A Brief Plea For Sunday School
What Changed: One of the more significant shifts in evangelical Christianity in the 21st century is the priority and implementation of small groups. Let me be the first to say that small groups are necessary and powerful. They should be an element of every church’s programming, primarily because they are heavy in discipleship and application. That being said, I think the focus on small groups has had an unintended negative consequence on the church. I believe this shift to be a significant player in the decline of biblical literacy and the overall deterioration of orthodox faith in America. A major reason is that small groups have been chosen to replace Sunday School. Warning: I am about to argue something that is not very popular today.
That’s enough of a preamble, so here it is: We must keep and prioritize Sunday School. Here’s why: Sunday school has traditionally been the primary hour focused on biblical knowledge growth in the weekly church calendar. But, as Sunday School is slowly replaced with small groups, this vital element of the Christian “faith-diet” has been phased out. The hour of biblical knowledge growth isn’t being replaced with something equal. Instead, Sunday school is being substituted with small groups. And as noted above, small groups are wonderful, but ask the question: is a small group focused on increasing biblical knowledge or does it emphasize application, community, fellowship, and discipleship? Research shows that the primary goal of small groups for most churches is not growth in biblical knowledge.*
Don’t get me wrong: what small groups offer is desperately needed. However, we shouldn’t offer application, community, and fellowship while sacrificing the pursuit of growth in biblical knowledge. We are to meditate on the Word of the Lord day and night (Ps 1:2). The Word of the Lord provides understanding to the simple (Ps 119:130). The Scriptures hold us back from sin (Ps 119:11). Peter implores, “But grow in the good will and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). You cannot be more like a Christ that you do not know.
Thus, my simple argument for Sunday School is that the church needs it because that focused time of biblical knowledge growth is not being replicated elsewhere. Instead, we have “cut out” a structured season of biblical knowledge growth and replaced it with application, community, and fellowship. At worst, the result can be a people who sincerely love a God they do not truly know. I want to clarify that I’m not suggesting people without Sunday School are ignoring Scripture. Still, I am arguing that the focus of Sunday School—biblical knowledge growth–isn’t being replaced in most circumstances. Add the statistical reality that people read their Bibles less and less each year, and we can begin to see a problem.
One last thought on the Scriptures: Reading large chunks of the Bible together and providing a time when biblical knowledge growth is the focus will teach the church about the God they worship. Application focuses on you: What are you going to do now. Biblical knowledge focuses on God: “In the beginning God.” The Bible is about God. By reading the Bible more–by growing in the knowledge of God’s Word–we learn who God truly is.
So that being said, I want to ask this: Do you participate in Sunday School? If not, why? Can you identify somewhere else in your week that you enjoy an equal amount of dedicated biblical knowledge growth?
Friends, you cannot hide the Word of the Lord in your heart if you do not know it to begin with.