Sunday School

The Sunday school is also a relatively recent invention, born some 1,700 years after Christ. A newspaper publisher named Robert Raikes (1736-1811) from Britain is credited with being its founder.' In 1780, Raikes established a school in "Scout Alley," Gloucester, for poor children. Raikes did not begin the Sunday school for the purpose of religious instruction. Instead, he founded it to teach poor children the basics of education.

Raikes was concerned with the low level of literacy and morality among common children. Many of the children who attended his school were the victims of social and employer abuse. Because the children could not read, it was easy for others to take advantage of them. Although Raikes was an Anglican layman, the Sunday school took off like wildfire, spreading to Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist churches throughout England."

The Sunday school movement came to a peak when it hit the United States. The first American Sunday school began in Virginia in 1785." Then in 1790, a group of Philadelphians formed the Sunday School Society. Its purpose was to provide education to indigent children to keep them off the streets on Sunday." In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many Sunday schools operated separately from churches. The reason: Pastors felt that laymen could not teach the Bible.' In the mid-1800s, Sunday schools spread far and wide

Harper's Encyclopedia of Religious Education, 61.

"Bible College Movement," The Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001).

Harper's Encyclopedia of Religious Education, 625. Most historical books credit Raikes with being the father of the Sunday school. But others are said to have been founders along with Raikes, Hannah More and Sarah Trimmer being among them (Thomas W. Laqueur,

Religion and Respectability Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780-1850 [New Haven. CT: Yale University Press, 19761, 21).

(t has also been said that Rev. Thomas Stock of Gloucester gave Raikes the idea of Sunday education (p. 22).

Harper's Encyclopedia of Religious Education, 625. The Sunday school grew as part of the evangelical revival of the 1780s and 1790s

(Laqueur, Religion and Respectability, 61). When Raikes died in 1811, there were 400,000 children attending Sunday schools in Great

Britain. C. B. Eavey, history of Christian Education (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), 225-227.

Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History, 180.

Harper's Encyclopedia of Religious Education, 625.

Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History, 181.

throughout America. In 1810, the Sunday school began to shift from being a philanthropic effort to help poor children to an evangelical mechanism.

D. L. Moody is credited with popularizing the Sunday school in America." Under Moody's influence, the Sunday school became the primary recruiting ground for the contemporary church." Today, the Sunday school is used both to recruit new converts and to train young children in the doctrines of the faith.' Public education has taken over the role for which Sunday school was designed."

It should be noted that the nineteenth century was an era of institution building in America. Corporations, hospitals, asylums, prisons, as well as children's establishments like orphanages, reform schools, and free public schools were formed during this time." The Sunday school was just another such institution.' Today, it is a permanent fixture in the traditional church.

As a whole, we don't view the contemporary Sunday school as an effective institution. According to some studies, Sunday school attendance has been on the decline over the last two decades."

Describing the way of the early church, one scholar says, "There is no evidence to suggest that teachers divided groups on the basis of age and sex. The responsibility of the child's early education and, in particular, religious education lay with the parents. . . . No special arrangements seem to have been made for children by the early church. The Christian school was a long way off (around AD 372)— the Sunday School even more so.""

Brereton, "Popular Educator," 28; Collins and Price, Story of Christianity, 187. Moody's Sunday school ministry cared for over 1,500 children.

Anne M. Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution 1790-1880 (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1988), 167. This was the case by 1880. Arthur Flake developed the Sunday school program within the Southern Baptist Convention. He also popularized Sunday school growth principles that were adopted by other denominations. (Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History, 181). See also Elmer Towns, "Sunday School Movement," New Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 796-798. Ibid., 170; Reid, Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America, 331. Pastor's Notes 4, no. 1 (Worcester: Christian History Institute, 1991), 6. Boylan, Sunday School, 1.

