The growth of generic and technology-based educational curricula and the loss of regular participation and volunteers are serving to further challenge the already declining institution of Sunday schools in the U.S., writes Sharon Ely Pearson in the Christian Century magazine (Feb. 19).
She finds that the “faithful families” that used to attend Sunday school classes on a weekly basis now attend only once or twice a month, making it difficult to capture their attention. Sunday schools today must compete with technological and media entertainments that are reflected in curricula marketed with “pop music CDs, cheesy videos, Internet companion sites and cheap trinkets.”
From biannual informal surveys of Sunday schools that Pearson distributes, she finds reports of a lack of commitment to this ministry as seen in the shortage of volunteer teachers and a declining number of paid directors of Christian education. This is resulting in a growing number of churches having no Sunday school programming for children. A part of this decline is the tendency of some congregations to integrate children’s needs and interest into worship services, while aging churches have few or no young families present.
These declines and the loss of denominational loyalty in many congregations have led them to easy-to-use, low-cost, user-friendly and eye-catching packaging. One resource specialist says that “Many are deconstructing traditional, orthodox Christianity. They want curricula that are postmodern, inclusive, less creedal and dogma-oriented.” There is increased use of the Montessori approach to children’s formation, which allows young students to make their own choices in the learning process.
Pearson sees the one bright spot being Godly Play, a Montessori-based curricula that encourages a child to “play with God,” inviting them to “make a journey of discovery for their personal theological meaning rather than memorizing concepts that others have discovered.” Pearson finds that Godly Play is being used by 43 percent of Episcopal respondents and 39 percent of all respondents.
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