Church predicts death of Sunday school

Ewan McGregor started acting there, Carol Smillie was a regular, but John Humphrys says he learnt nothing much.

Ewan McGregor started acting there, Carol Smillie was a regular, but John Humphrys says he learnt nothing much.

For more than 200 years Sunday school has been an essential part of growing up for the well-bred British child, like piano lessons and the Girl Guides. Generations of British children spent their Sunday mornings in the company of a stern female and a Bible.

But the traditional Sunday school is in a state of terminal decline and the Anglican Church is pleading with other Christian denominations to join a last-ditch mission to save it. The church is to mount a nationwide campaign to evangelise Britain's children after warnings that worship will be dead within a generation unless it stems the flow of children from congregations.

According to the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS), the Anglican wing specialising in youth work and evangelism, the traditional Sunday school is on the brink of extinction.

All major church leaders, including Catholic bishops and the heads of the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed churches, are to be approached over the coming weeks to devise a policy to draw children back into church.

First started in 1780, Sunday schools were historically the only form of education available for many and the movement is now seen as an important step on the road to universal education. By the start of the 20th century, more than half the nation's children attended, many of them from families where church going was not the norm. Even now, well-known figures such as Melvyn Bragg, Richard Wilson and Anthea Turner can point to a Sunday school background.

However, the last three decades have seen a sharp decline and today they attract just one in every 25 children. If the current trend continues, church statisticians predict that only one in a 100 will go to Sunday school in 16 years' time.

Penny Frank, director of the CPAS Children's Evangelism Initiative said: "I am sure we have seen the death of the Sunday school as we know it." She warned that "this is the last generation for the Church" unless Britain's denominations unite behind a national strategy for children. "Children in some of our estates will never cross the bridge to church attendance," she said. "I feel heartbroken about it."

The campaign has been backed by the Bishop of Dover, the Right Rev Stephen Venner, a member of the General Synod's Board of Education, who said that despite the devoted work of many teachers, there was a crisis in Sunday schools. "Children are still interested in God, there is no doubt about that. But there are many other competing interests as well.

"The reason that Sunday schools are dying is not to do with God or the Church, but that children have lots of other things to do on a Sunday. How do you decide if you'll go to church or football practice?" He recommended that churches run after-school clubs, or week night events for children "when they are free".

A survey of attitudes towards Sunday school among 1,000 children is being planned for next year by the statistical specialists Christian Research. Its director, Dr Peter Brierley, said: "If present trends continue then in 16 years' time the size of congregations will have halved. The bulk of that will be the smaller numbers of those under 30."

He blamed the demise of the Sunday school on the fact that few people under 40 now take their children to church. Ms Frank said that children no longer attend Sunday school because divorced families find it hard to attend church on a Sunday, and because adults are less willing to become Sunday school teachers. "People who would take on leadership are having to work harder, longer hours in their employment and so are less ready to take up an active role in Sunday school at the weekends."

The new campaign hopes to persuade denominational leaders such as the Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, to put children first in church life.

It also hopes to see training in Sunday school work become mandatory for trainee vicars and to see the establishment of a national grid of Sunday schools, so that churches work together rather than duplicating their efforts.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map