I recently asked a group of master of divinity graduates what they had learned about Sunday school growth in their seminary experience. Only one of about 60 students could point to any academic training in this area. Ordinarily, if the pastor does not have the tools and the knowledge, neither will the members. The result is that many pastors go into a church that has the basic Sunday school structure (rooms, classes, teachers, rolls, curriculum, etc.), but the Sunday school is lifeless and cold. I am not aware of anyone with expertise who proposes that Sunday school can thrive on autopilot. Yet, many leaders draw the conclusion that it does not work because the basic structure is present and there are no results.
Some leaders assume Sunday school does not work because another prominent leader has dismissed it as ineffective.
The other leader is often successful in preaching, growing the worship attendance, and/or perhaps reaching people for Christ. Surely, Sunday school cannot work if it does not work in his church! The success of the leader in other areas may lead those who hear him to conclude that Sunday school cannot be relevant if it did not work for him. In addition, many leaders dismiss it outright because it is not an innovative approach in their estimation. However, their innovation and success cannot be interpreted to mean that Sunday school cannot be effective because they did not choose to use it as a strategy or because it is not the latest trend. On the contrary, many churches have struggled because they have tried to emulate these innovative churches, perhaps because of their fascination with the innovations and their desire to be on the cutting edge. I believe in being innovative. However, I am more concerned with being effective. Some church leaders have concluded that Sunday school cannot be effective today because it is not a new innovation. It is not new in the context that it was developed in a previous generation. However, it is relatively new in the context of the history of Christianity. Robert Raikes started the first Sunday school about 220 years ago. Sunday school has been in existence as an education and evangelism tool only during the most recent 11 percent of Christian history. The real question is not whether it is new, old, contemporary, or out of date. The most important question is whether it can be effectively used to evangelize and to educate in the Christian church today and in the future.
Some leaders are unwilling to pay the price to lead the Sunday school to be healthy and growing.
Leading the Sunday school to be healthy and growing is hard work. It is a high-maintenance strategy involving a large number of the congregation. The results can also have a high return. Sunday school is a tool that can involve every generation in the church in evangelism, Bible study, fellowship, ministry, and assimilation of new members.
Do you have a saw in your garage? Go out to your garage and watch it work. It will not work if it is not in someone's hand. It is only a tool. Take the saw and hold it. It still does not work, does it? You have to know what to do with it. You have to keep the blade sharp and use it in the way that it was designed. Sunday school is a tool. You cannot sit back and watch it work. You have to sharpen it and apply it in the way that it is intended. The problem is not that Sunday school will not work. The problem is that we have goodhearted teachers and leaders who have not been taught how to use the tool.