From it's first
inception in the late 1700s to the present day,
the Sunday school
ministry has been a very effective method
to reach out to
the unchurched and develop strong congregations.
| It was an Englishman by the
name of Robert Raikes who first conceived of the idea to teach underprivileged
boys by establishing schools on Sunday since the children had to work during
the week. His intention was to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic.
Bible teaching was not a thought when he first got the idea.
Raikes opened his first school
in the kitchen of a home in Gloucester, England, in July of 1780.
He hired a Mrs. Meredith to do the teaching.
It was a Baptist deacon named
William Fox who introduced the idea of including the Bible in the Sunday
schools of England. Raikes agreed. Thus, the first schools
combined both secular and spiritual educations and did so quite effectively.
This was the birth of the
Sunday School. When Robert Raikes died in 1811, there were
an estimated 400,000 people attending Sunday schools in Great Britain.
There were also several hundred
Sunday schools in the United States. All emphasized Biblical instruction
over reading and writing. However, most taught secular subjects
as a means of drawing children and young people to the Word of God. In
fact, by 1820, Sunday school organizers began lobbying for extension of
a system of free daily schools so that they would be free to teach religion
alone on Sundays.
Most denominations adopted
the Sunday school. The movement continued to grow between 1827 and 1860
as the value of the Sunday school was discovered.
D. L. Moody was one of the outstanding
Sunday school workers of the late 1800s. In less than one year Moody and
his assistants organized schools in all 102 counties of Illinois.
During the 20th century,
Sunday school growth increased dramatically. It became a standard
ministry of almost every Christian denomination. Now including all ages,
the movement prospered and became the major means whereby generations of
Christians became solidly grounded in the Scriptures. The first 60
years of the 20th century have been called the "Golden Age of American
The 1960s were a tremendous
period of change. Most Protestant denominations began to see a decline
in their Sunday school attendances. However, the Baptists were able
to go forward with continued growth by changing the methodologies used
to both promote and conduct the schools.
Jack Hyles, a Baptist pastor
in Indiana, introduced the idea of churches purchasing used school busses
to go out and pick up children so as to be brought in for Sunday school.
The church he pastored has seen attendances in excess of 100,000.
It is interesting to note that just a century before, D. L. Moody had used
volunteer church members and their wagons to do the same thing. Other
pastors and churches saw the success that Hyles was experiencing with busses
and determined to do the same thanks, in part, to Pastor Schools that he
sponsored each year. As a result, Baptist Sunday schools ignored
the decline in the movement and saw their church attendendances sky rocket
through the 60s and 70s.
Although, the bus ministry
has subsided over the last three decades, the Baptists have continued to
see good success with their schools. They have been very creative
in introducing various teaching methods, which have increased the drawing
power. From large classes taught by a master teacher to small group
classes led by a facilitator, they have learned to adapt to the needs of
those who attend their schools, whether they be young children who are
greeted by muppets on Sundays or well educated adults who are provided
with the opportuity to dig deep into the Word of God.
Even though the movement
has waned after 200 years of use, the Baptists see no end in sight.
Their Sunday schools continue to be generally strong and well attended.
For all they know, the movement should continue to be an effective means
for teaching their members the Bible for another 200 years, if not more.