Today’s Sunday School: Dead Or Alive? -- By: Margaret F. Williamson

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 01:2 (Fall 2003)
Article: Today’s Sunday School: Dead Or Alive?
Author: Margaret F. Williamson

Today’s Sunday School: Dead Or Alive?

Margaret F. Williamson

Assistant Professor of Evangelism and Church Health
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Georgia Extension Center
862 Columbia Drive
Decatur, GA 30030

As a program organization within the Southern Baptist Convention, the Sunday School has a long, even illustrious, history. Throughout its history, the Sunday School program has maintained a position as the premier teaching program and the primary evangelistic model within Southern Baptist churches. However, Sunday School attendance throughout the Southern Baptist Convention is declining. In 1995, Tommy Teague addressed this concern: “Today in Southern Baptist life we have approximately 8.3 million people enrolled in Sunday School with an average weekly attendance of 3.9 million. This statistic does not even address the millions on membership roles who never attend.”1 Bill Day surfaces several concerns in his article, “The State of Membership Growth, Sunday School, and Evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention 1900–2002.”2 Day found that the Sunday School had experienced a positive and “strong correlation between enrollment and baptisms.”3 Currently, however, the Sunday School has lost this correlation. Does this mean that the Sunday School has lost it’s ability to serve as

the evangelistic arm of the church? Could it mean that the Sunday School no longer receives the priority support within the church to maintain this positive correlation?

William Easum underscores the importance of using the small-group experience evangelistically: “Instead of evangelism as a mostly ‘one-to-one’ experience, it seems to be moving more toward a group process. The process of conversion seems to be accomplished more effectively today with groups than with the old model of one person’s leading another person to Christ.”4 The effectiveness of the Sunday School program depends upon the quality of the experience. Ken Hemphill, in tracing the significance of Sunday School to church growth, documented a direct relationship between the quality of the Sunday School program and church growth. He referenced the finds of Kirk Hadaway about church growth principles: “[Hadaway] discovered that 78 percent of plateaued churches that managed to break out of their plateaued situation reported an increase emphasis on the Sunday School.”5 Within this article, the res...

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