The sixties with their political, educational, and social unrest made a tremendous impact on the Sunday school. Life magazine had charged Sunday school with being the most wasted hour of the week. Attendance plummeted. To coax students back, leaders experimented with team teaching, testing, small groups, even such techniques as sensitivity sessions. Some teachers tackled such subjects as sex, politics, and women’s liberation. A number of churches began large busing programs and give-aways to improve attendance.

The seventies have brought a degree of backing-off from these changes and returning to fundamentals. Here are some current trends as I see them:

1. Leaders realize Sunday school can’t be made a religious recreation room or a laboratory school to experiment with social problems. There is some feeling that the Sunday school should be taking its patterns not from the public school but from Scripture. This feeling is undoubtedly part of a larger more conservative mood in America today. The popular children’s TV show “Sesame Street” showed that the teacher could stimulate and get results. Bill Gothard demonstrated that plain old lectures with a limited number of innovations could attract crowds and meet human needs.

Ten years ago it was predicted that by 1980 Sunday school would be taught by television and that computers would be used to keep records and assist in follow-up of absentees. Those predictions are not materializing. The Sunday school is still a very human agency. The underlying problem, however, was not that all the new methods were wrong but that fundamentals were being neglected. Now there is a trend to concentrate on reaching the lost and winning them to Christ, and then teaching them biblical doctrine and preparing them for service.

2. The return to basics does not mean the children sit in chairs arranged in circles separated by curtains in a dim church basement. There has been lasting good in all the upheaval. In many Sunday schools, the rooms are light and cheerful, with brightly colored molded furniture. Children sit on “story rugs” and watch animated film strips. The “master teacher” approach, an arrangement whereby several classes are exposed to one gifted teacher, is catching on. Teaching methods such as paraphrasing and narrative reading allow the teacher to guide pupils into the Bible. Teachers’ manuals offer more explanation of the biblical text; also, they give insight into the psychological needs of the pupils. These developments have not changed the nature of the Sunday school, but rather have reinforced its biblical aims.

3. The establishment of so many new Christian day schools has tended to play havoc with the Sunday school. The time of the pastor and the money of the church are diverted. When the Christian school and the Sunday school compete, the Sunday school usually loses out. Also, Michael Ruston studied thirty youth groups in evangelical churches in Minneapolis and found that the groups whose young people went to Christian schools were less successful than those whose members went to secular schools. Whatever the reasons, experience has shown that Sunday schools need to handle differently those pupils who attend public school during the week and those who go to a Christian day school.

4. Enthusiasm for busing has waned. This is not to say that the Sunday-school bus is a thing of the past. In general, those who have used it to win souls are still using it; those who got into busing just to add numbers on the board have gotten out. Busing is hard work, and costs have risen sharply.

5. Study of doctrine, history, and ethics is regaining a place. Sunday-school leaders have become more choosy these days, and some prefer to use regular paperback books as texts instead of traditional Sunday-school materials. Nevertheless, the old Sunday-school quarterly is making a comeback. There is renewed appreciation for systematically covering material rather than flitting around among topics that happen to be popular. The Sunday-school curriculum is still the only part of the local church that provides a comprehensive coverage of the church’s beliefs and practices.—ELMER TOWNS, director of the Institute for Sunday School Research, Savannah, Georgia.

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