In 1824, there were 48,681 children in Sunday schools affiliated with the American Sunday School Union in the United States. In 1832, that figure grew to 301,358 (Boylan, Sunday School, 11). The American Sunday School Union was founded in 1824, comprising 724 schools, including 68 in Philadelphia. In 1970, the Union was renamed the American Missionary Society (Reid, Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America, 18).

Bobby H. Welch, Evangelism through the Sunday School: A Journey of Faith (Nashville: Lifeway Press, 1997). Other studies show that attendance has been stable over the last decade. Norrington, To Preach or Not, 59.


The youth pastor began appearing in churches long after Sunday schools, largely because society did not recognize or cater to the needs of this age group until the twentieth century." In 1905, G. Stanley Hall popularized the concept of the "adolescent" as distinct from the young adult and the older child.91

Then in the 1940s, the term teenager was born. And for the first time a distinct youth subculture was created. People ages thirteen to nineteen were no longer simply "youths." They were now "teenagers.""

After World War II, Americans developed great concern for the young people of our nation. This concern spilled over into the Christian church. Youth rallies in the 1930s laboring under the banner "Youth for Christ" spawned a parachurch organization by the same name around 1945."

With new understanding and concern for the "teenagers," the idea that someone needed to be employed to work with them emerged. Thus was born the professional youth minister. The youth pastor began working in large urban churches in the 1930s and 1940s.94 Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan had one of the very first youth pastors. Moody Monthly magazine wrote about him in the late 1930s.'

The majority of youth ministers in this era, however, worked for the emerging parachurch organizations that filled the Christian landscape." By the early 1950s, thousands of professional youth min-

Warren Benson and Mark H. Senter III, The Complete Book of Youth Ministry (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 66. Mark Senter II(, The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry (Chicago: Victor Books, 1992), 93.

Michael V. Uschan, The 1940s: Cultural History of the US through the Decades (San Diego: Lucent Books, 1999), 88; Mary Helen Doha n, Our Own Words (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1974), 289.

Mark Senter III, The Youth for Christ Movement As an Educational Agency and Its Impact upon Protestant Churches: 1931-1979 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 19901, 7-8. On pages 26ff., Senter discusses the social and historical factors that created a raft of youth organizations. Billy Graham became Youth for Christ's (YFC) traveling evangelist. In the 1950s, YFC established Bible clubs across the country (Reid, Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America, 377). In Manhattan, the charismatic Lloyd Bryant appears to be the first to organize regular youth rallies. Christopher Schlect, Critique of Modern Youth Ministry (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1995), 8.

Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan (1932), Vista Community Church in North San Diego County (1948), and Moody Memorial Church in Chicago (1949) all hired "youth directors." As Young Life and YFC clubs flourished in the country in the 1930s and 40s, smaller churches began employing youth ministers (Senter, Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry, 142). Mark Senter, e-mail message to Frank Viola, September 22, 1999.

Young Life (1941), Youth for Christ (1945), Fellowship of Christian Athletes (1954). Youth with a Mission (1960). Senter, Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry, 27-28, 141; Mark Senter, "A Historical Framework for Doing Youth Ministry," Reaching a Generation for Christ (Chicago: Moody Press), 1997.

isters were meeting the spiritual needs of young people, who now had their own music, dress, literature, language, and etiquette." During this time, the Christian church began to segregate teenagers from everyone else.

From the mid-1950s to the end of the 1960s, the youth pastor became an established part of evangelical churches. (The position took off a bit more slowly in the mainline denominations)" By the end of the 1980s, youth ministry's shift from the parachurch organizations to institutional churches was pretty well complete.

Today, youth pastors are part of the professional clergy. Their position is built on the contemporary church's misguided choice to honor a division that was born in secular culture less than a century ago—namely, the division between teenager and everyone else.

Put another way, the youth pastor did not exist until a separate demographic group called teenagers emerged. In so doing, we created a problem that never before existed—what to do for (and with) the young people. It is not at all unlike the problem we created when a new class of Christian—the "laymen"—was invented. The question "How do we equip the laity?" was never asked before the institutional church made them a separate class of Christian.

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