Rumors of death were not greatly exaggerated for two affiliate agencies of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

To some evangelicals, Christian education had meant either the National Association of Christian Schools (NACS) or the National Sunday School Association (NSSA). Each agency had existed for more than three decades: NACS, created in 1947, was one of the first organizations for church-operated schools, while NSSA, organized in 1945 and remembered most for its annual conventions, had been called “the unified voice of Christian education in America.”

But with the passing years, each group declined in influence. When NAE executive director Billy Melvin announced recently that NACS and NSSA would be phased out (to be incorporated into an all-encompassing national commission on Christian education) few persons familiar with the situation were surprised. NACS, with over 300 member schools just six years ago, had only 91 members when its offices closed last month. NSSA had operated “in name only” for the last several years, said an NAE official.

It is not that the agencies lost their function. The new commission, not yet organized, is billed as providing similar services. Melvin explained, “This commission will be concerned with total Christian education as it is represented within a local church—the Sunday schools, youth ministries, and Christian schools.”

The demise of both NACS and NSSA reflects, therefore, a changing atmosphere in Christian education—where bigger is sometimes better and where specialized agencies often feel stifled under the control of an umbrella organization.

During the early 1970s, NACS and NSSA leaders had requested their respective independence from NAE. In each instance, the NAE hierarchy ...

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