day of our lives. We must believe that Christian education and learning to apply the Bible to our lives is important for every person. And, we must believe that every person must receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and needs to learn to grow in Christ each day. A commitment to these basic things will go a long way to having a Sunday school teacher who will want to do a better job of teaching and will work to do the best that he or she can, not just for themselves, but because they see the eternal, spiritual significance of Christian education.
One final note; Poor teaching and a lack of formal education are not the same thing. I have known many teachers who didn’t have a lot of formal education but who were some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen. The main reason is their commitment. They loved the Lord and His Word and they wanted to share that love with others and were willing to work to reach that goal.
If smaller Sunday schools are having a problem conveying the Gospel message, it only means that the teachers and leaders in those schools must study more, pray harder and work harder at all aspects of their ministry.